Our business consultants have a wealth of knowledge and diverse backgrounds to provide excellent consulting and business advice. Please click on a consultant’s name below to read his or her bio and expertise.
Amber was born in Colorado Springs and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. At 19, she left Colorado to explore America with her husband Mark. After road tripping for months and stints of living in California & Arizona, they made their way back to Durango. Their 2 beautiful children Isabella and Gabriel were both born at the old Mercy Hospital. They bought a house in Hermosa in 2013 and can’t imagine calling any other place home.
Amber has been providing bookkeeping & payroll services to Durango businesses for over 15 years. She is also the founder of Luminous Sojourns & New Hat Baking, and was the former Operations Coordinator at the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance.
Amber believes fostering the success of local independent businesses is the solution to today’s economic struggles in America. She joined the Board of Directors at Local First in May 2016 to aid in the development of that vision here in Durango. She enjoys gardening, singing, dancing, drumming, and always welcomes a good jam session or dart night with her friends.
Anthony Russo established TradeHub International in 2005 as a hybrid service and trading company that offers education and training, market research and penetration strategies or door to-door import/export services to companies in over 60 counties regardless of their size or industry. Russo has combined his years of experience, vast global network and proven process to mitigate risk and cut costs for companies looking to enter the global market place. As President of THI, Russo has worked with government agencies, universities, chambers, industry associations and World Trade Centers across the globe. Russo is a graduate of Charleston Southern University with a BA in Marketing and MBA in Business Administration.
Bert is a retail marketing expert and has personally started 4 businesses over the last 25 years in the retail, advertising, travel, and training sectors. He spent the last 10 years in Asia in the retail tech space, helping brands and retailers adopt strategies and implement in-store innovation to engage customers and drive revenues.
Bob is a financial coaching specialist who provides guidance and direction to businesses and individuals experiencing financial challenges while pursuing financial goals. Bob’s 30 years of bank management and lending experience, coupled with 12 yrs. of owning an accounting and consulting business have enhanced Bob’s ability to guide business owners through the financial hurdles of launching and operating their businesses. Additionally, this experience and skillsets compliment Bob’s services which enable him to provide guidance and coaching to individuals struggling to meet personal obligations, and goal setting.
Regardless of economic times, both businesses and individuals can experience challenges in preserving wealth, remaining profitable or having access to financial resources. For businesses and individuals alike, Bob can perform a financial health assessment which provides the basis for understanding the root of many financial challenges.
Today, Bob offers 1:1 Financial Coaching, and also, workshops on “Understanding & Growing the Balance Sheet”, “Personal and Business Cash Flows”, “The Balance Sheet & Income Statement Connection”, and “Appropriate Financing Structure”.
Bob has an undergraduate B.A. degree from Bethel University in Organizational Leadership, and an extensive background in banking and the financial services sector. Bob is an avid outdoorsman, with a love of hunting, fishing and hiking with his wife Pam and 2 pups, Lexi and Mocha.
Our newest advisor is off to a quick start. Carl Malmberg moved to Durango, offered his services at the SBDC office in July and has already consulted with close to a dozen clients.
Malmberg and his wife, Tara, lived in Steamboat Springs part-time for over 10 years, while also maintaining a residence in the Houston and Dallas area. In 2013, he participated in the Ride The Rockies bike ride and discovered Durango which struck him as “a pretty nice town. It’s bigger than Steamboat with access to the snow, where-as Steamboat is in the snow.”
Malmberg brings vast hands-on experience in all aspects of running businesses from small operations to large corporations. He explains, “Businesses are basically the same. They all have customers, financials, marketing, operations, and human resources.” He feels the knowledge is transferable and “I’ve seen it done correctly and I’ve seen it done wrong.”
In 2009, he retired from the waste industry. He and a team started a medical, surgical and hazardous waste disposal company, based in Houston. They had 15 offices from New York to Los Angeles. The other company with 90% market- share “was getting arrogant and not providing good customer service. We saw an opportunity in a highly regulated industry.”
At Southern Illinois University, he earned a Bachelor’s in Thermal and Environmental Engineering and a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis on Energy Processes. This provided the expertise he needed as a Management Consultant for a company dealing with containerized liquid chemicals from tanker cars into 55 gallon drums.
Prior to that, he contributed his expertise to American Residential Services in Houston. They offered plumbing, electrical, and other home and appliance repairs. He ran the operations overseeing, “a couple hundred trucks and a warehouse full of parts and 7 appliance stores for white goods.”
Through-out his diverse career, Malmberg explains, “I have been involved in over 100 acquisitions and a couple divestitures.”
“Advising is extremely enjoyable. It is my way to give back to the community and to also become a part of the community.” He does this so he can, “help make people’s dreams a reality.” Half his clients want to start businesses and the other half are already in business. He admits to spending lots of time behind the scenes doing research to help those who seek out his advice.
“In between, I do a lot of ‘i-n-g, ing – “Fishing, hiking, camping, biking. If you see Carl around town or around campus, please say Hi and welcome him.
A management consultant specializing in sustainability and sustainable development, Cindy Dvergsten helps clients acquire decision-making skills that allow them to be socially, economically, and environmentally sound.
Dvergsten started her training and development company Whole New Concepts, LLC in 1996.
“My specialty is agriculture, so I teach land planning, grazing planning, and all the things that go along with agriculture. Most of my clients are family-based farming operations,” said Cindy.
Dvergsten works with ranches all across the U.S. and abroad, most of which are looking to develop products, and some of which are just getting into farming for the first time.
“I coach them on defining this or that enterprise,” Cindy says. “Some want to start big but get the cart before the horse, so we go through enterprise by enterprise and analyze which ones can be profitable and fit in with the big picture.”
As the interest in agriculture bounces back, Dvergsten is excited about the new economic possibilities that come with the resurgence.
“Twenty years ago if you mentioned words like ‘sustainability’ and ‘holistic,’ people just looked at you,” Cindy recalls. “Now the concepts are more accepted but people still don’t know the how-to’s. And more people want to get into agriculture and also invest in it, so there are some new opportunities to capitalize on agriculture,” Cindy adds. “There’re good possibilities for entrepreneurs who want to be processors, packers, distributors, marketers, even retailers.”
Dvergsten cites Navajo trail sheep as an enterprise that will be in demand to fill a worldwide shortage in lamb and supply emerging industries like carpet wool.
But more than just wanting to see land used in an enterprising and sustainable way, Cindy is a natural champion of people. “I love coaching and moving people forward, and at this point in my life I get to bring all my experiences and skills into the mix, which is enhancing my ability to help.”
Donna Graves loves research and details. Her special niche as an advisor is to provide specific information for businesses based on their target market. She does “Data Mining.”
Donna searches a variety of data bases to produce detailed reports for mostly start-up businesses. For example, “If an SBDC client were planning to open a fitness studio, targeting a specific demographic, I would search for age criteria, income levels, individuals who have expressed an interest in fitness or have purchased fitness equipment or subscribed to a fitness magazine in their geographic area. This would help them decide if there were enough potential clients to make the business viable,” she explains.
Using data sets that the SBDC subscribes to on an annual basis, Graves can forecast potential niche’s within a market area. This information allows her to determine who competitors are, where they are and how many there are. This data is invaluable for start-up companies and can save them from doing months of research themselves or investing in or starting a business that does not have the client base to succeed.
Using the demographic data she can create reports on customer types, income, gender, ethnicity, age and other quantifiable criteria. She helps business owners refine who they are looking for as potential customers and creates reports based on the demographic information. “This information is essential for accurate decision making.”
Since the Durango area is relatively small, businesses need to supply goods and services locally. Graves could help a company look at neighborhoods that might have the demographic they are looking for and help them plan delivery routes, for example.
She also does economic impact studies for the SBDC and Region 9 Economic Development District. If a new manufacturing company wanted to come to Durango, she could quantify how they would impact the community as far as necessary supporting jobs and estimate the trickle-down effects in other areas.
As a former archaeologist, she comes by the love of research and details naturally. She received a Masters degree in Anthropology from Northern Arizona University and honed her research skills as a field archaeologist and projects manager. After ten years in the field, Graves got tired of moving around to various excavation sites and parlayed her knowledge and skill into a new career.
Donna loves her job because, “I’m always researching something different. Every client has unique needs and I’m constantly learning about new businesses and industries.”
In addition to 20 years’ experience in management and consulting, Jasper Welch has been involved in the Durango business community in various capacities.
Welch owned and operated Basin Reproduction & Printing for seven years, headed the Durango Chamber of Commerce for four years, and served on the Durango City Council for eight. Since 1999 Welch has directed the business incubator at San Juan College in Farmington, New Mexico. He also served on advisory boards for local emerging companies like StoneAge Waterblast Tools and FastTrack Communications.
Currently, Jasper is serving on the advisory board for Durango Space, a coworking facility where freelance professionals or mobile workers can utilize office space and other resources; Welch launched Durango Space with business partner Nancy Wharton in February of 2011.
The co-mentoring among that occurs in Durango Space will only add to what Welch has learned from other entrepreneurs over years of advising. “I’ve learned as much from the entrepreneurs I’ve advised as they’ve learned from me, then I take that part of the mix and pump it back in. That cross-pollination helps me do a better job for them.”
Although he just recently joined the Business Advisors Network, Jasper has been involved with the Southwest Colorado SBDC since the 1990s, as a Next Level instructor (now called Leading Edge Entrepreneurial Training) and as a guest speaker for the Marketing for Smarties series. Welch’s area of expertise in business advising covers a broad spectrum. “I am more of a generalist with expertise on a broad range of fields,” explains Jasper. “I’ve focused on start-ups, emerging companies, and have done a lot with negotiation in family- and co-owned businesses, too.
“A lot of times people just need someone who can walk them through issues – when to sell, or management team or growth issues. It can be hard to self-manage your company without outside advice – you just can’t see everything.”
Jennifer Bassignani has over 15 years experience in Human Resource Management and is the Owner/Consultant of Essential Operations, LLC. A desire to help others, problem solve and find opportunities that increase efficiencies to make processes more effective drew her into the HR world. She specializes in supporting small to mid-sized employers to implement and improve their current HR practices with a strong focus on improving their bottom line. Jennifer is a supportive and empowering team player who believes that your human capital is your best and most unique asset . A leader who thrives on tough challenges and finding solutions and strategies to improve employee relations, she can support your effort to succeed. She is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), sits on the board of the Durango Area of Human Resource Management (DAHRM) and is the Board Chair of the Women’s Resource Center.
Essential Operation’s clients include The Juniper School, The Payroll Department, and Real Ideal Coaching.
Jennifer enjoys reading, paddle-boarding, playing in the snow and a good tequila to cap off a day after enjoying the outdoors. Time with family, her dog, Marco, and cat, Beulah, help stay grounded and remind her of the best parts of life.
Keck retired in 2015 from the position of Director of the Small Business Development Center at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. In that capacity Keck provided one-on-one business counseling to existing and start-up businesses in the five (5) county area of Region 9 in southwestern Colorado as well as small business training and workshops. Keck has been a small business owner since 1993 and prior to that time worked in planning and economic development capacities with the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian Tribes from 1977-1993. Keck and his wife own Susie’s Gifts on Main in Cortez along with Cortez Catalog Sales, a JC Penney Catalog Outlet. He is a 1975 graduate of Fort Lewis College. Keck has served in a number of public capacities including 8 years of service on the Cortez City Council/Mayor (1996-2004), Cortez Downtown Association, the Colorado Aeronautical Board (2001-2003), Club 20 Board of Directors, Region 9 Economic Development District Board of Directors, and BLM Advisory Committee on the lands designated in the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. Keck has served as a trustee on the Ballantine Family Fund Board of Trustees since 2001. Additionally he is currently serving on the El Pomar Foundation’s Southwest Colorado Regional Council. Keck currently provides consulting services on a part-time basis as an advisor with the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center.
Keck has received specialized training through the National Development Council’s Economic Development Financial Professional Certification Program; through the Association of Small Business Development Centers (ASBDC), and through the Hallmark Corporations’ Advanced Retail Training Seminars (ARTS).
Laurie is an accomplished finance leader with background in corporate finance, business finance and accounting. She spent 27 years with a $2B worldwide consumer products company in the Chicago area, where she acquired broad experience managing through an extensive array of projects/areas including capital structure, cash management, business analytics and financial reporting. With her strong analytical skills, Laurie seeks to find objective, practical solutions. She enjoys learning from and teaching others.
She earned her MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Laurie relocated to Durango in 2019 after surrendering to decades of pleading from her husband. She is thrilled to be here; over the past year, she has been volunteering for various local organizations and enjoying hiking, biking and skiing.
Advisor Mike Rich is new to the SBDC advisor network bringing with him a wealth of knowledge and experience from a previous career. Rich retired the Federal Government in 2013 after 35 years of service with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he administered the Colorado River Salinity Control Project and other programs.
Rich managed an annual budget of 1.5 million and supervised a 15 member staff. “I was also on the National Training Team teaching “Managing for Excellence”. He incorporated principals from “Managing for Excellence” when he taught the Leading Edge for Entrepreneurs class in Cortez in 2014 for the SBDC.
Rich has lived in Montezuma County since 1984 and operates Arriola Sunshine Farm with his wife selling produce and grass-fed lamb. The couple has 60 lambs, some sheep and some rams. They sell them as breeding animals and as butcher animals.
His experience lends itself to specializing in consulting with start-ups in the agriculture industry but he explains, “Agriculture is not just farming. It’s more involved now and involves selling retail and wholesale to restaurants and providing value added services.”
He finds that the issues start-ups face regardless of the industry are very similar. He’s worked with various businesses in different stages of start-up and growth. He credits his career with teaching him the skills of organization, critical thinking, looking at and analyzing data and the ability to see the big picture. He uses all these skills to serve the businesses he consults with.
Recently, Rich was working with a client who wants to open a food and beverage establishment in Cortez. They looked at financials and projections to accurately assess what the start-up costs will be. They researched location, menu and what it would cost to remodel to meet their needs. Research included learning about the prices being garnered by other similar establishments and advertising costs.
The client knows that establishments serving affordable food and locally crafted beer are booming in Colorado now and with access to the number of tourists visiting the area for various reasons, they determined their business could be a success.
Rich likes using the Business Model Canvas with clients since it incorporates all the aspects of running a business that need to be considered. It is a less linear approach and provides a more interrelated perspective.
He shares, “Being a part of the SBDC Business Advisory Network provides me an opportunity to put the management skills I gained in my career to use. I enjoy giving back to my community by helping people be successful with their businesses.”
Nathan Morris has been building websites since 1994 – since before there was a dot-com. Since then, Mr. Morris has worked in Austin, Silicon Valley, and Durango tech scenes, including stints as the webmaster for Toyota, Global Star, and the Durango Herald. Mr. Morris is a founding partner, lead software architect, and webmaster for Web Services Management.
Patti Zink has thirty years of experience managing successful, profitable, results oriented and diversified businesses. Her expertise include marketing, sales, media relations, customer service, employee retention and satisfaction. Zink has experience in increasing revenues, efficiencies and productivity.
She has owned several business over the based 30 years, currently she owns Animas River Wetlands, Animas River Top Soil and Mountain Bike Specialists. Zink and her husband Ed work together and live at the Waterfall Ranch north of Durango.
Zink is interested in contributing to our community and consulting with a businesses that will provide long term employment for the area.
Rich Lindblad taught entrepreneur workshops on the East Coast at the undergraduate and graduate level for 15 years. His interest in small businesses led him to launch, run and sell several small businesses himself, including a Christmas tree farm in New Jersey, where picking out hand-trimmed trees was a festive experience, not just an errand.
Rich currently teaches the Next Level Leading Edge program in Pagosa Springs and, as a business advisor, spends a fair amount of time with “business owners and people who think they want to go into business but are not sure,” he says. “It’s a coaching exercise, and if you can do it right, you can help lots of people.”
He describes his advising areas as having “no limit.” “You never know what you’re getting into when you provide advice to people – restaurants, cafes, retail stores, private businesses. To be able to turn them around and have them see what they don’t see – that is my job,” Lindblad states. He also offers what he terms as “an environmental scan” of a business. “If you trust me long enough to let me come and hang out with you, I’ll notice things about your retail establishment that customers see that you don’t see because you are too close to it. That is the fun part.” Rich also enjoys working on financials and sharing the concept of utilization.
A self-proclaimed “wannabe chef” who has taken close to 40 cooking classes, Lindblad gives cooking classes in the winter for seniors at the Pagosa Community Center. His favorite cuisine to cook? “Southwestern – not too hot but with a lot of unusual flavors.”
Runel “Nelly” Burns
Meet Runel “Nelly” Burns, Accountant and Quickbooks Trainer. Nelly has been a certified QuickBooks Pro Advisor for more than 17 years and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies (S.D.S.U.), a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential (California), and a Graduate Certificate in Accountancy (National University).
Nelly opened her first bookkeeping business, Expert QuickBooks Training, in 2006 in California and simultaneously became a QuickBooks Pro Advisor which combined her skills as a bookkeeper and teacher. She focused on providing business owners with knowledge and confidence to use QuickBooks software effectively through individualized training. Nelly’s dedication to personalized service and finding the best solutions for each client has earned her a reputation as a trusted advisor. Clients rave about her expertise and easy-to-understand teaching style. One client noted, “she knows what she’s talking about and although she is highly educated in her field, she makes me feel very comfortable and helps me easily understand QuickBooks.”
Nelly now lives in Colorado and has been growing her Colorado business, Burns Accounting Inc., for seven years. She continues to work closely with each of her clients to understand their needs. She provides solutions specifically tailored to their business. Her practice is mainly remote yet she also offers in-person, group trainings in QuickBooks software, business basics, and financial literacy. With a commitment to providing personalized service and finding the best solutions for each client, Nelly is dedicated to helping business owners get the most out of QuickBooks Online or Desktop. Whether you need help optimizing your current setup or are facing complex accounting challenges, Nelly has the expertise and experience to help you succeed.
In her free time, Nelly enjoys cooking, gardening, live Blues music, and motorcycling through the back roads of Southwest Colorado with her husband, Steve. They have been married for nearly 20 years and in 2021, they relocated to Cortez, Colorado.
Despite her formal name being Runel Burns, she is commonly known by her nickname, Nelly.
Sandhya Tillotson is the founder of Sagebrush Ltd, a nonprofit consulting firm based in Durango. Sandhya utilizes her years of collaborative problem solving in the nonprofit sector to bring vitality to diverse organizations, with specialties in strategic planning, meeting and retreat facilitation, grant writing, board and leadership development. With Sandhya serving as the Executive Director, The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado was awarded the 2017 Non-Profit of the Year by the Durango Chamber of Commerce.
Sandhya consults across Southwest Colorado and has worked with the Women’s Resource Center, Bear Smart Durango, Dancing Spirit Community Arts Center and the Southwest Colorado Multiple Sclerosis Society. She specializes in effective solutions for rural nonprofits where agility, creativity, and partnership are necessary ingredients for survival.
Understanding Your Financial Statements and Leading Edge
Business Advisor Terryl Peterson garnered most of her expertise working as the chief financial officer for 15 years for Durango-based Lore International (now called Korn/Ferry), a leadership- and executive-development company. “Although I was not the entrepreneur there, it’s a very entrepreneurial company,” says Terryl. “I worked closely with the founder; we grew from seven employees to 50-plus when I was there.”
After leaving Lore, Terryl dove into the entrepreneurial world by starting her own consulting practice a year ago. “Through all of our work at Lore, we had contact with a number of other entrepreneurs and business associates, so I had some third-party exposure to that world and what it takes to launch a business of any kind.”
Although her focus is mostly financial, i.e., how to create cash flow projections, Terryl can offer perspective on the operational side as well. “I do a lot of startup consulting and help people walk through the business plan setup. At Lore I did all the legal and contracts, so I have some exposure to setting up your business entity, what approach to take.”
Between running her own business and pursuing her outdoor passions – which include hiking, skiing, backpacking, camping – Terryl makes time to work as a Business Advisor because she likes the variety. “It’s inspiring to see all the different concepts coming up, and then to be able to help people who would otherwise just be trying to figure it out on their own. Hopefully, we can help them make their idea into something.”
After finishing a large multi-year global supply chain consolidation project, Tyler and his wife decided to relocate from Las Vegas, NV to Durango, CO to be closer to family that had been calling it home for over 20 years.
For the last 17+ years he has specialized in process improvement and supply chain optimization. During that time Tyler managed over 200 new product launches, designed the production flow and layout for 4 large manufacturing facilities built from the ground up and the expansion of 7 large manufacturing facilities. In addition, he advised on the redesigned and physical layout to accommodate a process flow for dozens of smaller manufacturing and fabrication facilities around the world. He has restructured supply chains from domestic to international and from international to domestic. He has extensive experience in supplier evaluations and negotiations, specializing in insourcing vs outsourcing evaluations, facility layout, supply chain optimization and process improvement.
Since being in Durango, Tyler has started his own company, Optimization Dynamics, LLC. a process improvement and supply chain optimization company that provides evaluation of companies current processes and supply chain, identifies improvements, and helps in implementing the improvements.
Kevin Bowen is a Detroit, MI native who graduated from Michigan State University with a BS Degree in Applied Engineering and a specialization in Spanish.
Bowen brings with him an entrepreneurial passion for small business development, focusing on finance & accounting, sustainability business practices, and the development of operations & strategic initiatives based on business analytics (BA).
In 2021, Kevin and his business partners opened The PAD in Silverthorne, CO; a boutique hotel/hostel hybrid concept built for the modern traveler who focuses on the environmental, communal, & sustainable aspects of traveling. The PAD quickly earned a magnitude of awards & recognition due to the unique product offerings and strong emphasis on decisions based on people & the planet which led it to become one of only a handful of B Corp certified accommodations in the US. All of this experience has helped Kevin become an innovator in the field of green business and more specifically, sustainable tourism.
From there, Kevin began his consulting company, Hospitality Consulting Solutions, designed to assist hospitality companies manage change, optimize operations, and generally improve the profitability and overall health of their business.
Creating community and volunteering has always been paramount to Kevin. He is currently serving as the Treasurer for Colorado Learning Connections, an education-based non-profit that serves Summit and Lake Counties in Colorado. He also serves on the advisory board for a few Colorado based small businesses.
In July 2023, Kevin relocated to Durango, CO with his partner and their 3 dogs. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling, mountain biking, backcountry skiing, trail running, playing soccer, and spending time with his girlfriend and dogs.
“I’m excited to share my experience with small business entrepreneurs and become more involved with the community and people of Southwest Colorado!”