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NMMI forum seeks to grow entrepreneurs

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These entrepreneurs have a range of experience from ranching, to oil and gas, to finance, to making handcrafted hair bows. They are, from left, Joe Vicente (2000 New Mexico Military Institute high school graduate), Sara LaMontine, Marlin Wells (NMMI 1962 junior college graduate) and Dick Varnell (NMMI 1962). (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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[This post has been updated to correct information about the number of hair bows produced by a local business.]

Among the thoughts that local financial professional Marlin Wells shared on entrepreneurship was one that spoke to the inner struggle people have between the desire to achieve and the tendency to be dragged down by difficulties.

One of six speakers at the 2020 Forum on Entrepreneurship held Friday and Saturday and organized by the New Mexico Military Institute, Wells conveyed the idea with a quote by the poet Carl Sandburg, “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.”

All the speakers gave advice and shared ideas and personal and business histories with the public and with NMMI cadets enrolled in business degree programs.

The forums have been held since 2015, in large part due to the contributions and fundraising efforts of Dick Varnell, a 1962 NMMI alumnus and the managing partner of Spice Energy. He encouraged NMMI to promote entrepreneurial behaviors and aspirations among the cadets, and the Institute created not only the annual forum but also lessons focused on entrepreneurism as part of the business administration curriculum.

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Each year for the forum, the Institute finds speakers from a variety of fields to talk about their experiences leading businesses. Many are NMMI graduates or have some ties to the Institute, said Col. Terry Garvey, a business administration faculty member, because then they can relate well with cadets and have an interest in their future development.

NMMI Chief Academic Officer Brig. Gen. Douglas Murray said that the entrepreneurial mindset is essential to leadership.

“America must learn to lead again and that means in terms of our economy — we must learn to be entrepreneurs again,” he said.

Jenna Lanfor talks about AirPlay Media and drone pilot training during the forum. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

In addition to Varnell and Wells — a 1962 junior college graduate who returned from service with the Army in Vietnam to build a successful career and family life in Roswell — other forum speakers were Joe and Barbara Vicente, 2000 graduates of the NMMI high school who now are part owners and co-managers of a family ranching business based in Vaughn, New Mexico; Sara LaMontine, owner of #bowbymom of Roswell; and Jenna Lanfor, a co-owner and co-manager of AirPlay Media and Adventure Services of Roswell.

The speakers shared some common themes during their presentations.

• Stay current and updated. All the speakers talked about the need to adapt, accept changes and keep up with new technology. LaMontine — who now ships and packages 100 to 200 orders a week of her handcrafted hair bows — compared business adaptations to adjusting sails on a boat and correcting course as conditions change. The Vicentes discussed how their family ranching business now uses smart technology to monitor water wells and water lines and how they have expanded to run cattle on leased land in several states by becoming part of the 44 Farms brand that supplies Walmart.

• Know yourself and what you are willing to risk. All speakers talked about the failures that they have experienced in their business lives and said that business owners have to be willing to take hard knocks to start a business, recognizing that such undertakings also come with rewards. Varnell said he learned to develop contingency plans and to figure out how to make money during economic downturns in an industry. As an example, he said that he is now a partner in a gas-well plugging endeavor, a response to the low prices for natural gas.

• Create goals and develop the discipline to achieve them. Wells talked about how he and his wife developed written goals — or dreams with deadlines — for all areas of their life: spiritual, family, business, social and personal. Over time, they listed 252 goals and have achieved 228 of them. SMAC is the acronym he uses for good goals: specific, measurable, achievable and compatible with interests and values. “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments,” he said. He added that he agreed with another’s sentiment that “the pain of discipline is much less than the pain of regret.”

• Build a life, not just a business. The speakers talked about how their choices for who they want to be in life and how they want to impact their communities influenced their business choices. For LaMontine, her desire to have a flexible schedule and stay home with her young children prompted her to leave her job and develop her business. Lanfor said it is important to find a bigger purpose to the work. She has run several businesses but now works at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell while also being a partner in AirPlay Media Adventure Services, which trains drone pilots, operates drones on behalf of various companies and does aerial cinematography. She said the missions of AirPlay include making people aware of what constitutes safe and ethical operations of drones and ensuring the future viability of civilian drone operations.

• Choose your partners well. Whether talking about life partners or business partners, some speakers talked about how the wrong partners can cost dearly. In one case, a business partner with a gambling problem led to a business bankruptcy. In another case, a speaker thought someone he was working with in a new venture was highly experienced in the hospitality industry, but later found out that wasn’t the case.

• Balance family and business. Most talked about the importance of their families and the sacrifices they had to make professionally to ensure that they can spend quality time with spouses and children.

• Have a “beginner’s” mindset. The speakers said successful business owners can set aside their own cherished ideas if a better concept comes along. They said that success requires being humble, learning continuously and listening to others’ ideas.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.