Hawk Tank young entrepreneurship competition back for another year

College, high school students will face off for cash prizes, scholarships

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The program was launched at Fort Lewis College in 2016.
  • San Juan College joined the program last year.
  • It is modeled after the Emmy-winning TV program "Shark Tank."

FARMINGTON — Officials at San Juan College and Fort Lewis College probably could have picked a better time to start working together on a young entrepreneurship funding competition than last winter, when the Four Corners area was largely locked down due to COVID-19 restrictions.

But the first year of the Hawk Tank program to feature students from both schools still managed to exceed their expectations. The program was so successful, in fact, that members of the business faculty at both institutions now speak of it as playing an integral role in their efforts to recruit, educate and enable students to serve as a new, young entrepreneur class throughout the region.

"This is part of our mission from a holistic view we're looking at," said Eddy Rawlinson, dean of the San Juan College School of Business and Information Technology. "Not only can you get an education in business — from high school to community college to a bachelor's degree at a four-year university — but you can have a job out there waiting for you or start your own business and create jobs yourself."

Michael Valdez

Michael Valdez — a professor of management at FLC, located in Durango, Colorado — said his institution takes the same long view as its counterpart to the south.

"This is our same message at Fort Lewis College," he said. "That why this works — we do see this as a long-term commitment to our community."

The Hawk Tank program was started at FLC in 2016, but it wasn't until last year that it was expanded to include San Juan College. Modeled after the Emmy-winning, reality-television program "Shark Tank," Hawk Tank pits budding young entrepreneurs against each other as they compete for start-up funding.

There are high school and college tracks in the competition. Students taking part in the high school track compete for scholarships to both institutions and a cash prize of up to $500. Those competing in the college track can win $5,000 for emerging victorious in the first round of competition at their institution, then claim another $5,000 in start-up funding when the winners from the two schools go head to head for the grand prize.

Mark Knight, left, Wes Bond and Josh Bishop are the three members of the Zia Drone Operations team from San Juan College that won the grand prize in last year's Hawk Tank competition against Fort Lewis College. The competition returns this year.

A new company launched by three San Juan College students, Zia Drone Operations, was the grand prize winner last year and carted home a total of $10,000.

Rawlinson and Valdez both expressed satisfaction with the number of students who took part in the competition last year, as they weren't sure whether the restrictions put in place because of the pandemic would inhibit participation. Most of the events related to the program had to be switched to a virtual format, including the competitions themselves.

"For us to have been all virtual, I was ecstatic," Rawlinson said. "It was the first time we were participating in the event, and we got some very good teams. It was a very tough competition. … Hopefully, we're going to be able to have both competitions in person this year, but it was really exciting last year."

Valdez said the addition of San Juan College to the program last year went off seamlessly despite the pandemic. He cited the program as a great example of what the two institutions can accomplish when they work in partnership.

Related:San Juan College drone students win $10k in business plan competition

"Our missions are so aligned it makes sense to work together toward common goals," he said.

Valdez said the challenges of conducting the competition through the pandemic gave officials at both schools the chance to demonstrate for their students the advantages of being flexible.

Many of those students followed those cues and responded in kind, he said, tailoring their presentations to the judges to maximize the advantages offered by a virtual setting.

"It was amazing to see how they responded," he said. "They had to turn on a dime, but it was great to see those students step up."

Information sessions on the competitions at both schools were held earlier this month, but a series of virtual interactive workshops on the program will be presented online in February and March at sanjuancollege.edu/hawktank. The first workshop, "Making Your Business Ideas a Reality 101," will be presented at 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 3, with five more workshops to follow.

Eddy Rawlinson

Officials at both schools are intent on attracting more high school students to the program, and they think they have gotten a head start on those efforts by conducting outreach programs at high schools in both Farmington and Durango.

They also emphasized that the program is open to all students.

"This is a cross-disciplinary competition. You don't have to be a business student. You can be a science student or an art student," Rawlinson said, explaining that students in those fields may have an idea for a product or service related specifically to their area of study. "Whatever it is, we want to tap into that creativity and support it. I think that is what Hawk Tank is really about."

The business plan submissions for the San Juan College Hawk Tank competitions are due on March 28. The winners will be announced on April 8.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.