Sunday, December 16, 2012

SLCC, SBDC Honor Blind Veteran and Entrepreneur

Salt Lake Community College and the Utah Small Business Development Center honor the business success of U.S. Army and first Gulf War Veteran, Jeremiah Espinoza.

Following his tour of duty, Espinoza decided he wanted to start a business selling his handmade woven braided western whips, key chains and bracelets. There were many significant obstacles standing in the way of his dream to start his own business, however. Within a few months of active duty, Espinoza started to loose his vision and doctors were unable to determine if the vision loss was related to his service with the Army, or otherwise. “I was completely in the dark,” says Espinoza.

Despite his vision loss, Espinoza was determined to not let it stop him. Espinoza taught himself how to rely on touch rather than sight to create his braided goods. “Everything I do now is by feel. As for the difference (between my work before and after loosing my sight), I think I make them better now.” After crafting a few of his products, Espinoza quickly discovered that there was a potential market to make his dream become a reality.
“Jeremiah and his wife first came into the Vernal Small Business Development Center (SBDC) as a referral from Vocational Rehabilitation (Utah State Office),” says Mark Holmes, Center Director. “He needed a business plan to get some funding and assistance with Vocational Rehab paperwork related to the business.  Holmes proceeded to help the Espinozas write the business plan and navigate the Vocational Rehab paperwork, which helped the couple launch the business.

“When Espinoza came into the office, blind and wanting to start a braiding business I was skeptical,” said Holmes. “I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumptions, Jeremiah does excellent work.”
Espinoza says of his experience with the SBDC, “when I first started this whole business thing, the paperwork threw me and my wife (for a curve). We didn’t understand it. Mark helped us with the business plan and gave us some ideas that we ran with. Not a lot of people said it would work, but he said it could—with a lot of hard work. My very first sale went to Canada, and I (now) sell all over the U.S. through my website.”
Espinoza’s handcrafted whips are made of thick high-quality parachute cording and take an average of 12 hours to complete for six feet in length.  Espinoza uses a variety of colors that can be customized to a customers’ preference.  Currently, he is working on pink whips that are being created for donations to support breast cancer awareness.

For the future, Espinoza plans to hand-braid customized nosepieces for hackamore bridals. He also hopes to teach others his passion and skill for braiding, so that he can pass down the art for generations to come.
The UT SBDC provides consulting, training and other resources to emerging and existing small business owners in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), the Lead UT SBDC Center at Salt Lake Community College, and other colleges and universities in the state.   To learn more about the UT SBDC program, please visit www.utahsbdc.org.  For more information about Blind Man’s Whips visit www.blindmanwhips.com.