Navajo, Ute youths find sweet success
2-year-old company honored by the SBA
Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News
BLANDING Hubert Dayish figures he would be home playing video games and eating junk food if he weren't a business executive.
As head of sales and marketing for Lickity Split Chocolate Studio, the 10-year-old Dayish promotes the confections he and 30 other mostly Navajo and Ute children make in a remote corner of southeastern Utah. His smile and gift for gab make him a natural salesman.
"I just give out the word of Lickity Split to everyone," he said.
So far, people have bought into the sweet pitch. The 2-year-old Internet-based company expects to double its profits to more than $20,000 this year. The U.S. Small Business Administration honored it in April as the 2006 Minority Champion.
"The Navajo children we work with here have done it bootstrap, mostly from the ground up," said Elaine Borgen, who oversees the operation as a Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) worker assigned to the Navajo Nation. "It's life-shaping for many of them."
Utah's San Juan County, including a piece of the Navajo Nation and all of the tiny White Mesa Ute tribal lands, is among the poorest counties in the country. More than 40 percent of residents live below the poverty line. Native Americans own less than 1 percent of the businesses there. Consequently, American Indian children lack business mentors, Borgen said.
"We try to present this vision to them of success," she said. "I'd like to think we make a difference in their standard of health and well-being and standard of living."
Lickity Split workers travel to out-of-state business development conferences and meet with executives from companies like overstock.com and CH2M Hill. CEO Andrew Dayish, 15, and company president Creedence Sampson, 11, met President Bush in Washington, D.C., while picking up the SBA award.
"We try to travel with the children as much as we can so we can open up their world a little bit," Borgen said.
On this late summer day, a dozen children ages 10 to 15, in red chef hats and denim aprons, dash around the Nations of the Four Corners Cultural Center in Blanding, which serves as a production plant.
In the kitchen, several workers squeeze white chocolate into lollipop molds. When finished, it will have an American Indian design and will be shipped with a story of its tribal significance. In another room, the product development team cooks and samples fruity boba tea, a product the company might add to its expanding line.
Andrew Dayish, a high school sophomore, supervises everything, often answering questions from younger Lickity Splitters. Meantime, CFO Gloria Yazzie finishes up a cost analysis on the tea, calculating it could be sold for $2.50 a cup.
Participation earns points for travel or items like computers and telephones for their homes, or they can cash out.
Lickity Split has children not only dreaming big but doing something about it for both the company and themselves. They're close to opening a retail store in Blanding. There's talk of franchising.
Andrew Dayish divides his earnings among a college trust fund, family needs and pocket money for himself. His interests lie in psychology, science, art and business.
"I hope to be an entrepreneur and start a business like this," he said.
His cousin Hubert Dayish has plans of his own. "I hope to get at least a master's degree in business," he said."I want to be the owner for this business," he said. "I want to make it bigger."
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