Feb 282007
Authors: Anica Wong

Along with Holocaust Awareness, this week is also National Entrepreneurship Week and the College of Business hosted Libby Cook, the co-founder of Wild Oats Markets during their Great Entrepreneur Speaker Series on Wednesday night.

Cook’s entrepreneur beginnings were simple; she and a couple of friends decided to invest in Stella’s Market, a health food store in Boulder.

“The owner told us that he was making $10,000 a day, so we invested $40,000 in it. But the first day, we made $200 in sales,” she said.

Though Cook holds three bachelor’s degrees and a law degree, she knew little about business.

“Just because you have a lot of education doesn’t mean you know how to run a cash register or grocery store,” she said.

She and her friends slowly built the business and ended up making $5,000 a day, though it was not all it was cracked up to be. They almost had to declare bankruptcy twice as a result of over-extending themselves.

After a rough start, their business started to grow and become profitable.

Next on the list was revamping French Market, a grocery store in Boulder. This store eventually became a Wild Oats Market.

From 1988 to 1996, Wild Oats Markets opened 19 stores in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada. Also in 1996, 10 Alfalfa’s Market stores were added to the bunch, making Wild Oats the second largest natural foods supermarket chain in North America, with 31 stores.

The Wild Oats Market corporation was able to acquire 69 more stores in the United States and Canada until 2001 when Cook and her partners decided to retire.

And just in time, too, as Whole Foods bought out Wild Oats Markets in a deal valued at $700 million last month.

“Whole Foods is well positioned. It was a good move for both companies,” Cook said.

So, what does it take to be an entrepreneur?

“A lot of hard work, ability to be creative in a nimble kind of way, trying new things and a sound business plan which provides you with a framework,” said the current founder of Sunflower Market stores.

Cook is also involved in a non-profit organization, Philanthropiece. Among other projects, this organization is joining with the United Nations Foundation’s Coalition for Adolescent Girls. This union is helping to educate girls around the world about HIV, child marriages and economic empowerment.

Laura Grette came to the presentation with her Social and Sustainable Entrepreneur class.

“I enjoyed it because she talked a lot about stuff that we are discussing in class,” Grette, a sophomore finance and economics double major said. “It is interesting to see that the corporate side of business is merging with the non profit side. It is becoming more and more like that.”

The Great Entrepreneur Speaker Series will wrap up today with a presentation by Todd Massey, chairman and Chief Technology Officer of Privacy Networks. This presentation is scheduled for today at 12:30 p.m. in Rockwell Hall, room 165.

Staff writer Anica Wong can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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