Regis University business professor Don Bush readily admits it was a boneheaded misstep.
The cabin wood on his sailboat was cracking and grossly needed repair. He looked at teak wood — one of the strongest and most resistant woods in the world — to replace it. But it was cost prohibitive at nearly $40-a-board foot.
He used oak instead.
“That was a mistake,” Bush said.
But not all mistakes are fatal. Some prove quite the opposite.
One day after accounting class, Bush brainstormed business ideas with students. Knowing his earlier mistake, and the cost of teak wood, Bush threw out the possibility of a teak tree farm.
“We were just talking about the tree farm and I called my dad to see if it was even possible,” said Ben Juarez, one of the students. “He said yes and thought it would be a good idea.”
Welcome to an improbable business, started out of curiosity and admitted mistakes, wholly Regis and unique as it comes.
It features Bush and Regis graduates Juarez and Patrick Freeman.
Juarez grew up in Belize, attending St. John’s College Junior College. Awarded a scholarship to Regis, he went on to earn undergrad degrees in math and computer science and an eventual MBA here in 2011. Freeman, who starred for the Rangers men’s soccer team and earned finance and accounting degrees from Regis, presented at the Entrepreneur Club leaving the two impressed.
Using Juarez’s knowledge of the culture, policies and politics, and his father’s 50 acres that had previously been used for cattle ranching, they set up the banking and got a business license. They planted their first trees in December of 2010. After three years, the farm was at capacity with 15,000 trees.
Now, they wait. Teak trees take 15-20 years to mature before they are ready to be cultivated.
But the partnership is already paying off.
For Bush, it’s been about the adventure, getting to know a culture and cultivating a lasting relationship with two former students. It allows Freeman to experience something outside his regular routine. For Juarez, it allows him to help his people in Belize and keep the land in the family. The farm currently has two full-time employees and sometimes up to six.
“Everyone has a different perspective,” Juarez said. “We got involved to see if we could pull this off. And why not do it with Regis people — professors and students. If it weren’t for Regis, this project wouldn’t be.”
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