Gourmet chocolates melt barriers to entrepreneurship.

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Lickity Split Chocholate Studio wins Youth Entrepreneur of the Year Award at RES '07

By Pam Hughes -- Today correspondent

BLANDING, Utah - The feeling put into the creation of something can make it very special. That is what makes the gourmet chocolate of the Lickity Split Chocolate Studio, LLC, a start-up managed by 35 Navajo and Ute children between the ages of 9 and 14, unique.

And besides that, the chocolate tastes great.

The AmeriCorp Volunteers in Service to American at the San Juan Foundation in Blanding donated their office space to the company, as initial support, but other than a grant from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council, the effort has been all bootstrap.

Lickity Split began about three years ago when a group of children approached Elaine Bland, a VISTA member, looking for a way to make money to go to the local movie house. Bland suggested they start a business so they could go to the movies whenever they wanted, and afford things such as bicycles, computers and phones. After much discussion and brainstorming, they came back to her with the idea of selling chocolate.

Production began by melting morsels and selling them to relatives. Once they discovered a way to make both inexpensive and unique molds, the customers appeared. Now Lickity Split makes products from lollipops to white chocolate-covered pretzels, some with Navajo/Ute-inspired designs. With the increase of sales, they're looking to expand.

This expansion began when Andrew Dayish, Navajo, the 15-year-old CEO of Lickity Split, found a Rural Economic Development Summit notice on the Web site of Utah Senator Bob Bennett.

Bland requested scholarships for the nine-member Lickity Split board and off they went.

''The board was introduced before the keynote speaker,'' Bland said. ''Bennett said, 'I want to introduce an emerging company, and the board is here.' The crowd went wild.''

At the conference, Lickity Split received a $3,000 order from a utility company. The board came home wondering how they were gong to fill the order until Dayish came up with the technology for making a large quantity of the quality, tempered chocolate that Bland said was imperative for success.

Lickity Split makes lollipops designed with Navajo basket patterns that come in a matching hand-painted, signed vase, and another with a spirit bear. Chocolate tuxedoed strawberries, striped hearts, a piece designed with the four sacred mountains and another with a healing symbol are some of the more ornate confections.

Dayish, who likes the baskets most because of their design, created a 3D butterfly that was used for the top of a wedding cake. It was so delicate that it could not be shipped.

Their first order launched the business, which has now purchased simple machines to manufacture the chocolate. The designs are still done by hand with pieces of wood. Bland is hoping to purchase a digitally controlled design machine and more tempering machines.

Lickity Split recently was presented the Youth Entrepreneurs of the Year Award by Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley at the Reservation Economic Summit 2007. They have also received a Small Business Administration award for outstanding minority business and visited the White House.

With all of this publicity, 30 - 40 orders a day were coming in on their Internet system, Bland said. A lot are from the Native community, but the company will be concentrating on the convention market, especially those that involve youth, education and entrepreneurship.

Their most recent order for 2,000 lollipops came from a Rotary Convention in Salt Lake City set for June. The convention organizer, Paul Pugmire, made the deal after the kids traveled to Salt Lake City to make a sales pitch.

Bland said that the company has not had many barriers

because everything has been thought out in advance, but recently, they were dealing with a water main break. The children only work on partial weekends, as academics come first.

Adults have been hired to work during the week. These jobs give them the emergency cash they would normally get from payday loans, selling crafts at rock-bottom prices and from bottle and can returns.

The kids are also getting a full business education with the help of the SBA, and college students are tutoring them.

Most of the profits are given to the 35 employee-owners; 15 percent remains with the business. Although blessed with some very substantial orders, Lickity Split faces some normal hurdles such as cash flow, the cyclical nature of the business, funding expansion and suitable operations space.

The kids wanted to expand a small dining area to serve salads and such, as well as start a Red Chef retail store, but they are faced with pressure to move to another location.

If they chose to use a currently inactive chapter house on the reservation, Bland still expects tourist traffic, but the store plans are on hold.

''The kids were so excited about the store,'' said Bland, ''and when the kids have energy, as a coach, I wanted to go in their direction.''

Some of the company executives granted interviews to Indian Country Today. They spoke about their jobs, future plans for Lickity Split, chocolate, outside interests and messages for other kids.

Dayish most likely sees the company exporting its expertise to other tribes and helping other groups of kids to be heard, to get money and to get skills.

''Kids have a sense of being, of belonging to something. You feel at home here; there are people who understand them, and they understand each other. Around here we're kind of mutual about our opinions. We're easy going, even if someone doesn't like what someone else is doing, we're getting along with co-workers.''

Shelby Yellow, Navajo, 12, has been art director for one year and recently has been made recycling manger. His preliminary art design was too intricate to make a mold for, so he is working on a combination of a moccasin and a design from a rug that his mother makes. He is starting a program to put about 10 can repositories into stores to make some money.

''I've been trying to get these guys to take them to Grand Junction to get $2 to $4 a pound. My family took around 300 pounds there.''

Hubert Dayish, Navajo, is Lickity Split's 10-year-old president, and pitches in wherever needed.

''Keep trying to accomplish something in life by going to school. I like math; I use it in accounting when you have to buy more stuff.''

Production Manager Tya Manygoats, Navajo, is 14. She said that her job is both serious and fun. She is in charge of reducing production waste and getting orders filled. The most fun for her is making the chocolates.

''When you go on trips you have to act professional; you can be a kid, but you can't mess around.''

To other kids, she said, ''Keep trying to get what you want. Follow your dream.''

Nestle and Chickasaw Industries have approached Lickity Split recently. Whatever happens, Bland says the company's main focus is to keep dollars in the community.

''Once you're in this country with these kids there's no going back,'' said Bland. ''It may sound corny, but I came to a poor community to find wealth. And I found it in working with these youth.

Helping them find their inner talents, building skills and shaping the world through this business provides unsurpassed joy for me.''

For more information about the company, visit www.lickitysplitchocolate.com or call (435) 678-2626.