For one youthful Kentucky entrepreneur, it took some marketing savvy. Another persisted with a dream, while one businessman’s secret to success was overcoming his youthful fears.
Entrepreneurship driven by young people is benefiting the commonwealth, and, as the state’s economic development agency observes, “Startup success and small business growth are vital for Kentucky’s economy now and into the future.”
Here are three inspiring success stories from youthful movers and shakers.
Like many Kentuckians, Jenna Utterback had extra time on her hands during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. What she chose to do with her time is more unique than most.
Now 17, Utterback just graduated high school and celebrated the first anniversary of her business, Utterback Creations, which sells custom-made art items like T-shirts, car air fresheners, license plates and coasters.
“My business has Western-themed items as well as a positive vibe—something that spreads kindness with the smallest items,” says Utterback, a Fleming- Mason Energy Cooperative consumer- member who lives in Flemingsburg.
Growing up on a cattle and grain farm, Utterback says she learned the importance of persistence and work at a young age. As a business owner, she has practiced that persistence and used creative strategies to expand her market. In addition to selling products at The Carlisle Market in Nicholas County, Utterback markets her products through social media and sells them through Etsy, a virtual storefront that sells handmade and other unique items. Utterback’s creations have reached customers in all 50 states and seven countries.
“As I started posting on TikTok, it really started to blow up,” she says. “I have customers messaging me on Instagram, messaging me on Facebook and through Etsy. I was blown away with the support that I was shown.” Utterback will attend the University of Kentucky this fall and plans to study marketing while continuing her business.
Taylor Belle’s Ice Cream
Facebook: Taylor Belle’s
Taylor Cook is 21 years old, manages 31 employees and recently hired her dad to serve as chief operations officer of her ice cream company. Her sales accounts include the University of Kentucky, Rupp Arena, Kroger Field, Eastern Kentucky University, West Sixth Farm and Locals Food Hub & Pizza Pub in Frankfort, to name just a few. And don’t forget the ice cream trucks.
The taste of success may be sweet, but Cook has been wheeling and dealing since she was 15, and she’s not about to stop.
Taylor Belle’s—named for Cook and her little sister, Annabelle—began as an FFA project at Anderson County High School. Cook says she’s always dreamed of having an ice cream business, and through a required program known as the Supervised Agricultural Experience, her dream became reality.
“My parents looked at me like I was crazy, 15 years old, saying that I wanted to start an ice cream business,” she says, laughing. Nonetheless, John and Amanda Cook encouraged her to chase her dream.
“Being the parents that they are, they were all in,” Cook says. “They told me that if that’s what I want to do, I was gonna have to stick to it.”
Persistence has paid off with growth Cook never imagined when she was 15. Selling to major accounts, upgrading from one to four mobile ice cream trailers for selling on the road and at events, building a new warehouse facility on the family farm in Franklin County where she lives, and hiring her dad—it’s all possible through persistence.
“I go and talk to a lot of schools,” Cook says, offering encouragement for other young entrepreneurs. “The biggest thing is to follow your dream. Don’t let anyone discourage you. Because if you set your mind to it, you can do it.”
Supreme Enterprises LLC
When Clay Barnes founded the company that would become Supreme Enterprises LLC in 2005, he never expected how it would grow. It was a lawn mowing business at the time, standard fare for a 15-year-old. So how did Supreme Enterprises, based in Benton, become known as a premier provider of drainage, erosion control and excavation services?
Barnes says it came down to just saying yes.
A self-described perfectionist, Barnes always wanted his lawns to look perfect. Customers noticed, and soon, they began asking if he’d be willing to run their drainage pipes underground or fix a washed-out driveway.
“It just kept evolving into that, and I just kept saying yes,” says Barnes, a Jackson Purchase Energy Cooperative consumer-member. “I was pretty scared of the water stuff at first, but once I got my head wrapped around that—you know, water goes downhill, and you can control water, control what you want to do with it—that’s when it really started morphing, and we started pushing in that direction.”
Now 32, Barnes continues to manage Supreme Enterprises, along with Valiant, an irrigation company he purchased, and several other businesses that keep things running behind the scenes. He says he never could have been successful without the support of mentors—including Doug Goliver, who serves as Barnes’ chief financial officer—and a committed team of employees.
Barnes stresses the hard work and dedication of his employees, highlighting that Supreme Enterprises is a union company. Now that he spends a lot of his time on management, Barnes says he’s had to learn to shift his leadership style.
“I try not to micromanage,” he says. “I used to, back in the day, really bad.