Young Entrepreneurs, An ‘Endangered Species’ Nationwide, Thrive in the Beehive and Gem States

K9 Sport Sack among millennial entrepreneurs supported by Zions Bank as 2019 top SBA lender in Idaho, Utah

Kallee Feuz Jan 15, 2020

Joseph and Jen Watson were in their mid-20s when they developed a product they couldn’t find in any pet store — a backpack carrier for dogs. The Orem couple hadn’t planned to become business owners, just like they hadn’t planned to become dog owners.

They found a puppy, a small terrier mix, in a trash bin, and made a backpack carrier to incorporate their new pet, Daisy, into their busy lives. On bike rides and other family adventures with Daisy, the Watsons were often stopped by people asking where they could buy a similar dog carrier.

K9 Sport Sack co-founder Jen Watson
K9 Sport Sack co-founder Jen Watson.

Today, K9 Sport Sack is sold around the world and seen everywhere from mountain peaks to the New York City subway system. Now in their early 30s, the Watsons are among a cadre of young Utah entrepreneurs who are bucking a nationwide trend.

Young entrepreneurs robust part of Utah and Idaho economies

While the percentage of U.S. entrepreneurs ages 25-34 has been declining for three decades, Utah and Idaho’s youthful business landscape runs counter to that trend — a phenomenon noted by the state’s top lender of Small Business Administration loans at the end of fiscal year 2019.

In 2019, Zions Bank approved 177 SBA 7(a) loans in Utah and Idaho, totaling over $30 million. And many of those loans went to business owners under the age of 35 — including the Watsons. Nationally, about 4% of entrepreneurs fit into the 25-34 age bracket, a number that has been steadily declining since 1989 when 10.1% of U.S. entrepreneurs were younger than 35, according to a 2019 report by Lance Surety Bond Associates.

“While young entrepreneurs in the U.S. have been called an ‘endangered species,’ they are a robust part of our economies in Idaho and Utah,” said Zions Bank president and CEO Scott Anderson. “Young entrepreneurs add vibrancy to the economy, offering fresh perspectives and finding new ways to tackle old problems.”

Success born from simple desire to fill a need

In launching and expanding K9 Sport Sack, the Watsons not only solved their own conundrum, they struck a chord with a large swath of pet owners — those relying on transportation in major cities where pets aren’t allowed on the ground, people with aging or disabled dogs, and dog owners who don’t want to leave their pups behind on recreational activities.

The Watsons say their unlikely path to launching and growing a thriving business came from a simple desire to fulfill a need. “Like many entrepreneurs, we have been successful by selling a product that was made out of necessity,” Jen says. “We were trying to develop something to meet our own needs and found a greater purpose.”

K9 Sport Sack now has nine employees and sells its products in more than 20 countries and 500 stores worldwide. The company’s SBA loan* in 2019 through Zions Bank helped position the retailer for future growth.

Looking to follow in the Watsons’ footsteps and start your own small business? Zions Bank offers online business tools including business templates, columns, videos and financial calculators. Our Business Resource Centers in Salt Lake City and Boise provide counseling and training for entrepreneurs.

Visit a Zions Bank branch or locate a banker near you to learn more about financing* including SBA loans.

*Loans subject to credit approval, SBA approval. Terms and conditions apply. See banker for details.

Kallee Feuz is a Public Relations Officer for Zions Bank. 

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