May 2013

Featured Emerging Leader

Transition and Employment Projects

One of the goals of the Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects is to expand the vision of what is possible for youth and young adults with developmental disabilities to learn, live, work and play in their communities. We have been capturing stories of Montanans under age 34 who have a developmental disability according to the Montana definition and who have creatively organized their supports to:


  • Live in the community (on their own or with family or friends) and/or
  • Work in the community (including owning their own business) and/or
  • Access inclusive education (high school, college, community classes) and/or
  • Participate in recreation and leisure activities that are inclusive (that is, alongside people without disabilities)

Each month, we share one of these stories with Listserv members. You may also read about Montana's Emerging Leaders in our Featured EL Archives, 2009 EL Showcase [PDF] and 2010 EL Showcase [PDF]. To nominate yourself or someone else as an Emerging Leader, visit the Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects web site.

Aidan "Treats M Good"

Interviewed by Tracy Fillbach, Rural Institute Consumer Advisory Council Member, and Susanne Meikle, owner of Montana Works Solutions

Aidan showing business cards on his laptop   

Aidan is a junior at Florence High School. In the summer of his freshman year and with the help of his teachers, Aidan started his own business making, marketing and selling "Treat M Good" dog biscuits. The idea began as a writing skills project. Aidan had his own dog, Cheyenne, who could serve as a taste tester so he decided to start a biscuit business. According to Aidan, two of his teachers (Mrs. Fisher and Mrs. Claussen) were very helpful as they worked with him to break the start-up tasks into manageable pieces like designing and making his business card on the computer, creating flyers and coupons for marketing, and developing his own recipes and testing them with Cheyenne and other canine volunteers to find the most liked and readily digestible ones. Aidan's focus was to make a good tasting biscuit that was also healthy for the dog to eat.


Aidan's main ingredients were peanut butter, whole wheat, whole milk, oatmeal, spinach and bananas. He came up with several recipes - Banana Day, Dog B-day Treats, Cheyenne's Specialty and Peanut Delight. Next, he brought a bag of the biscuits for six teachers' and four students' canine pets to try. He gave the pet owners a questionnaire he had developed and asked them to respond to such questions as: "Did your pet like eating a specific biscuit flavor? Did the biscuits upset the animal's stomach? Would you buy these treats for your dog?" The feedback helped Aidan know which recipes to make and market.


Now Aidan needed to produce the biscuits in large amounts to sell. He bought very high quality ingredients because he wanted Cheyenne and other dogs to have a low fat, nutritious and tasty treat. Aidan made the biscuits in his home kitchen. He offered three sizes (small, medium and large), with each size featuring a different shape. The small biscuits were rolled out and cut with a little cookie cutter. For the medium size, Aidan used dog-shaped and dog house cookie cutters. He used a pizza cutter to slice long strips, which he twisted together to form the large biscuits. Aidan figured out the cost of his ingredients and priced the biscuits accordingly. To encourage sales, Aidan had "Special Deals" and "Dog Coupons" with discounts for returning customers.


Now Aidan needed to market his product. He created a logo on the computer using Cheyenne as a model. Aidan put the logo on flyers, business cards, and merchandise labels. He set up a blog that gave customers information about the canine treats. He spoke to the school principal about selling Treat M Good biscuits to students and teachers and wrote up a business contract that allowed him to make the sales. Aidan approached the local gas station and a nearby kennel; the gas station decided not to carry the Treat M Good biscuits but the kennel agreed to offer Treat M Good products and asked that Aidan display his cards and flyers on the merchandise. Aidan explained that his treats were a success at the school, his primary marketing spot, and he made a profit after paying for the cost of supplies.


Aidan continued his business into his sophomore year but this year decided to take a break and focus on school, Hapkido at a martial arts gym in Lolo, rock collecting, finding gold in the creeks, and hanging out with friends. He wants to go to college at Montana State University ("Go Bobcats!") after he graduates from high school. Eventually he may restart Treat M Good as a side job. This summer he hopes to get a part-time job assisting children's martial arts classes at the gym where he takes Hapkido.


Aidan said he really liked developing, launching and operating Treat M Good, and that he "learned a lot." He expressed gratitude at all the help his teachers provided as he worked through the details of starting a business (researching the product, determining costs, marketing, etc.). He also thanked his friends for giving him rides since accessible transportation is one of the biggest barriers he faced (and continues to face). We think Cheyenne and Aidan's other canine volunteers and customers probably want to thank him for making the biscuits!


Aidan's business card 



Thanks to Aidan for sharing his story and to Tracy and Susanne for conducting the interview! 





Kim Brown
MT Transition Listserv


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This project is funded in whole or in part under a Contract with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. The statements herein do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Department.