In my role on the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE), I have been honored to work with fellow advisory council members and the Department of Commerce to shape a new $10B Regional Innovation Hub program that will be funded by The CHIPS & Science Act. 

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking about that new program with David Ponraj on Breaking Down Barriers, a podcast that “explores the opportunity to build wealth in local, regional, and national economies through entrepreneurship-led economic development.” 

We discussed:

  • The Regional Innovation Hub program’s plan for “catalytic” investment of $1B in 10 state ecosystems over five years.
  • What the Regional Innovation Hub program prioritizes: advancing technologies, building new businesses, and shifting talent patterns around diversity, inclusivity, and job opportunities.
  • What qualifies a region for the program, and why the program prioritizes a region’s potential over its need–the assets, resources, and opportunities that will translate into the greatest wins for the national economy, as well as for national security.
  • The importance of breaking down barriers for traditionally marginalized communities, setting the conditions for new businesses to launch and thrive.
  • Where ecosystem development starts, ideally: Mapping conditions and assets in the region or state, then recognizing opportunities to connect businesses and other entities for growth. 
  • The significant impact startup communities have on state, region, or community ecosystems when “nodes” are connected, including entrepreneurs, angel investors, incubators, universities, and corporate entities. 

The National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE) is in the Department of Commerce. Its purpose is to support entrepreneurs who are advocating for innovative technologies. Regional Innovation Hubs is one program under CHIPS & Science. Learn more about NACIE and the Regional Innovation Hub program.

Which macro trends are driving changes in Colorado’s small business economy? And what do those trends look like at the ground level? These are some of the key questions that Colorado Governor Jared Polis asks of the economists and business leaders who serve on the state’s Revenue Estimating Advisory Committee (GREAC)

I’m honored to announce my appointment to GREAC as of October 2021. Housed under the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budgeting, the committee is led by Luke Teater (Chief Economist, Governor’s Office) and Lauren Larson (Director, Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting). I’m delighted to serve alongside Energize Colorado’s Brian Lewandowski, Executive Director of Business Research at CU Boulder, as well. 

I look forward to joining these and other outstanding committee members and to contributing insights gleaned from the 20-plus months I’ve led Energize Colorado. It’s my hope that what I’ve learned in serving Colorado’s small business community—particularly rural-, minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses—will help economists not only predict revenue, but influence policies and programs that can bolster Colorado’s small businesses over the long term.

On March 24, 2021, Energize Colorado officially marked its one-year anniversary as an organization powered by inspired innovators, all working together to build a resilience and equitable small business ecosystem. 

As we were putting the final touches together for our one-year celebration another crisis was occurring just a few miles from my home in Boulder, Colorado.  A gunman killed 10 innocent people in a grocery store. Shaken and overwhelmed, I was doing my best to process it all on the morning of March 24th as our community of volunteers gathered with our co-founder and Chair Brad Feld to reflect on our wild and crazy first year. 

To mark our one-year anniversary, our partners and volunteers shared personal stories and we reviewed our impacts across Colorado’s diverse small-business community. Our Gap Fund efforts alone provided $26M to over 2,000 businesses across Colorado, 97% of which belong to underserved communities.

Coloradans helping Coloradans

As I reflect on year one, I carry deep respect and immense gratitude for the hundreds of volunteers who came forward to listen, learn, build, execute, and iterate our programs (all in record time) to help small businesses navigate economic upheaval triggered by COVID-19. As Aaron Clark of Justice Reskill reflected, “Energize Colorado has been resilient in learning and moving forward and helping the people who need it most.”   

Our volunteers—“Coloradans helping Coloradans”—never wavered.  As Marc Nager of the Greater Colorado Venture Fund said, “What a shining example of bottom-up leadership. To go out and listen and understand first and foremost.” “The mindset was: We don’t know what’s happening next. But we’re going to fight for what we want and we’re not going to do it alone,” said Jesus Salazar of Prosono.

A few of my top learnings from year one

#1 The significant role the small business sector plays in Colorado’s economic viability.

#2 The experience and expertise of a range of entities across Colorado that are dedicated to supporting small businesses, including small business development centers, community development financial institutions, technical assistance organizations, entrepreneur support organizations, workforce development councils, and economic development organizations. 

#3 The learning required for me to understand my own equity journey so I can be a culturally responsive and inclusive leader for Energize Colorado. 

The power of building a state-wide volunteer model that delivered consistent impact

Above all, though, I’m particularly mindful of the new lifelong relationships I’ve created (virtually) across the State. The people I’ve met along the way have gracefully taken me “under their wing” as we built and iterated our strategy and structure to drive towards a more resilient and equitable future economy.

As Chris Erickson of Range Ventures reflected during our anniversary gathering, the people and partners working together through Energize Colorado helped us have “a significant impact across the state, really quickly. It’s incredibly unique for a state to have  people and organizations that are willing to volunteer their time to have impact.”  Yes, I’m mighty grateful for our volunteers, and I am eager to collaborate with our community and our ecosystem partners to map out the next phase of our contribution to Colorado’s small business economy.