Strength During Crisis: Energize Colorado’s First Year

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.