Highlights from the Energize Colorado 2022 Impact Report

As Energize Colorado wraps up 2022 (our third year of operation), I am excited to share highlights from our Impact Report. Supported by our partners, volunteers and board members, the Energize Colorado team has made significant progress toward building a more resilient ecosystem in Colorado by supporting small businesses, particularly those owned by the most underinvested in groups of entrepreneurs: women, rural, veterans, and BIPOC. 

The numbers are impressive. Since Energize Colorado’s founding in March, 2020, we have:

  • supported 10,000 businesses through Energize Colorado programs
  • provided 5,000 businesses with $45M in grants and loans
  • engaged 650 volunteers 
  • collaborated with 75+ partners in the promotion and delivery of first the Energize Community program

In 2022, Energize Colorado:

  • awarded $41 million in grants to 4,363 entrepreneurs across underinvested in communities
  • deployed more than $1.7 million in low-interest loan dollars to 92 entrepreneurs across the state 
  • mentored 65 entrepreneurs in the 10-week Energize Community Accelerator
  • launched the Community Resource Compass, including 75 community resources 
  • surveyed 14,000 small business owners for the Small Business Resiliency Index (SBRI)

Strength in Three Core Areas

In 2022, Energize Colorado shifted focus to strengthen capabilities in three core areas: capital deployment, ecosystem innovation, and research and insights. Energize Colorado now delivers capital through our new revolving loan fund, which expedites the time it takes from loan application to receiving funds. The Energize Community Program (ECP) is Energize Colorado’s fprogram that deploys funds through our revolving loan fund.

From the start, Energize Colorado focused on ecosystem innovation through leveraging the expertise of our team and volunteers to fill gaps within the small business ecosystem. This year, we identified two specific gaps: 1) the lack of a technical assistance resource directory, and 2) the challenges of capital absorption. 

Research and insights set Energize Colorado apart from other lenders. The Small Business Resiliency Index (SBRI) has been incorporated with all of our capital programs. The SBRI is the first comprehensive index that tracks the impacts of society’s economic cycles on the Colorado small business ecosystem and the barriers small business owners face in building resiliency and inclusivity into their future growth. By measuring the resiliency of small businesses, business owners can better understand what to do to become more resilient in the event of the next economic downturn.

Looking Forward to 2023—and Beyond

We are excited to iterate on ECP and continue our mission of building a more resilient and equitable small business ecosystem in Colorado. We pride ourselves on being builders and innovators – this is our secret sauce – but none of it would work without the community of volunteers, partners, community leaders, elected officials, and generous supporters who believe in our mission to support the most underinvested in entrepreneurs in our state, as they are the bedrock of Colorado’s culture and prosperity. 

Which factors contribute most to business resiliency? To the resilience of innovation ecosystems and economies? It may surprise you to learn that the mindsets of people within the business are as predictive as use of technology or access to capital.

That’s the message of Theo Edmonds, JD, MHA, MFA, and Cameron Lister, MPH, co-founders of UPOP, a research firm that uses a data-based approach to look at “specific culture signals that reliably predict performance outcomes, employee wellbeing, and growth.” UPOP helps companies see cultural factors that point to resilience in their future.

Edmonds and Lister started UPOP as a research project within a National Science Foundation-sponsored research center in Louisville, Kentucky. In 2021, they moved operations to Denver and played a leading role in structuring Energize Colorado’s Small Business Resilience Index (SBRI), a tool we designed to help businesses and policy makers better understand Colorado’s current small business landscape.

SBRI Spotlights the Whole Human 

The SBRI includes data from surveys sent to approximately 14,000 small business owners from Energize Colorado’s database. Incorporating Edmonds’ and Lister’s holistic approach to business health, the SBRI analyzes metrics of social capital with those of operational capital. More typical business metrics (operations and technology) are measured alongside those of hope, trust, and belonging—the “whole human.”

What do hope, trust, and belonging mean in business? Hope measures how businesses set goals for the future and find ways around barriers to success. Trust includes receiving guidance from the state and trusting state leadership. Belonging measures how owners feel the business and they belong in the broader community, crucial to shared success.

“What has surprised people most is that hope, trust, and belonging are so strongly predictive of success as opposed to operational metrics, like cash on hand, sales, profit, and so on,” says Lister.

The Challenge—and the Opportunity

The SBRI reveals opportunities to improve factors that contribute to resilience among Colorado’s small businesses. For example, during the last two years, a lack of timely and consistent information from all levels of government led many businesses to distrust the wide range of programs made available to them. That distrust further reduced their access to capital, technical assistance, and other resources that could have directly supported them and contributed to the state’s small business economic recovery. Trust was even further eroded among BIPOC and Veteran communities. 

Many small businesses also lacked a strong future orientation (hope). Those with higher levels of optimism and adaptability fared far better in economic recovery. 

“We’re used to thinking about business in linear processes,” says Edmonds. “Looking at people and businesses—at innovation ecosystems—in that way is no longer serving most of us by any data measure. Research has clearly shown that hope, belonging, and trust are predictive of how willing or not willing people are to engage, to create social capital, to utilize resources offered to them, all of which contributes to business resilience.”

The Future: Culturally Responsive Economies

The SBRI provides an efficient way to identify the earliest signals of where the economic and business market may be going, and how to unlock the dormant capacity of diverse entrepreneurs to build those markets. “What we’ve done over the last several years is essentially find a Rosetta stone for understanding different types of groups that allows us to understand where people might fall within resilience and innovation,” says Edmonds.

When state economic leaders address cultural factors, explains Lister, “not only will you solve economic issues and problems, but at the same time, you’ll solve human issues and problems, which will provide more resiliency in the face of challenges in the future.”

“Let’s get state and local leaders to understand the role hope, trust, and belonging have on economic development” says Lister. “Let’s take the measures to start figuring out culturally responsive approaches to solving system  problems that impact our economy.” 

Read more about Theo Edmonds and Cameron Lister, the SBRI, and UPOP.

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.