By Kati Weis

(CBS4) – Energize Colorado, a nonprofit born out of the pandemic, has been working throughout the last year and a half to help minority and women-owned small businesses stay afloat, providing additional funding to fill in the gaps that federal money left behind. Now, more opportunities lie ahead for local business owners in underrepresented communities to get the critical help they need.

In the early stages of the pandemic, Gov. Jared Polis started an economic taskforce to help analyze and address the economic toll of the pandemic’s shutdown and subsequent restrictions. Energize was born out of that task force, and gained 501c3 status within months.

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After speaking with dozens of community organizations on the ground, the nonprofit quickly learned federal funding was falling short for many small business owners, especially those in underrepresented communities, across the state, who may not have had the adequate resources, expertise, and connections to acquire all of the money necessary.

So, Energize Colorado, with the help of financial specialists and innovators in the public, private, and philanthropic sectors across the state, developed a “Gap Fund” to give small businesses the extra help they needed to stay alive.

Using CARES Act money, Energize Colorado deployed Gap Fund grants to 2,064 small businesses in Colorado.

“They are small businesses, 25 employees or less, with priority on women, veterans, rural, and BIPOC small businesses,” said Energize Colorado CEO Wendy Lea. “I think the thing that’s impacted me the most is being with these small businesses, these owners, and to see what they’ve already been through and see how much a little help, how far it goes for them, just emotionally… it’s so rewarding, and it’s also heartbreaking.”

Peggy Sue Schmoldt was one of those lucky business owners to receive the funding. She has owned the Academy of Cosmetology Arts — a beauty school in Denver — for 20 years.

“They made a difference at the right time to tell you the truth,” Schmoldt said.

Thanks to the Gap Fund, Schmoldt was able to keep her beauty school up and running without having to lay off any employees.

“To be able to provide a service for my industry means so much to me,” she said.

Lea says last year Energize Colorado received more than 10,000 applications for the gap funding, but only had enough to award the money to a little more than 2,000 of those applicants.

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Now, she says a new bill signed in June by the governor has just allocated another $15 million for small business assistance, and Energize Colorado will help deploy that money to some of the businesses in underrepresented communities who didn’t get the help in the last round.

“We’re jazzed about the opportunity to leverage the mechanism we built to again serve those businesses,” Lea said.

Lea expects that money to help at least an additional 800 Colorado small businesses.

Energize Colorado also has $8 million in low-interest loans to help even more small businesses. The loans are made possible by money raised from the private sector, and Lea expects them to be deployed soon.

“There are some businesses who can truly benefit from a very low interest rate loan,” Lea said. “That’s why we’re excited about accelerating the deployment of that kind of capital, again to the same audience.”

Lea says all of the efforts are “in the spirit of resilience and equity and building Colorado’s next economy on the small business side.”

Schmoldt says she’s grateful to see so many people come together to help businesses like hers during such an unprecedented time. She says it has made her business stronger than ever.

“There’s been so much collective kindness, where other people are really, truly assisting others, and it’s wonderful to have had,” Schmoldt said.

To learn more about Energize Colorado’s Gap Fund, click here.

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To learn more about other resources Energize Colorado provides for small businesses, click here.

Kati Weis