When the pandemic started, Exponential Impact created the first business relief program in Colorado Springs called Survive & Thrive COS.
The goal was simple: support the core of our community and economy: small businesses. The program focused on providing financial relief through low-interest loans and holistic programming and offered immediate relief to businesses while also offering mentoring to struggling companies. The program’s impact led to a larger 2.0 initiative in partnership with the City of Colorado Springs, launched in the Spring of 2021.
Survive & Thrive 2.0 was a unique response to the continuing negative impacts of COVID-19 on small businesses. Many small businesses faced difficulties retaining employees, planning for the future, and applying for needed support funding. With limited support for micro-enterprises (fewer than five employees) in low and middle-income communities, the city of Colorado Springs and Exponential Impact collaborated on an innovative use of federal funding.
Grant funding was offered to go toward rent, utilities and payroll, with an average grant amount of $15,272. XI welcomed 23 businesses spanning seven industries into the program, through an extensive review process overseen by community leaders. Some of the most impacted industries, like restaurants and retail, participated. For some of these micro-enterprises, this funding supported them during the most challenging season for businesses in Colorado Springs.
In addition to funding, programming for Survive & Thrive 2.0 included weekly webinars and associated projects for participants. Each week the focus of the webinars shifted from financial foundations, bookkeeping, marketing and storytelling. The programming zeroed in on providing information related to these non-product-specific areas critical to running a business and how to best use their funding to ensure long-term success.
Because these micro-enterprises have fewer than five employees, business operations often fall on the owner, leaving little time for anything other than making and selling their product or service. These webinars offered the flexibility to join live or watch on their own time and review later.
“Every webinar was a valuable lesson. Starting with financial, advertising, and engaging with the community,” said Young Yoon, from Coffee and Tea Zone who was Survive & Thrive 2.0 participant.
Along with a business-focused curriculum, the programming was designed to provide networking for the participants. Through a virtual discussion forum on Facebook and online meetings, the participants developed a peer group that encouraged connection. The Facebook group has been a space for participants to continue conversations from the weekly webinar and talk about the program.
“It’s nice knowing we have a support group even when the program is over. This group has taught us to not fear the word ‘change,’ and everything is possible with communication,” said Stephanie Perea Mack, from The Pour House and 2.0 participant.
Mentorship is a core value of Exponential Impact and is a central component of the organization’s programs, including Survive & Thrive. Business owners benefit from hearing the advice and suggestions from other community members who have been in their shoes. Along with supporting current business owners, the mentorship program encourages mentors to give back to their community and encourages experience sharing.
The webinars were great for sparking inspiration, seeking feedback on a challenge, and discussing important topics. One of the most constructive approaches to the program was a pod-driven mentorship model. The pods were made up of two to three businesses and a mentor. Each week, the pods would meet and discuss different challenges each business was having and allow the participants to speak with their mentor and their peers.
“The conversations within my pod were absolutely beyond extraordinary. The three of us business owners all have different focuses and backgrounds, but some of the challenges we’ve faced were pure business fundamentals, and so the conversations were applicable to all of us,” explained Michael Rogers, 2.0 participant from Songbird & the Orchid.
To conclude the program, community leaders, mentors, partners, participants, and staff came together to celebrate the accomplishments of the businesses and the connections made through the program.
“It is exciting to celebrate the conclusion of the Survive and Thrive 2.0 program. We are transitioning out of the pandemic restrictions as a community, and programs like Survive & Thrive and the work of our small businesses are elements that make Colorado Springs a resilient and vibrant community,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers during the ceremony.
The in-person event offered an opportunity for connections to be solidified and while the program came to an end, for many this marks the beginning of a new community. “The biggest aspect of the program which I enjoyed is the synergy and camaraderie, which was formed between the businesses, the mentors and the Survive & Thrive staff. These connections will benefit us well beyond the program’s completion. I can tell that some of these connections will last a lifetime,” according to Carlos Gonzalez, S&T 2.0 participant and business owner of Carlos Gonzalez Insurance Agency Inc. who spoke at the event.
“What I learned is that I need to be adaptable and be flexible with all the changes that are happening,” offered Analee Chan,a 2.0 participant from Rivon Gas Station.
Both mentors and participants talked about the positive experience they have had in the program and, like many of us, are excited to see what is on the horizon.
“Thanks to Survive & Thrive for providing a much-needed lifeline to micro-enterprises in low-middle income communities in Colorado Springs. The small businesses I mentored are eager to get back to normal. They have been very appreciative of the weekly learning and mentoring sessions. This is a great program and should be replicated across the state to support small businesses in need,” said 2.0 mentor Rahul Kasat.
Survive & Thrive 2.0 focused on micro enterprises. The average funding requested was $19,363 and the average grant was $15,043 for a total funding distribution of $346,000.
Natasha Main is the executive director of Exponential Impact, a nonprofit startup incubator and accelerator based in Colorado Springs. Dedicated to supporting economic development and high-wage job growth, Exponential Impact provides programs for technology startups and small businesses. Learn more at exponentialimpact.com.