[youtube width=”620″ height=”400″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tQEg4kGJis[/youtube]

Aikta Marcoulier’s introduction to the Colorado Springs Small Business Development Center was literally a trial by fire.

She’d barely started in the new role as executive director when the Waldo Canyon fire broke out in June 2012. Another fire and several floods later, Marcoulier has developed an active disaster response team for small businesses harmed by natural disasters and other problems.

“It’s been a challenging year, but it’s been fun too,” she said. “I’d just gotten by feet wet when we had the Waldo Canyon fire, so there’s nothing like learning about a job by getting thrown into it.”

Marcoulier isn’t merely responding to business problems after they occur. She’s put together a forum on teaching businesses to prepare for the worst — so if it comes, they’ll be ready.

“It’s not just fires and floods,” she said. “Businesses need to be prepared to respond to other problems, like robbery.

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“If you know what to do, if you have a plan, it’s so much easier to respond,” Marcoulier said.

But it’s not all about natural and manmade disasters, she said. The SBDC also offers classes and other resources for small businesses, she said.

“That’s what I love about it,” she said. “There’s a diversity of clients, a diversity of topics. There’s something new every day.”

The SBDC stands to become busier under Marcoulier’s direction. She’s starting an economic gardening plan, based on state Rep. Pete Lee’s legislation that passed the Colorado General Assembly last session. Economic gardening, she said, is about growing the city’s second-tier businesses.

“Those are the ones that are the backbone of the state,” she said, adding that second-tier businesses do the hiring, risk-taking and add the capital.

“We want to nurture those local businesses instead of trying to recruit new businesses from out-of-state.”

She’s also developing a new roster of classes to help small businesses learn and grow.

“We’re getting new facilitators and volunteers to help create topics that will really assist small businesses,” she said. “There are some big topics — like health care — that we really haven’t had on the docket. We’re opening some new, exciting courses.”

But Marcoulier wants to make it clear: The success isn’t all hers.

“I couldn’t do this without the assistance of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, their sponsorship,” she said. “And the city and El Paso County have done so much to support the SBDC. I can’t leave them out. They all make it possible.”

Shawna Rogers, director of the Office of Professional and Executive Development at UCCS, said the credit should go to Marcoulier.

“In a little over one year, she has not only become successful and very involved in he community, but I also think she has made the SBDC extremely visible in a different light than it has ever been before,” Rogers said in her letter of nomination. “Her ‘get it done’ attitude is already well known in this community. I’m continuously impressed an in awe of Aikta’s ideas, passion, excitement, drive to succeed and the way she is able to network and inspire people in the community to be involved alongside her.”

— Amy Gillentine