When Aikta Marcoulier took over the Colorado Springs Small Business Development Center in 2012, she thought she might have been in over her head. She’d weathered four rounds of interviews with some of the most prominent names in the business community, and the decision to hire her, in retrospect, was wise. Her ability to attract sponsors and market the SBDC throughout El Paso, Park and Teller counties has grown the center’s outreach and exceeded goals. Last year the center was recognized with the Region VIII Small Business Development Center Excellence and Innovation Award. Largely due to its work during recent disasters and with military veterans, it has been lauded as one of the top 10 SBDCs in the nation.

aikta-marcoulierWhere are you from and how did you get here?

I’m from Iowa. I moved here in 2001 when I graduated from the University of Iowa. My degree was in economics and psychology … I really loved business consulting and management consulting, and was really good at financial investment classes. I thought I’d be an investment banker. I was going for those positions … I always loved big cities. I looked [for work] in Chicago. I was in New York for 9/11, about three miles away … I had 10 interviews in two days and was offered a position … that paid $35,000. There was no way I could live on that in New York. My parents had moved to Colorado Springs, so I moved home.

What did you do for work when you got to the Springs?

I worked at Cheyenne Mountain Resort as a fitness center clerk. I networked with the members there and got a job with the Native American Sports Council, which is part of the Olympic Committee. I’m so far from investment banking, it’s not funny. From there I went to the Professional Bull Riders … I worked in Pueblo for five years. I was the director of partnership marketing and ran the sponsorship department for [PBR] … I was hired [at the SBDC] in May 2012. I had no idea what I was doing.

Tell me about your position with the SBDC.

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I’m the executive director here … We just went to three full-time positions; we have 30 volunteers and five paid consultants. My job is to tell people who we are, what we do and get people in the door. I build awareness and sponsorships and create programs, find out what market needs are and build collaboration to fill those gaps.

What can the community gain from the SBDC?

Our mission is to help existing and new business grow and prosper. We cut to the chase in helping people grow their business and cut through a lot of the mistakes people make. We have consultants who are social media experts, QuickBooks, we have three attorneys. We have everything under one roof … If we can’t cover it with consulting and workshops, we know who can. I have five pages of people we work with really closely — the Woodland Park Chamber [of Commerce], Manitou Chamber, the Women’s Chamber, the Workforce Center, [the Procurement Technical Assistance Center], the Business Alliance.

What are the most common mistakes you see?

Choosing the wrong legal entity. A lot of people starting a business want to be a sole proprietor. That’s the worst thing you can do. You want to go under an LLC because it removes liability. Most don’t understand what an S corp or a C corp are … tax liabilities and reporting responsibilities are some of them. You should also have your elevator pitch. You know your business in your head and its value. But being able to communicate that value and what you do, and being able to differentiate yourself from the competition is really important.

What do you do that’s different from the other dryer repair man? Will you guarantee your work? Do you have 24-hour customer service? Differentiate yourself from the competition because you will have a lot of competition … We also see a lot of businesses break down not for lack of money, but because of leadership at the top.

How do you measure the SBDC’s success?

We’re very metrics driven. We’re required to report quarterly on metrics. We’re part of a statewide network, part of 14 offices in this state — 80-plus with our satellite offices. Wherever you go you’re going to get the same support. We’re part of a national program of more than 1,100 offices, including Puerto Rico and Mexico. Our reporting goes to our lead office in Denver … That gets uploaded to the Small Business Administration. We have goals we measure.

If you are a client and we helped you with a hiring event, or you’re trying to get a loan and we help you put a financial package together, the next time we meet … we track it, but the client has to sign off that we helped them. It’s confirmed impact … Success is measured in hiring new employees, maintaining employees, getting loans or capital formation, getting contracts at any level.

How successful is this office?

Even when a lot of people were being laid off a couple years ago — that’s when people were starting up businesses. As an office, we’ve seen success. We surpass goals every year.

What do your successes say about the state of small business in Colorado Springs?

The small business community is 95 percent of business in our region. Something like 90 percent of the [private sector] jobs are because of small business.

If we can report that last year we helped retain 389 jobs, that means something for small business and our economy. If we helped 260 people get hired, that means business is growing. If we helped with $3.8 million in capital formation, that’s small businesses getting those loans. It says good things about who we’ve worked with.