SBDC adding two satellite offices, new cyber program

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The Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center strives to help grow local enterprise, but to do that, it has to generate awareness about its services.

“We need to make it easier for people — business owners — to come see us,” said Aikta Marcoulier, the director of Pikes Peak SBDC.

The organization’s addition of two satellite offices and a new cybersecurity program were highlighted Tuesday during the annual State of Small Business event at The Pinery at the Hill.

One of the announced offices will be located at the Sand Creek Library in Southeast Colorado Springs.

“They are giving us space,” Marcoulier said. “The space is a big deal just to let people [business owners and entrepreneurs] in that area know we are here to help and that we have consultants willing to be there during certain hours.”

The RISE Coalition and Thrive Colorado Springs also are actively working toward the betterment of the Southeast area, which influenced the SBDC’s decision to expand there.

“There’s an economic development piece to all of that,” Marcoulier said. “We had already started talking about being in the Southeast more but it was great to learn others were too and build partnerships with them to kind of push this thing forward.”

It was during the Business Journal’s Southeast business plan competition in 2016 that Marcoulier noticed a need for more business-oriented education.

“We realized there should be a little bit more support on polishing up the business plans that come out of businesses in that area,” she said. “Now is the perfect time to start up the satellite office, which sounds really fancy, but what it means is we are out there.”

The office will be staffed by a consultant with regular hours and a second one as needed. The office will also offer workshops.

“The city of Colorado Springs gave us an additional $10,000 this year just to support the Southeast community as well,” Marcoulier said. “So with all the partnerships made and dollars given, we actually got something going in that area, and we feel there is more to come.”

Marcoulier has seen Southeast Colorado Springs’ potential firsthand.

“I personally lived in that area for 10 years and saw all the possibility,” she said. “But I also saw that there are questions from the business community and a need for support.”

That’s why the center is also adding a satellite office at Fort Carson.

“The soldiers couldn’t get off base to come see us because of training and their busy schedules,” Marcoulier said. “We needed to go out to them — especially as they transition — because we want them to know we want them to stay here.”

In addition to the new locations, the center is launching a cybersecurity training program on June 20 for small businesses.

“We are still recruiting some businesses for that,” Marcoulier said. “But we saw there was nothing really on the basic cyber stuff that met our small businesses’ needs, so we are going to put them through some workshops and awareness training and see how it works.”

The program was made possible through partnerships with the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado, the Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center and the National Cybersecurity Center.

“It’s really important that our small businesses learn how to and are protecting their consumers’ data,” Marcoulier said. “We aren’t just doing workshops, but they have to develop a plan of attack too.”

Upon completion of the eight-week program, businesses will be awarded a badge of recognition by the BBB, which then plans to track the implementation and maintenance of each business’ cybersecurity plan.

“This is something really new for us but we are excited because of all the collaboration and really think it will be beneficial to our businesses,” Marcoulier said.

The event also included a brief overview on the state of small business both locally and statewide.

Marcoulier shared 2017 Pikes Peak SBDC impact stats, including the area’s 26 business starts, 403 jobs created and 175 retained.

“We also had 551 clients,” she said. “That’s 100 more than we’ve had the last two years and we are already on track [to add] 132 additional clients this year.”

Tatiana Bailey, director of the UCCS Economic Forum, said, “Small businesses are the primary driver of the economic growth Colorado Springs is experiencing.”

The city’s annual growth rate has been consistently higher than both the state’s and the United States’ since 2014.

“That’s really impressive,” Bailey said.

The Springs’ growth rate also has remained at about 6 to 7 percent for new businesses after peaking four years ago.

“Of course, if you have a lot of new business, you are going to have a lot of employment growth,” Bailey said, adding a low unemployment rate may seem like a good problem to have, but it can make finding talent more difficult.

“Basically, if you look statewide, the most recent data … it tells us for every job opening we only have 0.64 people available to fill it,” she said.

Stephanie Copeland, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, explained how staffing is one of the biggest challenges small business owners currently face throughout the state.

“Because of the low unemployment rate, it’s getting harder and harder for small businesses to find skilled workers,” she said.

Other issues small businesses are encountering include cash flow/overhead, maintaining/increasing client base, embracing technology and rapid change, Copeland said.

Some of Colorado small business’ current strengths are its highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce, good economy and its strong networks and resources.

“We excel at the state and local levels because of the work we do to collaborate with each other,” Copeland said. “It kind of goes with that saying, ‘All [boats] rise if we help each other,’ or something like that.”

She explained that small business trends in Colorado include increased  reliance on crowdfunding along with expansion of advanced industries within the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

“We are seeing more and more entrance into the advanced industries growing in small business, which is fantastic,” Copeland said. “That’s where innovation comes from.”

Additionally, social media is becoming an increasing part of how businesses get to market, she said.

“Having a consulting network and mentors that keep your business fresh or help you continue to innovate on social media platforms is important because it’s how you get to market in many ways,” Copeland said.

In all, Marcoulier says the state of small business in the Springs is “good and still on the up,” adding, “We are actually doing things together and I really think all the good is because of the partnerships here. None of us worked together six years ago, and now we are all in one room here, working as a team to grow our small businesses and Colorado Springs.” 

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