For entrepreneurs looking to start a new business, find financing and navigate a confusing welter of regulations, just figuring out where to begin can dampen their enthusiasm or bring projects to a halt.
But budding entrepreneurs in Colorado Springs now have an advantage that their counterparts in other cities don’t — a step-by-step road map that leads them through the process and provides a wealth of information and resources, all in one place.
“This is our way of building upon that idea of the heart and soul of business, and looking at our city as open for businesses to be open,” said Yemi Mobolade, small business development administrator for the city of Colorado Springs and former vice president for business retention and expansion at the Chamber & EDC. “For folks starting today, this gives them a great platform to launch from.”
The new website takes entrepreneurs along a well-defined path that begins with a great idea and moves through planning and development, choosing a location and construction to the point where the business is ready to have its grand opening.
At each step (see page 8), users can click on links that take them deeper. For example, Step 1, research and business planning, links to an article that describes in detail the components of a business plan, presents sample business plans and provides resources including an online tutorial on how to write a business plan.
Subsequent steps lead to information about forming a business entity; factors to consider in locating the business; processes to follow once a site is selected; navigation of building codes, permits and inspections; and operation of the new business.
Every step provides a pro tip — a suggestion offered by successful entrepreneurs that they wish they’d known when they were getting started, as well as a list of people, departments and agencies to contact.
The site features striking graphics designed by marketing and branding agency Magneti.
“This is really about trying to help businesses know what they don’t know ahead of time,” said Tammy Fields, chief economic development officer with the Chamber & EDC. “Over the years, we’ve frequently gotten questions from someone looking to start a new business. There was a lot of confusion, and a lot of times you kind of muddle through it. We thought there needed to be a concise way to help guide them through the process.”
About 15 months ago, Mobolade and Chelsea Gaylord, economic development project manager for the city of Colorado Springs, convened a group of about a dozen people to figure out a way to bring together all of the diverse information a new business owner needs to know.
Business owners were invited to offer ideas and feedback, and their input informed each step of the process, Gaylord said.
Gaylord and Mobolade have been working with the group to spread the word about the website through social media. They’ve also taken COSOpenForBiz on the road, presenting it at the Colorado Springs Black Chamber of Commerce, Southern Colorado Commercial Brokers and Small Business Week events.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Mobolade said. “We’re pleased so far with how it’s turned out.”
The website is already getting used.
“It has brought out a lot of entrepreneurs’ personal stories of what their journey looked like as they were building their business and ideas for their own pro tips,” Gaylord said.
The website has gone through numerous iterations and constant tweaking. The original version had the appearance of a site map or flow chart, but the design was streamlined as it evolved.
“When we first started trying to make sense of the steps, it was overwhelming,” Mobolade said. “The process is not linear, but this provides a window, a general idea of the movement of the steps.”
“Our goal wasn’t to capture everything,” Gaylord added, “but to capture 60-70 percent of a typical situation.”
Evolution of the site will continue as people use it and make suggestions for its improvement.
“We’re actually looking for entrepreneurs about to get started so that they walk through this step by step and are able to provide feedback in real time,” Gaylord said.
“We have this dream that eventually we would create a map for every industry,” Mobolade said. “Every industry, their journey is a little bit different, so we would like to customize it.”
Mobolade’s new job with the city as a small business advocate, which started May 6, will evolve as well. He will act as a navigator and starting point for startups and the business community.
“I can point them in the right direction,” he said, “and I can also assist when they’re stuck with regulatory processes.”
Mobolade also will be working with department and agency leaders to simplify current processes.
“The hope is that we become more customer-friendly,” he said.
Those improvements began during development of the website.
“Our city clerk has done a really great job through this process,” Gaylord said. “They actually changed their permitting pages so that they were easier to read and understand, and they got rid of some of that more regulatory jargon.”
The team that helped shape the website, originally called City Agencies for Small Business Advancement, will continue to meet regularly.
“It is going to morph into Colorado Springs for Small Business Advancement,” Mobolade said. “That team will evolve into not just city agencies. It will now include entrepreneurs and other types of business-minded people who can make the future development more complete and robust. We realize now it takes an entire village of business partners to really advance small business.”
“What’s been helpful is having all these agencies at the table to say, ‘What about this?’” Fields said. “Who would have thought that (Colorado Springs) Utilities may play a larger role in somebody starting a small business? … A big part of this is how we make the community more business-friendly.”