Akita Marcoulier

The page can’t turn quickly enough on 2020! To say the pandemic put a wrench in the plans of the Pikes Peak small business community is the understatement of the year. Our small business owners were in the fight of their fiscal life and several didn’t make it; for others every day is crucial. In fact, if you need to make a purchase before you finish this article, please shop, dine and hire services locally. For the folks in back, let me say that louder: SHOP, DINE AND HIRE SERVICES LOCALLY!

Beyond the extraordinary challenges of running a small business in good times, 2020 started as a recession. The pandemic quickly brought small business owners new challenges as they were forced to stay ahead of the latest business rules related to COVID-19 — and new rules kept coming, mostly in the form of unplanned expenses and limits on customer capacity. Our business owners were in survival mode: Where’s the next hit coming from? How do we survive? Who do we call for help?

Many small business owners knew the answer: The Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, a component of El Paso County Economic Development, knows all too well how to navigate a business through disasters. In 2012, we helped businesses with relief and recovery after the Waldo Canyon Fire; in 2013, the Black Forest Fire and the floods in Manitou. However, as prepared as we were, the pandemic forced our team to consider how to help small business plan for an evolving crisis none of us could have imagined.

With “Small Business” in our name, we had to think fast, act quickly and serve our community. We strongly believed this was not the year to cancel events, small business celebrations, nor back off delivery of free consulting and over a hundred educational workshops. On March 12, we began delivering all services online — workshops, consulting and events all become livestream webinars and meetings, serving the local business community with some international audience participation in our meetings. 

The SBDC was first to launch a webpage loaded with resources for business relief, recovery and resilience. The “Prepare” webpage launched in early March as the pandemic reached Colorado. Updated regularly, the page has information on grant and loan programs, the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans and other local, state and national assistance programs. 

We then launched a Recovery and Resiliency Series providing immediate information on new loan programs, partner resources, updates to regulations, and more. 

We established a COVID-19 response team composed of subject matter experts in the areas of finance, law, insurance, cybersecurity and marketing.

Currently SBDC leads a campaign encouraging the public to “Bundle Up for Small Business,” continuing their support during the cold weather months. Our staff, consultants and workshop facilitators have worked tirelessly to assist our small business community. The work we do is with passion, hunger and drive (our “Ph.D.”) to help our small business community. 

Beyond our pandemic response, the Pikes Peak SBDC provided programming in the areas of government contracting and cybersecurity, courses for creatives, and the Leading Edge strategic planning series. We also implemented new programs such as a five-part series for Southeast Colorado Springs, Leading Edge for Nonprofits (with the Colorado Institute for Social Impact, Colorado Nonprofit Association and Pikes Peak Community Foundation), and Small Business Saturdays with the Colorado Springs Business Journal and the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado.  

Large events seemed daunting. How would we hold our statewide events and small business celebrations? Thanks to the power of technology and Steve Weed Media, we hosted 2020 Small Business Week with our partners at the BBB, and State of Small Business combined with the Economic Forum, Colorado SBDC Veterans Small Business Conference and Colorado SBDC Cybersecurity for Small Business Summit, reaching over 10,000 viewers.

Just like our small business community, our plans for 2021 will not look the same and will evolve to meet client needs. We will continue to provide free consulting, practical training and connections to resources. General workshops will be delivered on demand, and a statewide learning platform is being launched to share valuable content across the Colorado SBDC network. 

We will continue to represent small businesses on national special interest groups for veterans,  small business programs and cybersecurity. All strategic partnerships previously named will expand to include those with the Pikes Peak Workforce Center and regional chambers. 

We remain committed to providing services at no charge whenever possible, raising awareness on the importance of minority-owned businesses, providing additional education on growth opportunities, and expanding education on small business implementation of diversity and inclusion in daily processes.  

The pandemic has challenged us to stay on top of our strategic planning game to keep the small business community ahead of whatever comes next. Our promise remains: to adapt, to adjust and deliver the very best in small business development to the Pikes Peak region. 

And again, if you need to make a purchase please shop, dine and hire services locally!

Akita Marcoulier

 

Executive Director, Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center