- Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Starting a small business can be a struggle, and for many entrepreneurs, knowing where to start can either make or break their potential business. Luckily, small businesses in Colorado Springs, Colorado can turn to an entrepreneurial support program, which will meet owners where they are and offer assistance every step of the way.
Exponential Impact launched in 2017, after Colorado Springs city leaders recognized a need for entrepreneurial support in the community. Initially, the non-profit began as a start-up accelerator for emerging technology businesses to grow, create jobs, and attract talent.
The accelerator targeted early-stage companies, connecting business founders with support services, access to space for work sessions, and expert mentors.
“For people to be successful, and start, scale and succeed from a founders’ perspective, we needed a trajectory of support and focus on the different pain points that founders experience at different growth moments,” said Vance Brown, Executive Director of Exponential Impact.
In 2018, EDA awarded Exponential Impact a $750,000 grant from the i6 Regional Innovation Strategies program (now known as Build to Scale). EDA’s investment funded two programs to provide support to later-stage companies, called Amplify and Ascend, which are now named Start and Scale.
“There’s a lot good programming about how to start a business, but very little on how to grow it. We realized a major gap in supporting high-growth entrepreneurs is availability of resources and workspace,” said Brown.
Amplify is the next step for start-ups. This 9-month long program is designed to help businesses sustainably scale through monthly business programming, mentors, and community building. The third program, Ascend, prepares companies for high-growth and expansion.
“Our founders work in Exponential Impact’s dedicated coworking space for the duration of our program and receive mentorship and subject matter expertise. They also benefit from a sense of community and working with like-minded individuals to help find solutions to unique challenges that come with having startups,” said Brown.
Forty-three startups have received support through an Exponential Impact entrepreneurship program, including many which have enrolled in multiple programs.
“Over the course of a year, our programs help founders get their ducks in a row. We have a strong emphasis on leadership development, culture, and mental health and well-being,” Brown said.
Now, Exponential Impact is expanding into another avenue to assist businesses. Survive and Thrive, created after the COVID-19 pandemic, answered the need for financial resources within the small business community in Colorado Springs.
Through partnerships with the city, community, and public and private partners, Exponential Impact was able to quickly raise $2.3 million to be used for small business loans, to keep businesses operating during the pandemic.
In the first round of Survive and Thrive, 132 businesses received loans ranging between $5,000 and $25,000. Rather than providing collateral for their loan, participants went through eight weeks of business support programming which included technical assistance and pairing with a mentor in the community.
The program saw great success, with the majority of the participating businesses able to stay open during the pandemic. As additional cohorts have moved through the program, it has evolved to meet the needs of business owners. “Each wave of funding has different priorities. We are targeting our programming at the biggest issues shaping small businesses,” Brown said. “That includes workforce challenges, supply chain issues, and decline in customers.”
Survive and Thrive is now growing again, thanks in part to a recent $400,000 EDA investment, which will be used to expand and formalize the technical assistance program, placing an emphasis on underrepresented founders.