Colorado boasts one of the top economies in the United States. The state’s industry diversity was a key to Colorado being the last state to enter the 2008 recession and the first state to come out of it. Part of this success comes from ensuring that economic opportunities are accessible to all Coloradans. To do this, the Colorado Small Business Development Center (SBDC) network offers a variety of programs and resources throughout the state.
One of these programs, Fresh Start, is being trailblazed by the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center in partnership with the Solid Rock Community Development Corporation. This initiative offers training and education to current and formerly-incarcerated community members, eager to learn about entrepreneurship and business development to open doors for their futures.
The program takes place over eight weeks and is designed to give participants practical skills that can be applied to a business concept. By the end of the course, participants will understand the aspects of running a business, have a solid financial vision and possess a written business plan or strategy. Fresh Start was developed based on Leading Edge business training offered by SBDC and will have 129 graduates by August 2019. The program has also assisted with 18 start-up businesses by facilitating the development of vision statements, filling legal entity formations, registration with the Secretary of State, starting business bank accounts and connecting them with resources and market research to attain their first clients.
Due to its success, Solid Rock Community Development Corporation and The Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center are now offering the Fresh Start business training in five locations:
- Solid Rock Community Development Corporation located at Solid Rock Church in Colorado Springs
- La Vista Prison in Pueblo Colorado
- Fremont Prison
- CAE in Colorado Springs
- Cheyenne Mountain Re-Entry in Colorado Springs
“For a person re-entering the community from prison, having a job is not only critical for their financial needs but also brings a sense of pride and belonging. Fresh Start is the type of unique program that Colorado needs in order to help reduce the recidivism rate in our State,” said Department of Corrections Executive Director Dean Williams. “Fresh Start helps empower current and former offenders to become successful entrepreneurs and business owners in their community by providing them with education and coaching. We know that when we help people find work and community connections, they are much less likely to commit another crime and return to prison. This helps protect public safety and reduces the costs to taxpayers.”
Still in its infancy, Fresh Start has already had ample benefits in the community with immense gratitude from participants leaving with a sense of hope. By creating an opportunity for the students to learn how to run a successful business, it opens doors for them to recreate their futures and reduces the likelihood of recidivism.
“The work of the Pikes Peak SBDC with the Department of Corrections along with Solid Rock CDC is an example of the SBDC assisting diverse populations throughout the Pike Peak Region. This program is near and dear to our heart--providing second chances and breaking the cycle of justice-involved citizens is the goal,” shared Aikta Marcoulier, executive director of the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center. “Providing a holistic approach to entrepreneurial development includes not only assisting with the development of business plans and visions, but providing mentorship, confidence and access to capital.”
Fresh Start is just one of many efforts in Colorado to expand economic opportunity. The Colorado House Bill Transforming Safety Project diverts $4 million previously spent to incarcerate individuals and redirects it towards the communities of Aurora and Southeast Colorado Springs. The money, awarded to the communities over a three-year period, aims to reduce recidivism by awarding grants to nonprofits and loans to small businesses that encourage the prevention and reduction of crime.
Fresh Start complements the recently passed legislation in Colorado, Ban the Box, which prohibits employers from asking about criminal history on initial job applications. These efforts work together to offer all Coloradans a chance at a successful future and economic opportunity.