Pay it Forward: How the Colorado Startup Loan Fund Cares for Local Communities

In an effort to enable Colorado small business owners to start, restart, or restructure their dream business, the Colorado Startup Loan Fund (CSLF) provides an extra helping hand. By introducing new financing options for small business owners, entrepreneurs who may have historically encountered barriers to bank financing can qualify for loans to run their businesses. This can help owners take the next steps to grow their business.

To distribute the loans and provide support throughout the loan process, the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) partnered with eight mission-driven lenders to implement the CSLF and provide loans under $150,000 and micro loans to small business owners and entrepreneurs all across the state. Lenders have been selected for their abilities to work with business owners who are located in rural areas, may not be English-speakers, have never carried a loan, lack the traditional assets required to secure financing, or have been previously unable to obtain a loan.

Since the program was announced in 2022, 699 businesses have received a loan, grant, or technical assistance which has already made a positive change in the lives of Colorado entrepreneurs. The fund so far has provided over $16 million in loans, with each borrower allowed a maximum $150,000 directly from the CSLF and lenders at times combining with other funds to provide larger loans. The majority of the businesses supported include contractors, retail, landscape services, fitness and recreational support, mobile and full service restaurants, and personal care services in 42 counties across the state. The program has also created around 246 full time employment opportunities in rural areas.

"The Colorado Startup Loan Fund is a lifeline for minority-owned businesses and true startups, often facing systemic barriers in the financial sector. This fund bridges that gap, providing equitable opportunities for business growth,”  said Katherine Cantillo, Program Administrator for Small Business Lending. “Startups are a major engine of job creation, fostering local development and innovation. By supporting them, the fund directly contributes to Colorado's economic vitality and diversity.”

Denver-raised Sabrina Harris dreamed of opening her own daycare center after being inspired by her grandmother, who ran a successful daycare where Harris provided caretaking. When she grew up, Harris pursued her Director’s License in Early Childhood Education—a rigorous program that equipped her with the necessary skills and knowledge to lead a large childcare center. CSLF lender Community Enterprise Development Services (CEDS) Finance helped Harris access the vital funds needed for startup costs and working capital so she could open her own daycare center—Walking By Faith Learning Center.

Serving Montbello and Green Valley Ranch communities in Denver, the Walking by Faith Learning Center aims to help address the high demand for childcare services in Denver, specifically in areas that are considered “childcare deserts.”

“My favorite part of my job is seeing children grow and meet milestones. We encourage this by creating a nurturing environment and ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to learn,” said Harris. “There’s a pressing need for more accessible, quality childcare services, so I’m very grateful for the CSLF and CEDS’ for helping me support the community I grew up in. I hope my story inspires others to lend a hand to their own communities as well.”

For more information on CSLF, please visit OEDIT's website or email program administrator Katherine Cantillo. 

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