Celebrating Volunteers

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Melissa Akaka

“Volunteering with Energize Colorado (EC) has been an incredible experience. I’m continually impressed by the commitment of the organization and its volunteers to sustaining Colorado’s economy through community support and inclusive practices focused on the needs of micro-enterprizes and small businesses. The research projects I’ve worked on provide important insights into the experiences of minority and women entrepreneurs as well as the resilience of local business owners during times of social and economic crisis and recovery. I have learned a lot in my short time working with EC and grateful for the opportunity to engage with brilliant and passionate people advancing such an important initiative.”

Aiden Barenholtz

“Energize Colorado was founded three years ago. While on one hand time has flown by, the heart of the pandemic feels like a lifetime ago. Joining this organization in the spring of 2021, I have been able to experience waves of progress. From shifting our focus on what our communities and small businesses needed most during the pandemic, to how we can best support moving forward in this new era of how business, our teams have taken every challenge in stride. The journey has been and will continue to be a special one, highlighted last year when Governor Polis announced that March 23rd will be Energize Colorado Day.

Within my team, Digital Readiness, our focus has been on how to best prepare small businesses to adapt to the shift in customer experience. Introducing topics such as online marketplaces, tap to pay, and showing the vulnerability to cyber risk. Working together while building out these solutions has been an incredible experience. During this time, I was able to become close to another one of our volunteers, Scotty Martin (when we post this on LinkedIn can we tag Scotty). He has taken me under his wing as a mentor and been a great guide as I am a relatively recent college grad.

We are working on pushing out our second iteration of this course. Looking to continue to improve what we can offer these small businesses as to help them succeed in this new heavily virtual world. I am so excited for what is to come in 2023!”

Zaneta Kelsey

– Experience as a volunteer: “After having participated in the CiviCO Colorado Governor’s Fellowship program in 2019, I better understood the importance of giving back at a broader community level.  As a result, I became a State Commissioner for the Business Experiential Learning (BEL) Commission, which is focused on the development and growth of apprenticeships in Colorado.  Due to my engagement there, I learned of the opportunity to assist with Colorado’s statewide response to supporting small businesses at the start of the pandemic.  I met Dave Secunda and expressed my interest in helping and he almost immediately requested my assistance with a small database project.  I then had the pleasure of meeting Wendy and after sharing my background in marketing and business leadership, she asked me to assist with the Women-owned business segment, the BIPOC-owned business segment and to lead a state-wide marketing campaign focused on highlighting resilient businesses called the “Can Do Colorado”, in partnership with the state Department of Regulatory Agencies.  Additionally, I provide one-on-one business mentoring to two business owners and marketing support services to another.  I’m happy to share that two of the three are still in business.  The pandemic was such a difficult time for small business owners and I wanted to do my part to ensure Colorado businesses were in the best position to overcome the pandemic challenges and thrive.”   I also assisted with building an inclusive branding framework that is still used today.

– What are you most proud of? Have you had any unexpected connections?: I met my co-founder, Kevin Allen, while volunteering with Energize.  It was an unexpected connection but definitely an inspired one.  As a result of our meeting, we discovered that there was a gap in the tech ecosystem in Colorado and we’ve built Access Mode to help cultivate BIPOC tech founders as they build and scale new businesses. I am most proud of our first cohort of companies.  Against the odds, they are committed to building tech businesses that solve real problems and they worked hard to complete our accelerator programming.  Colorado is blessed to have such smart and tenacious people in its ecosystem!

Sarah Rimmel

“I’ve enjoyed collaborating with Kanitha Snow and the team at DU’s Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center to understand the landscape of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) consulting and coaching marketplace in Colorado. We’ve interviewed 8 amazing DEI Practitioners in our community and conducted additional research, which we will share this summer. There is so much amazing talent in our community, and I am excited to build out additional funding sources and opportunities to leverage the impact of DEI practitioners throughout the state. If you are interested in collaborating to further this work, please reach out.”

Jessi Burg

“Working with EC has been an amazing part of my personal entrepreneurial journey. Through their network I’ve build new connections, strengthened old ones, and learned about new programming and organizations focusing on increasing economic opportunities in Colorado. I first connected with EC through the Community Gap Fund, and received funding to help build out virtual, on-demand business courses that could be utilized by trades and services wanting to scale their businesses. In 2022, I had the opportunity to teach systems building to participants of the Community Loan Program. Working with entrepreneurs across the state to solve their operational issues, help them find next steps in their growth, and develop actionable plans for their next steps was a great way to expand my own services into a new area. I look forward to being more involved with EC as they grow and change!”

Sherri Mitchell

“I’ve volunteered with Energize Colorado for four years now, and working with such an impactful organization is something I will always be proud of. I joined because I wanted to help others and yet, given all of the wonderful personal and business connections that have been established along the way, I feel like I’m the one who has benefited!”

Lara Smedley

The Women-Owned Business Segment of Energize Colorado mobilized in May of 2020 and quickly stood up resources and programming to support business owners across the State. We acted quickly and thoughtfully to foster a community of support through our Facebook group and virtual programming. The first time we gathered in-person showcased the strength and resilience of our community of business leaders. Colorado has a vibrant small business ecosystem and Energize Colorado continues to fill the gaps, creating a brighter future for all. 

Mark Eagle

In my day job, I advise startups and small businesses on technical and business decisions in order for them to avoid making some of the hundreds of mistakes I have made in my successful career as an entrepreneur and executive.   I was looking for a way to help businesses that could not afford to pay for this service since I am limited to the amount of mentoring I can do.

I joined Energize Colorado as a volunteer with the primary goal of scaling the process of providing mentors/advisors to our customers, so that in addition to receiving funds, businesses can have access to more resources they need  in order to ensure their success.

Ironically, it is just as hard for volunteers to find meaningful experiences as it is for organizations to find volunteers. The EC team understands this.

The EC team is a fantastic community. I really enjoy working with them. They all exemplify EC’s mission and values and it is demonstrated through their daily actions. This passion is what generates the energy for their mission to succeed and volunteers like me to continue to  devote their time.

I am very results oriented and they provided me a lot of latitude to tackle this initiative.

In 2022, we rolled out a software tool that allows business to filter through the advisors who are generously volunteering their time, and they can now select a few that best meet their needs.  Once they receive a loan, businesses are encouraged to develop a network of advisors. This new capability allows them to achieve that!

 The goal for 2023 is to scale statewide and I look forward to being part of that process. The team is expanding its services throughout the state, particularly into rural areas. It is exciting to see the number of advisors grow in number as well as expanding in new industries requiring different skill sets.

Marc Wheeler

The need for helping small businesses never diminishes. I became a volunteer right after Energize Colorado launched in 2020 because I wanted to do more than talk about  what could be done in helping  small businesses.  They were being devastated by Covid -19 and I could only order so many meals from my local restaurant.   Energize Colorado was originally launched to support small businesses in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and it has grown to be so much more. Small business owners  worked their way through the pandemic, began to stabilize and then had to face rising interest rates. Energize Colorado has been a resource for them the entire way. 

At Energize Colorado we believe in resiliency and working with business owners in providing them with the tools and support they need to sustain and grow their businesses regardless of market conditions. Be light on your feet, agile, willing to pivot, and willing to ask for help when needed. That support has come through grants, low interest loans, education, resources  and through the area I have been involved with – mentorship. I am proud of the work we have done in bringing together business owners and volunteer advisors who share their knowledge, experience, and  time advising business owners. Some of those relationships have been on a more on  a professional level while others have blossomed into friendships. It is rewarding as a mentor that by listening,  you can share your experience and guidance  in impacting  a business.  Small businesses owners are smart, scrappy and have earned respect. They are fighters and as a mentor we can be in their corner. 

As an organization Energize Colorado  has had to “practice what we preach”.  From the launch of Energize Colorado in 2020 until today,  we have had to be flexible in continuing to refine how we meet the needs of small businesses  at every stage and economic situation.  When we look at 2023,  Energize Colorado will be expanding its out reach across the state and deepening the resources being provided.  For the mentorship program we will be expanding  the number of  business advisor,  recruiting more volunteers from across a broader spectrum of industries, business disciplines, experiences and locations. We want to engage volunteers  who are eager to  share their experiences and give back to their community by being a resource small business can tap into.  

David Lopez

I’m most proud to work alongside a community of leaders who are invested in positively impacting Colorado’s economic landscape. The best part is that our impact comes in all different forms for different stakeholders. I’m most proud of our understanding of the importance of meeting our community where they’re at.

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