Energize Colorado Fosters Innovation in Colorado’s Child Care Community

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Child Care in Colorado is in crisis – but ten providers are innovating a brighter future.

In December, ten businesses from across the state completed Energize Colorado’s first Child Care Innovation Intensive. The intensive provided a rare opportunity for child care providers to explore, develop and test new ideas to radically shift the way their childcare programs operate. Selected from 67 applicants, these business owners dedicated 12 weeks to meeting with experts and mentors who would help them accelerate the creation and rollout of new innovative programs specific to their community’s needs. 

Why focus on child care? 

Brought to life by Energize Colorado’s David Secunda (Child Care Initiative Lead), Keith Gruen (Conscious Leadership Coach) and Maegan Lokteff (Executive Director of ECCLA), the intensive was created with partners CDHS-OEC, Gary Community Investments, Mile High United Way, and The Women’s Foundation of Colorado. The group shared the common goals of increasing the access and affordability of child care, improving staff retention, and satisfaction and ensuring these businesses are on a stable financial foundation as they start to test their innovative ideas. 

Currently in Colorado:
  • Providers are operating on razor-thin margins, with 90% expressing doubt of staying operational during the pandemic without some kind of external support.
  • 44% of providers report that they have parents that have not been able to pay fees during the pandemic.
  • 70% of child care directors report difficulty filling positions, with an average search time of 2.5 months, and have needed to often opt to hire less qualified but available individuals.

Put simply, Colorado’s economic recovery hinges on ensuring that people can get back to work. To do so, Colorado needs innovative businesses that offer affordable and accessible child care.

Meet a Couple of the Innovators 

The ten child care provider centers who participated in the Child Care Innovation Intensive were from across Colorado.

Nathaniel Cradle, Venture for Success Preparatory Learning Center

Located in Denver, Venture for Success Preparatory Learning Center is committed to the health, well-being and growth of the children in their care, their staff, families and community. Nathaniel is working towards securing funding opportunities to bring mental health resources into their facility on a full- or part-time basis. 

Rebecca Gartner, The Little Village

As a part of the Village Institute, the Little Village provides low-cost, culturally relevant early care and education opportunities for children of refugee and immigrant families. Rebecca aims to expand their enrollment, increase their financial sustainability and provide community, family, and employment support to the refugee and immigrant community in Aurora and beyond.

Nathaniel, Rebecca, and the other business owners discovered an unexpected finding at the completion of the three-month program. Despite the global pandemic requiring the group to meet exclusively over video conferencing, these business owners realized the true innovation came from collaboration with other providers in their cohort. Rebecca shared, “the most impactful aspect for me was the connection with other professionals in the field. Having the space to share ideas, learn from each other, hold ourselves accountable to our goals, and to simply face challenges together was invaluable.” 

Many of the businesses shared similar thoughts. “The main takeaway from the intensive was that I was not alone by trying to figure all of this out. We have all witnessed many early education centers shutting their doors or Directors forfeiting their salaries to keep the business afloat. Without the intensive, many of our stories would have been unheard and unsupported.”

Following the intensive, child care providers now have the tools required to reach their goals such as mental health resources, outdoor learning early education options, multicultural resources, and so much more. But the work is not complete. Energize Colorado and the Child Care Initiative founders learned much from the first wave of participants and plan to launch the second intensive in 2022. Program Co-leader Keith Gruen shared, “We know that the child care industry can be a slow-moving ship. There are many necessary child safety concerns and funding complexities that can make innovations trickier than other industries. The more child care entrepreneurs and providers we can get through this program, the better off the industry will be.”

If you are the owner of a Child Care Business and would like to apply in the next round of the intensive, please fill out this form for updates on the application process.

Learn more about free resources and business advising available to child care providers here.

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