Making dreams happen for Eagle County entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurial dreams come in all sizes.
Big dreams involve venture capital and stock shares. Medium size dreams involve bank loans and retail space searches. Little dreams involve dipping into personal savings or using a credit card.
But where can you go if your dream is too big for your personal resources, but too small for bank programs?
In a five-state region covering Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas, the answer may be Accion — a nonprofit microfinance network that has provided nearly 13,500 loans totaling more than $132.8 million. Through its loan program, Accion has fueled the growth of 8,791 businesses in the region.
It’s where Danise Cardona turned when she recently opened her shop — Motley Fabric — in Gypsum.
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“I wouldn’t have been able to do this business without their help,” she said.
Cardona’s business path began when she noticed a gapping community need. She identified a fabric desert — with no shopping options available locally. She took her retail idea to US Bank, which then referred her to Accion.
“Because it was basically a microloan, the bank said they knew a great service for me,” Cardona said. “I really appreciate their willingness to do that.”
Accion proved to be a perfect fit.
“I started with nothing but an idea,” Cardona said. Her idea was solid, but a fabric shop needs actual inventory.
“I needed to have the stock for customers to look at and I needed a variety of it,” she said. “I would not have been able to get all of the inventory I have been able to offer without the financing early on.”
As a result of her low-interest Accion loan, Cardona has fabric bolts, buttons, scissors, zippers and more notions on the shelves at Motley Fabric. Additionally, the very shelves where the merchandise is displayed and the retail space along Park Street in Gypsum happened because of the loan.
According to Accion’s Brinn Pfeiffer, the company wants to make more entrepreneurial dreams such as Cardona’s happen for residents.
Pfeiffer noted that Accion has received a $2.75 million investment from the Colorado Health Foundation to improve economic opportunities and health outcomes for populations in Colorado that face barriers to entrepreneurship. Through an increase in its microfinancing and small business loan activities, Accion aims to level the playing field and reduce inequities for individuals who find it difficult to obtain business capital.
The total $2.75 million is provided through a $1.75 million program-related investment as lending capital, as well as a $1 million program grant.
Accion is using that money to expand its lending to entrepreneurs of color and individuals with low-to-moderate-incomes in primarily rural Colorado. The lending organization also plans to offer new loan products, targeted promotion and enhanced technology to bolster its outreach efforts.
“We are thrilled with this commitment from the Colorado Health Foundation,” said Accion President and CEO Anne Haines. “This dynamic partnership will help Colorado’s under-served entrepreneurs improve their financial stability and become catalysts for healthier communities across the state.”
Pfeiffer noted that the economic conditions in Eagle County are particularly challenging for entrepreneurs. Cardona agreed.
“There are a lot of financial obstacles to starting a business, especially in an area like this,” Cardona said. She cited difficulties ranging from finding affordable retail space to marketing to the large valley community.
But Pfeiffer noted that Eagle County is also home to a vibrant population, making it the kind of area where new ideas flourish.
“There is such a large number of entrepreneurs and this is such a great opportunity to serve them,” she said. “Plus for people with less than perfect credit or who have other hurdles facing them, Accion is a great alternative.”
Business health/Physical Health
It may seem unusual that the Colorado Health Foundation has partnered with a business microfinance operation. But Pfeiffer noted research has linked a prolonged boost in income to improved health outcomes over time.
In addition to its economic impact, the investment seeks to improve quality of life and health for Colorado residents through increased community vitality, enhanced social networks and job growth.
“This partnership with Accion creates an opportunity to provide greater economic stability, a key driver of the social determinants of health, to more individuals and families in Colorado,” said Portfolio Director of Program Related Investments at the Foundation Ben L. Bynum, M.D. “The program-related investment and grant funding to the organization will support our efforts to address inequities and bring health in reach for all Coloradans.”
Because of her experience with Accion, Cardona wholeheartedly recommends that other entrepreneurs check out the network. She also plans to be a repeat customer.
“I had an idea and I started from scratch. But one year from now I will be looking to expand and I will go back to them,” she said. “Accion can help me as my business grows because I love my little shop, but I have big plans.”