I am so proud to be a part of the growth of the First Southwest Community Fund and pleased to have contributed my time and energy as Interim Executive Director to help lead this great organization and recruit some incredibly talented new staff. As I reflect back on our accomplishments, I’m in awe at the impact we have on our region and the state.
“Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.” -Victor Kiam
We are focused on helping rural Colorado entrepreneurs and small business owners overcome obstacles and seize opportunities for upward social mobility by providing inclusive and equitable access to capital. We have seen, time and time again, that the entrepreneurs we have the honor of working with are incredibly resilient and driven.
Denise Vigil is a great example of someone who possesses entrepreneurial drive and spirit. She is a trained chef who worked in some of the country’s top restaurants before returning home to the San Luis Valley to open her own restaurant. When she needed funding to launch her vision, she turned to First Southwest Community Fund. The Friar’s Fork restaurant, providing fresh & hearty Italian/Mediterranean dishes, opened in July 2022 on Fourth Street in Alamosa. Shortly thereafter, in 2023, the restaurant was named one of the 30 best new restaurants in the nation and a semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard Award.
In 2023 we dispersed loans in partnership with the Colorado Startup Loan Fund, Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Ag Future Loan Program/Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Fund, the Climber Loan Fund, Rural Women-Led Business Fund, and Fortaleza Fund. We saw these loans create economic opportunities and job growth in our rural communities.
Throughout the spring, summer and fall, we hosted 10 English language business workshops through our Rural Women-Led Business Fund, and 10 Spanish language business workshops through our Fortaleza Fund. These free workshops educated over 200 community members on business topics in marketing, finance, sales and more. A few of the workshop topics included:
- Setting Up Facebook Business Page & Facebook Reporting
- Creating an Effective Marketing Plan
- Creating Your Brand
- Introduction to Digital Marketing Tactics
- Grants: Free money for your business!
- Budgeting and Pricing Strategies for Success
- Comparison: POS systems/ACH Payments
In his book The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber explains how so many small businesses fail because running a business and getting technical work done are two different things. By providing technical assistance through free workshops, our goal is to help entrepreneurs and small business owners succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to efficiently and effectively run their business.
In 2023, in partnership with the Colorado Start Up Loan Fund, FSWCF provided $300,000 in small business and technical assistance grants to very well deserving businesses throughout the state of Colorado.
“This Small Business Grant will significantly benefit our business in several ways, addressing critical needs and facilitating strategic growth opportunities. We will be able to provide steady income to our current part-time employee, and offer her additional hours, cementing her position while we develop her role into a full time one. Additionally, the FSWCF grant will aid our company’s growth as we will be able to further our position in the community by gaining a much-needed leadership training, and craft our products to a higher quality by purchasing more professional equipment for our small-scale manufacturing operations.” – Minimal Impact, LLC., Silverthorne, Colorado.
We received over 360 Small Business Grant applications and awarded 11 grants totalling $150,000.
“The Technology Innovation Grant will be used to purchase a point of sale system so that we can track our inventory, sales and accounting. We would also use the funding to build a website and online marketplace for our business so that we can increase our online presence and gain passive sales. Part of the Kava bar concept is to be a wireless internet hub so I would use a portion of the grant to improve our Wi-Fi and internet services in the Kava bar and switch to high speed fiber optics to insure no service interruptions for the patrons or business. We would also like to upgrade our menu boards to digital menu screens that can be easily changed and themed.” – Wild Roots Kava Company LLC, La Junta, Colorado.
We received over 200 Technology Innovation Grant applications and awarded 16 grants from $2,500 to $12,500, totaling $150,000
In closing, we are poised for an incredible year ahead. Our team has grown by 50% giving us more capacity to increase our programming and reach more entrepreneurs across the state. Finally, I am delighted to welcome Rosy Aburto McDonough to our team as Executive Director and am confident that she will guide First Southwest Community Fund to its next phase of growth and impact in the coming years.
Best wishes for a prosperous new year.
Sherry Waner, Interim Executive Director