State announces new Gap Fund for Colorado’s small businesses

Those with fewer than 25 employees can apply for $15,000 grants

Canon City
A downtown street in Cañon City, a central Colorado city with a population of around 17,000, is pictured Aug. 10. Businesses in jurisdictions with fewer than 50,000 residents will be prioritized for grants and loans through the Energize Colorado Gap Fund. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

Small business owners who may not have gotten federal coronavirus relief funds earlier in the pandemic — or who need additional help to stay afloat — can apply for grants and low-interest loans through a public-private partnership starting Aug. 31, Colorado officials announced.

“There’s always more that unites us than separates us, and support for our small businesses is really one of those powerful motivators that brings folks together,” Gov. Jared Polis said at an Aug. 26 news briefing announcing the program.

Businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 25 full-time employees are eligible for grant funding up to $15,000 and loans of up to $20,000 through the Energize Colorado Gap Fund.

Entities owned by Black people, Indigenous people or people of color, military veterans, women, and those in rural areas will receive priority.

“We all know that these four populations, even pre-COVID, suffered from special challenges and obstacles in trying to get access to capital,” said Kent Thiry, co-chair of the Gap Fund. “Those challenges, that gap between them and others, is only made worse by COVID.”

Energize Colorado will take applications in separate rounds through December — the process won’t be first-come, first-serve, according to the fund’s website.

Democratic state Sen. Faith Winter, from Colorado’s 24th District.

State Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, who worked to set the groundwork of the fund through legislation earlier this summer, both spoke at the Aug. 26 briefing. Winter said the application would take someone about 15 minutes to complete.

The relative ease of applying for the Gap Fund “is essential because right now, our businesses should be rightfully focusing on staying open, taking care of their employees,” Winter said.

Smaller businesses may not have had the resources or established relationships with banks to apply for PPP loans before funding ran out.

“A lot of folks didn’t have that banking relationship or banked with credit unions, which made it much more difficult. … In my district, mom-and-pop places running nail salons or a local restaurant, a local delivery business, it was a very difficult level to reach to get PPP,” Winter explained.

Bridges said businesses receiving PPP loans worth less than $25,000 won’t have the federal aid count against them in the application process.

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More than 104,000 Colorado businesses received between $7.9 billion and $14.9 billion in emergency funds from the Paycheck Protection Program, according to data released by the Small Business Administration.

In Colorado, top recipients of PPP loans included oilfield services companies like Rolfson Oil and Brigade Energy Services, real-estate interests like the Laramar Group, and premier Denver-based law firms like Sherman & Howard and Davis Graham & Stubbs — all of which were among the 95 Colorado companies to receive loans of more than $5 million, according to SBA data.

More than $25 million will be available to small businesses through the state’s Gap Fund, officials said. Of that, $5 million is specifically earmarked for businesses in the tourism sector.

The money was raised through $20 million in federal coronavirus relief money, designated through Senate Bill 20-222, and private donations, with support from the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

Philanthropist Kent Thiry participates in a news briefing on Aug. 26, 2020, about a new Gap Fund for small businesses affected by COVID-19. (Governor Jared Polis Facebook)

Thiry, the retired CEO of national dialysis network DaVita Inc., was lauded by Polis for his efforts to implement the Gap Fund. Though his company experienced its share of controversy, Thiry — an influential figure in Colorado policy — was also one of the key people to whom Polis turned from the private sector when creating HelpColoradoNow.org, a state relief fund.

In looking to the private sector for help shaping the state’s coronavirus response, Polis has faced criticism, as noted in a recent Colorado Public Radio investigation.

But Polis, in answering a reporter’s question during the Aug. 25 briefing, defended the practice, calling the fund a “perfect example” of this strategy working.

“(The Gap Fund) takes a collaboration between the public sector and private sector leaders like Kent Thiry to make it work in a way that’s operational for small businesses,” Polis said. “Now more generally: When this crisis hit, we knew that we have great minds and great thinkers in the public sector. I also know that there’s a lot of great minds and leaders and thinkers in the private sector … I wanted to call in the very best Coloradans regardless of their day jobs.”