Colorado Springs is an enviable place to be. Immersed in a vibrant community and breathtaking landscapes, we’ve become accustomed to our city staying near the top of so many national rankings — like Best Places to Live, Best-Performing Cities, Travelers’ Choice Best of the Best, and the prestigious “52 Places To Go.” But another important measure of the community is emerging: the way Colorado Springs has been making strides in promoting diversity and inclusion in its business landscape, and the ways Black entrepreneurs and leaders have been shaping the future of Black business in the city.
It was big news in 2021 when Colorado Springs ranked 21st on Smart Asset’s first ever “Where Black Americans Fare Best Economically” study of 129 major cities, with measures including Black labor force participation rate, percentage of Black adults with a bachelor’s degree, median Black household income, and percentage of business owners who are Black. It was even better news this year, when Colorado Springs jumped all the way to 9th place in the second “Where Black Americans Fare Best Economically” study — this time of 200 cities. Additionally, the University of California, Berkeley studies show Colorado Springs is consistently one of the most racially integrated cities in the United States, a distinction the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC highlights as a significant advantage as we continue to grow our business community and diversity.
Still, when it comes to Black business, we’ve got our issues. Like every American city, Colorado Springs has struggled with systemic racism that’s limited the growth and potential of Black-owned enterprises. We know that nationwide, Black Americans generally hold less wealth — census data shows that the median Black household income is 33 percent lower than the overall median household income, and the Black homeownership rate is 22 percentage points lower than the general homeownership. Federal Reserve data reveals even starker disparities in wealth: Black families’ net worth is 87 percent lower than that of white families, and 33 percent lower than that of Hispanic families. That’s a real problem in the fight to close the racial wealth gap. Money brings more money. People and groups who have assets to invest will keep building wealth; those without assets can’t invest, can’t launch businesses, can’t expand — and therefore lose.
So access to capital is a crucial concern for Black entrepreneurs. Despite various initiatives aimed at providing financial support, it’s still hard for many to secure loans and attract investors, due to historic disparities and biased lending practices. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, when Black businesses attempt to establish relationships with banks, credit unions and other financial institutions, 53 percent are unable to get the funding they need, compared with just 25 percent of white borrowers. Per Crunchbase, Black entrepreneurs face major disparities in securing venture capital funding and typically receive less than 2 percent of overall dollars each year.
The U.S. Department of Commerce states that access to capital “remains the most important factor limiting the establishment, expansion and growth of minority-owned businesses.” So, some of the goals we continue to work toward are building alternate funding streams, increasing awareness of and access to grants, and supporting financial institutions that follow through on racial equity commitments.
Other systemic inequalities, such as disparities in education and workforce development, continue to impact the growth potential of Black businesses. Addressing these issues takes a concerted effort from the entire community and policymakers to bridge the gaps and provide equal opportunities for all.
Despite these obstacles, our Black community in Colorado Springs has persevered and fought for economic empowerment. A major part of that work is building relationships. What I’ve noticed about this community is that the barriers here are not so much about racism as much as they are about lack of relationships. When I first moved to Colorado Springs, I would often meet other Black professionals who I thought could work together toward important goals, only to discover they’d never even heard of each other. This is where professional organizations — not only the Colorado Springs Black Chamber of Commerce, but the Chamber & EDC, the Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber, the Hispanic Chamber and more — are so important. To collaborate, you have to be seen, and you have to understand each other, and you have to have resources.
So we’re working to give our people opportunities to make connections, network, brainstorm; to make them aware of what’s available to them in terms of grants, loans, tax credits, economic development programs; to offer business education; to address inequities in access to funding and opportunities. And we know it’s important for our people to see each other achieving and progressing, because mentorship happens even informally. I often say that many of my mentors didn’t even know they were my mentors — but I learned so much from observing them.
Colorado Springs has seen a surge in Black-owned businesses over the past few years, from innovative tech startups to thriving retail ventures, premier auto dealers to government contractors, restaurants to music and event spaces, Black entrepreneurs are making their mark here. The growth of Black business in the Springs can be attributed partly to supportive initiatives in the public and private sectors at both the local and state levels. Government bodies, nonprofits, and community leaders have joined forces to provide mentorship, access to capital, and business development resources to Black entrepreneurs and businesses. A few among many: Pikes Peak Community Foundation’s Fund for Racial Equity; El Pomar Foundation (including its Black Advisory Council for Emerging Leaders Development); Thrive Network; Colorado Enterprise Fund; OEDIT’s Business Foundations Technical Assistance program; Pikes Peak SBDC; and the Colorado Department of Human Services EDI Program. These organizations and initiatives have been crucial in nurturing talent and fostering an environment of inclusivity.
In recent years, Black-owned businesses in Colorado Springs have been excelling and expanding, showcasing their versatility and entrepreneurial spirit. Many have found success in sectors such as technology, health care, food and beverage, professional services, and arts and culture. The diversification of industries has helped strengthen the economic foundation of the Black community and reduce our reliance on any single sector.
One of the defining characteristics of Black businesses in Colorado Springs is our commitment to community empowerment. We’re involved in outreach programs, mentorship initiatives, and job creation efforts to uplift the community as a whole. By doing so, we’re creating a positive ripple effect that extends beyond our own business ventures, fostering a stronger and more resilient business landscape for everyone.
Black entrepreneurs in Colorado Springs actively seek out opportunities to connect with other businesses, both within the Black community and across diverse backgrounds, leading to mutual growth and creating a more inclusive business ecosystem. We are fortunate to have leaders in this region who lead by example. There is always room for more people to step up — and there’s no time like the present.
The state of Black business in Colorado Springs is a testament to the tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit of the Black community. Despite historical challenges and systemic barriers, Black-owned businesses are thriving, thanks to supportive initiatives and the determination of their founders. As Colorado Springs continues to make strides towards greater diversity and inclusivity, it’s vital to recognize the invaluable contributions of Black entrepreneurs and work together to break down remaining barriers. By fostering an inclusive business environment, Colorado Springs can unlock the full potential of its Black businesses, creating a more prosperous and united community.
Disclosure: Gullatte’s business, Firma IT Solutions, is paid for services by the Colorado Springs Business Journal’s parent company.
Rodney Gullatte Jr. is president and CEO of the Colorado Springs