Denver’s small business COVID-19 relief program is getting another $5 million

Businesses can apply for up to $15,000 in support.
4 min. read
The Symes building at 820 16th Street downtown. June 30, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

A new round of COVID-19 relief funding will be available for small businesses across Denver after City Council added $5 million in federal dollars to a pandemic relief program.

The money comes from American Rescue Plan Act funds and will go to the Business Impact Opportunity Fund, extending the fund's contract from 2024 to 2026 and bringing its new total of $10 million. The program gives direct cash and technical assistance to small businesses recovering from the pandemic.

"Our overarching program goal always has been and always will be to stabilize and preserve these small businesses and to help them build resiliency and capacity," said Turid Nagel-Casebolt, Denver Director of Business Development, at a Council committee meeting in March.

Council first approved funding for the program around a year ago. Now, Mile High United Way, which administers the program, has a fresh influx of funding to give out to small businesses.

Three years since the start of the pandemic, Nagel-Casebolt said Denver's small businesses are still feeling the effects of the shutdown.

"The loss of revenue due to COVID impacts and the related depletion of cash reserves has really greatly reduced many small businesses ability to pay rent, maintain facilities or cover other fixed operating expenditures, and they are just now slowly starting to catch up," she said.

Frank Locantore, Executive Director of the Colfax Business Improvement District, put it this way:

"Things were not just broken, but they were kind of smashed Humpty Dumpty style off the wall," he said about the affect of the pandemic on small businesses. "It's a bit of a new world out there in terms of the small business economy that businesses are still trying to figure out, so the resources can be helpful in that way."

Businesses are eligible for up to $15,000 based on their location and industry.

The program targets businesses in certain areas identified by Denver's Recovery Index map, which highlights parts of the city hit hardest by the pandemic. Businesses are also eligible if they are in the travel, tourism or hospitality sectors, which were hit particularly hard by the pandemic, or if they lost at least 8% of employees compared to before the pandemic.

Businesses must also be located in Denver, have an annual gross revenue below $5 million and "be engaged in activities that are legal under Colorado and federal law," according to the Council presentation. The federal law piece excludes marijuana businesses.

The first round of funding was available in 2022 and served 315 small businesses with a total of around $4 million. Officials expect the additional round of funding to support 250 to 300 businesses.

The funding aims to target four challenges facing small businesses: displacement, revenue loss due to nearby public construction, operating challenges due to economic shocks and safety concerns in areas with high crime or vacancies.

Businesses apply with one of those areas for relief in mind. There's also a new reason businesses can apply for funding, under what Mile High United Way is calling "equity/capacity builder grants." A few examples include businesses looking to recruit formerly incarcerated or disabled employees, convert to employee ownership or try new business models.

Mile High United Way will run multiple rounds of grants, so smaller businesses with less experience navigating grants like these have the opportunity to apply.

In a Council committee meeting, Councilmember Chris Hinds said that three years since the start of the pandemic, small businesses still reach out to his office looking for support.

"This is perfect timing, and a wonderful opportunity to share with those businesses some of the good news," he said.

Small businesses interested in the program can find more information about the grants here.

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