By Margaret Hedderman
A few weeks ago, Startup Colorado welcomed our new Executive Director and CEO, Brittany Romano. It’s a big role and we like to say she’s been drinking from the firehose since coming on board. We managed to snag a few minutes of Brittany’s time in between meetings and ask her some questions. Check out this recap of our conversation as we all get to know Brittany!
Margaret: Startup Colorado is unique in that we serve both rural entrepreneurs and the ecosystem builders who support them via a diverse range of programming and initiatives. What attracted you to this organization?
Brittany: Startup Colorado has been an active voice for rural entrepreneurs and ecosystem development for over a decade. As the organization has evolved, it has been involved with a substantial and diverse amount of statewide economic development initiatives. Startup Colorado’s history provides context, and it has also led to the development of long-term relationships and partners who are well-vetted and equally invested in the bright future of Colorado.
Margaret: Prior to joining Startup Colorado, you were a rural entrepreneur yourself. How did Startup Colorado impact your business when you were just getting started?
Brittany: At 27-years-old, I was eager to become a business owner. Using “Seller Financing,” I was able to purchase a business in Crested Butte. It had a lot of potential, but unfortunately the business didn’t have a strong financial history. To avoid any unforeseen issues, I decided to only purchase the assets and take over the lease—as opposed to buying the business itself. In my eyes that kept things clean, but in the eyes of lenders, it meant that I was operating a brand new business and therefore didn’t qualify for any commercial loan programs.
The inability to access commercial loans paired with the “Owner-Carry Scenario” created a burden on my ability to expand the business. I felt the urgent need to sever ties with the previous owner and refinance.
In perfect timing, Startup Colorado was attending a West Slope Road Show in Fruita, CO that was focused on improving rural access to capital.
At the event, I met Taylor Grande who told me about the Funding Database. That evening, I spent hours scouring that list, sending emails and making phone calls. The Funding Database helped me connect to a dozen great resources and lenders that ultimately helped me refinance, and scale the business to six additional locations. Many of those people became trusted advisors, and brand ambassadors.
I am overjoyed at the prospect of working alongside many of them in my new role at Startup Colorado.
Margaret: What do you think is fueling the entrepreneurial spirit in Rural Colorado?
Brittany: I believe that the entrepreneurial spirit will forever be fueled by people who have the courage to believe in themselves and gamble on the notion that they have something of value to bring to the world. That spirit isn’t bound by our geography; ideally our geography will only inspire us to become more of who we are.
Except for a short stint, I was born and raised in Rural America. I have learned that rural breeds innovation because it lacks convenience; and when you put it that way, “rural entrepreneurship” isn’t so oxymoronic. Rural entrepreneurship is fueled by a values system: rural entrepreneurs chose to be place-based first. They have some additional challenges to face, but bringing your vision to fruition AND feeling strongly rooted in the community of your choosing is an admirable endeavor and accomplishment.
Margaret: Starting a business in Rural America is challenging no matter what, but Colorado is uniquely positioned to support startups because of a vibrant entrepreneurial culture and robust network of business support organizations. How do you envision Startup Colorado evolving to meet these needs in the future?
Brittany: I have a relatively unorthodox response to this question and I’m going to be bold and offer it up because I think it may resonate with readers.
Two years ago I gave birth to my daughter Kalyn. When I was pregnant, all I could really think about was being pregnant. It was really difficult to think past her birth, never mind contemplate the challenges of infancy, toddlerhood, adolescence, or young adulthood (eek, this is scarier than toddlerhood to me!).
It turns out that starting a business is kind of like “birthing” a business. The incubation and startup phases are extremely consuming in the same way pregnancy is all-consuming. On top of that, you will be bound to face challenges, and you will be ripe to learn from them because business vitality is a byproduct of cause and effect. Think of how an infant or toddler learns: it is through constant experimentation and through feedback loops. This is also true for business development.
A business in the startup phase could be compared to a toddler learning to walk, but a distinct difference is that we don’t expect the toddler to know how to “do it all” the second they decide to start standing up. Instead we give them grace, time, targets and applause.
At Startup Colorado, we know that early stage entrepreneurs need support and we are the metaphorical outreached hand that is there to help you as you navigate an extremely transformational time in your life. We also know that there are funky in-between stages that are difficult to navigate. However, as I mentioned earlier, Startup Colorado has the history and the partnerships to help entrepreneurs bridge those unforeseen gaps.
Rest assured that Startup Colorado will continue to serve this way. As for the future, well, we know that the startup phase—like infancy—feels long, but is a relatively short phase in a business lifecycle. We will continue to evolve our programming and network so that we can facilitate our entrepreneurs maturing and proportionately growing their businesses to align with their aspirations. We continue to be inspired to build and support the development of innovative, impactful resources and programming, so you can count on us delivering on that for the foreseeable future.
Margaret: Startup Colorado serves 53 rural counties and we know that everyone is anxious to meet you in person. Where can folks find you in the next few months?
Brittany: As you have learned, I am not new to rural entrepreneurship, but I am new to this role; so I would like to ask that people not assume that I know which events to be at or which relationships would be valuable to establish and maintain.
Please reach out, send me an invite, be direct and let me know how I/Startup Colorado can help. My Calendly link is here. Please consider this an invitation to schedule some time with me. I really look forward to meeting the movers and shakers, the people behind the scenes, the silent partners, the visionaries, and everyone who makes up Colorado’s vibrant entrepreneurial community.