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Capital for Rural Entrepreneurs

The East Colorado Small Business Development Center (SBDC) helps small businesses across 13 counties east of I-25 start, grow and prosper. They do this through confidential consulting, high quality training and connection to resources. One thing that makes East Colorado SBDC unique is their central role in the University of Northern Colorado’s BizHub Collaborative. The BizHub Collaborative is a virtual incubator extending access to the resources of UNC to the small business community in Eastern Colorado. While businesses in any industry can become a member of the BizHub, they focus on four primary industries: 1) Manufacturing; 2) Health and Wellness; 3) Oil and Gas; and 4) Agriculture and Agritourism. Each BizHub client meets with an assigned consultant team specific to the focus area to identify their goals and to determine business needs. Together, they establish an action plan assuring access to the service, tools and resources of the BizHub including mentorship, business plan development, and the full suite of SBDC services.
Lisa Hudson, Director of the East Colorado SBDC, took the The program provides a virtual incubator services to small businesses. provides online services to small business owners.

Colorado’s Office of Economic Growth and International Trade (OEDIT), in partnership with the Colorado Venture Capital Authority (CVCA), is allocating $9 million to a new investment fund that will provide seed and early-stage investment capital and/or debt to qualified rural businesses in Colorado.
The new fund was created to stimulate and support innovation and economic growth in rural Colorado counties that may have less access to investment resources. Potential industries include value added agriculture, advanced manufacturing, education, health and wellness, tourism and outdoor recreation, energy natural resources, clean tech and technology and information, and others.
“Colorado represents a vibrant model for entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Governor John Hickenlooper, “Our goal is to extend that influence to more rural counties with an investment fund dedicated to their specific growth needs.” Businesses located in more than 54 counties within the state of Colorado are eligible to receive funding from the new Rural Fund. “These rural counties already provide exceptional economic advantages including an educated and motivated workforce, locations with global access, and a collaborative business environment. Access to investment funds will help accelerate growth and innovation” stated Roni K. Wisdom, Rio Grande County Administrator, and CVCA Board Member.

Building Farmers

Beginning farmers and ranchers who have not had experiential learning are lacking production skills that are crucial to their readiness. Internships, apprenticeships and staff positions on farms and ranches are integral to BFR readiness. Colorado Building Farmers (CBF) was developed in 2007 to help beginning farmers (those with zero to 10 years of experience) fill this gap through series of 8 experiential classes to strategically develop a business and manage its risks. Each course is designed to help beginning farmers succeed by building community and building capacity. The program has been offered in Boulder, Chaffee, Delta, Denver, La Plata, Larimer, Pueblo, and San Miguel counties and has worked with over 400 beginning farmers. The CBF team thinks that a Colorado BFR Center would be a valuable tool to advance the needs and interests of the next generation of Colorado farmers and ranchers through single point of contact guidance to resources, networking existing programs, linkage to ag innovations, collaborative grant projects, support of a network of farm and ranch transition professionals to help guide farm and ranch succession planning, and administrative support to existing programs such as Colorado Building Farmers. Coloradans are supportive of local agriculture, feeling it is important to the quality of life in Colorado, and thus are highly likely to support beginning farmer and rancher initiatives to maintain these working lands in agriculture

Gilcrest Greenhouse

Valley FFA greenhouse is a dual-purpose greenhouse with long-standing traditions for Valley High School and Gilcrest, Colorado. For students without a car, the greenhouse is one of their few opportunities for agricultural education and job experience. Each year students enroll in the Greenhouse Production course where they learn through authentic assessments and hands-on learning. In the yearlong course high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors become versed in what it takes to run a greenhouse as well as the plant production industry. Each year thousands of plants are grown from seed or plug for a dual-purpose education and our annual spring plant sale. All plants grown are sold each year from the last week in April through the month of May with all proceeds going back into the greenhouse course and SAE program. In addition to classes in our facility, the Valley FFA Greenhouse employees a number of students. Students are held to high standards, similar to any green industry career. After filling out a job application and passing an entry-level knowledge exam students are hired. As students advance in the SAE they gain more responsibility and more independence. Students wishing to enter the horticulture and green industry as a career, advance through the program and enter the industry at a higher level or further their education at a college or university.

Face of Agriculture

Colorado Proud is a program created by the Colorado Department of Agriculture in 1999. The goal of the program is to help Coloradans choose and experience quality products that are locally grown, raised or processed. The program started with 65 companies, now the program has more than 2,500 members including growers, processors, restaurants, retailers and associations statewide. In 2017, as part of Governor Hickenlooper’s Colorado Proud Month, the program launched the Faces and Stories of Colorado’s Agriculture. Faces and Stories of Colorado’s Agriculture is a month long interactive conversation with Colorado farmers and ranchers about their experiences. The campaign features a mix of in-person, video and online conversations; a statewide tour through agricultural communities; consumer events at farmers’ markets; and educational outreach with a strong social media component about the people behind Colorado’s agriculture. The 2017 campaign featured 15 farmers, ranchers, and producers in 74 media placements with an estimated total media reach of 437,503,942 with an estimated ad value of $219,501.


Numerous efforts around the state are underway to figure out how to create a water demand management system that can entice upper basin water users, particularly farmers and ranchers, to voluntarily dial down their consumption and get paid for it. These efforts face numerous challenges. For farmers these challenges include providing adequate compensation, not impeding long term operations, assuring low-participation barriers, and not threatening water rights. For irrigation providers these challenges include needing to be financially viable, maintaining easy management, and not threatening water rights. A pilot project in Western Colorado’s Grand Valley is prototyping an approach reducing agricultural water that addresses these challenges. The Grand Valley Water Users Association (GVWUA) is the biggest irrigation provider in the Valley and is spearheading the project. The GVWUA notes that the continued profitability of Western Slope agriculture is a significant motivator for their work. The next generation of Western Slope agricultural producers faces numerous challenges including, but not limited to, water supply. As they state in their report “If Western Slope agriculture can capitalize on its unique position amongst water users of the Upper Colorado River basin to reduce economic risk and increase long-term agricultural profitability through demand management, it is at minimum a useful exercise to explore the idea further” (GVWUA 2017, p. 1-2). In 2017, they conducted a pilot with $1 million in funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Nature Conservancy and the Water Bank Work Group. Ten producers spread across the Valley, with 120 acres or more under irrigation, participated in the program. The program enrolled over 1,000 irrigated acres and expected water savings was 3,178 acre-feet.