Aikta Marcoulier

Aikta Marcoulier joined the SBDC team as the director of the Pikes Peak center in May 2012. Prior to the SBDC, she was the director of partnership marketing with the Professional Bull Riders (PBR). Marcoulier first began her work within the Colorado Springs community with the Native American Sports Council, a community-based organization of the United State Olympics Committee, where she received the experience of acquiring grants and local support to meet broader goals of the organization. Aikta is involved in the El Pomar Emerging Leaders Program. She is an active board member of the Pikes Peak Workforce Development Board, Pikes Peak Community College Business Advisory Board, Better Business Bureau Board of Directors, BRCA Girl, and the Colorado Business Development Foundation.. She serves on numerous committees for the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Women of Influence, Southeast Business Plan Competition), is a mentor for Leadership Pikes Peak, serves as Co-Chair for the Census 2020 Business Committee is on the Technology and Funding Committees for the Colorado SBDC Network and is an acting a board member for the Colorado Business Development Foundation. Additionally she is a member of the Employer Advisory Committee for the UCCS College of Business Career Development Center and ROAR (Relationships, Opportunities, Acumen, and Readiness Committee). Past memberships include board membership to the Colorado Institute for Social Impact, Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Women to Women Mentoring and the Executive Leadership Committee for the Leukemia Lymphoma Man/Women of the Year Gala. Marcoulier received her MBA in global management from the University of Phoenix and undergraduate degrees in both economics and psychology from the University of Iowa. She was awarded the University of Iowa Leadership Award in 2011 and was named one of the Colorado Springs Business Journal’s Rising Stars for 2013 and Women of Influence. Additionally, Aikta earned the Colorado State Star Award in 2013 and lead the Colorado Springs SBDC to earn the UCCS Deans Award, El Paso County Recognition Award, SBA Region VIII Award for Innovation and Excellence and the Pikes Peak Arts Council Arts Advocacy Award. She is a 2018 Colorado Springs Leadership Institute (CSLI) Alum and 2017 Leadership Pikes Peak (LPP) Signature Program Alum.

ArtbyRizzo: On A Mission to Empower the Community

Jeresneyka Rose. Her name itself is intriguing, isn’t it? For Jeresneyka’s entire life, she’s known art. In elementary school she won numerous awards for her raw talent. Friends saw her doodles and often asked for custom birthday cards to draw a Disney character. The Boys and Girls Club was her solace. It was a place she and her friends could go to be together, tap their creativity and stay out of trouble.

She started her professional art journey in 2014 when she picked up a paintbrush and painted her first original canvas—her first ever as an adult. By 2018, ArtbyRizzo was a legally-registered business. Like most entrepreneurs, Jeresneyka worked hard to figure out a lot on her own and was in a good place. In 2020, Jeresneyka registered for a class with the Pikes Peak SBDC taught by senior consultant Cory Arcarese.

“I thought I knew the basics and did everything correctly. Boy, was I wrong,” said Jeresneyka. “It’s so hard to find accurate information, especially on the internet. Cory made things super clear and easy to understand. She took the time to talk to each of us and make sure we were all set up in the best way to make our businesses profitable and successful.”

“I would 10 out of 10 recommend every business owner take a strategic planning class at the SBDC. As long as you’re learning, you’re growing, and I can definitely say my business knowledge has grown.”

With her business restructured as an LLC in 2020, ArtbyRizzo was an established brand that represents Jeresneyka as an artist: her beliefs, ethics, and a mission to create unique and colorful visual art to represent expressions and experiences aiming to engage and empower the community. The challenges extended beyond merely running her business. She faced adversity in a conservative Colorado Springs. But every “no” fuels her to create a “yes.”

“I get overwhelmed. I get sad. I feel disappointment. I doubt myself. I’m human. I just don’t quit,” said Jeresneyka. A true entrepreneur, she continues to move forward with a mission to bring light and voice to hard topics and what her heart believes is right.

Jeresneyka’s short-term goals are to continue to support the community in a positive way. Long-term goals include opening an arts-based community center like the Boys and Girls Club she was once a part of and provide the oppotunity for youth and adults to take part in all forms of art, from dance to painting. The plan to provide for all with an arts-based community center keeps her motivated.

“I want the community to feel empowered and represented through my work. I want the community to feel inspired. I want the community to feel seen. I want the community to feel supported…it’s all about the experiences for me…the connections…that is how I thrive…that is what fills my cup,” said Jeresneyka.

“ArtbyRizzo supports community popup events, exhibitions, private paint parties and more. Support for ArtbyRizzo is more than a purchase; clients support a mission to create art that represents a population that isn’t often featured in local galleries and museums,” said Jeresneyka. “By supporting ArtbyRizzo, you’re supporting a mission to help others know they can create a life as they want it.”

Learn more about Jeresneyka’s original paintings, illustrations, prints, apparel and stickers at ArtbyRizzo.com and on Facebook.

Small Business and International Health Crisis: Business Preparedness vs. Freaking out

Do you remember how it felt after Waldo Canyon Fire, the Black Forest Fire, and the floods following our regional disasters? If you were a small business, you might still be feeling the after effects. Recovery takes a long time, especially in a community that relies on tourism.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency in response to the spread of COVID-19. “People who work in food, childcare, health care, education and hospitality industries can receive paid sick leave to miss work if they are experiencing flu-like systems so they can be tested for COVID-19 and be paid to take the days as they wait for test results”.

There are strong indicators that Washington and Denver are considering additional measures to help with wage replacement or other forms of relief.  Pikes Peak SBDC, now the Statewide lead for the SBDC Crisis Recovery and Preparedness Program, continues to work closely with the Office of Economic Development, SBDC Lead Center, State and local resources including the Pikes Peak Workforce Center to  provide the latest information. (Website updated daily)

Today, small businesses throughout the Pikes Peak Region are starting to feel the effects of the health crisis. Face it, we’re a tourist town. While mostly indirect, it’s starting to hurt due to canceled travel plans. However, this time, there’s a local reaction as well. More of our local customers are choosing to stay home rather than go out to eat or shop, choosing delivery instead.

Although small business is hurting…it doesn’t have to hurt THAT bad. Don’t freak out, be prepared!

If you were a small business that was impacted by our fires in 2012 and 2013, and you’re still around, chances are, you’ve got the business continuity thing down. If so, call me…we need your help mentoring others!

If you don’t have it down, here’s some steps you need to take in preparations for ANY disaster…yes ANY downturn in conditions whether it be a fire, flood…burglary, recession, or in this case, public health crisis. The steps of business continuity planning include preparation, response, and recovery.

1. Prepare

  • What is the risk?
  • What are your mitigation steps to prevent the risk from affecting you?
  • What plan are you communicating with your employees?
  • What scenarios have you tested with response measures written in your plan?

2. Respond

  • What’s your timeline for each scenario?
  • What’s your communication platform for employees and customers?
  • What training have you put in place?

3. Recovery

  • Did your plan work?
  • What resources did you put in place to help?
  • What resources are available from the local to federal levels?

Here’s some immediate items you can do for steps one and two:

1. Look at your financials and cash flow.

How long can you “make it through” in case of a quarantine, lost wages, employee absenteeism (when you are paying for sick leave AND not bringing in revenue). What do you need to bridge the gap? Suggestion: Get a credit line approved now. You don’t have to use it. But you’ll have it when you need it.

2. Slash your overhead.

If you’re worried about losing customers or employees due to sickness, school closures or possible quarantines, cut the things you don’t HAVE to spend your money on.

3. Understand your insurance policy.

What does your insurance cover? What doesn’t it cover?

4. Look at your supply chains.

Are they diversified or are you relying on one source for your products? Supply chain management is essential in any global pandemic. Travel, workforce absenteeism, and financials will impact supply chains across the world. It’s important you have multiple providers of a resource that is the core of your business.

5. Do you have an incident response plan?

What do you have in place in case of a quarantine? Can your employees work from home? Can you sell online or deliver instead of staffing brick and mortar? What kind of technology can be implemented to reach your customers? What communication is in place to your customers and employees?

6. Build capacity in the areas you will need it most!
  • Legal support
  • Financial support
  • Employee support
7. Practice Social Distancing!

Social distancing is a term applied certain action to stop or slow down the spread of a highly contagious disease. Here’s some action items you can implement quickly in your business:

  • Encourage staying more than three feet apart
  • Do not high five, shake hands or have close physical contact
  • Wash your hands more frequently and use hand sanitizer
  • Clean and disinfect your work and customer areas more frequently
  • Avoid touching your face, nose, or eyes

To develop your full business continuity plan, because you are an awesome business owner, visit www.pikespeaksbdc.org/disasterprep to download your free copy of our award winning business continuity guide.

Now that you have your basics in place, how do you alter your plan to specifically answer the need of “Health Crisis” preparedness? Check out our resources below!

As this latest state of emergency unfolds, we will keep you informed on the impact and resources for small businesses. A suggestion: If you are planning a large event, small event, or a gathering…try not cancel your events. The other small businesses you are working with depend on a cash flow too to survive. Rather, look at your contracts and see if you can reschedule the event for later in the year when this crisis subsides.

It may seem silly to have to continue to tell your employees to – wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, or ‘get out of my office!!!!’. But the truth is, habits are hard to break. Signs help as subtle reminders to your employees and customers to practice better personal hygiene – key to recovery from this illness, according to the public health experts.

Business, as in life, is a series of new and unexpected challenges nearly every day. At the Pikes Peak SBDC, we know this and are here to help you plan, prepare and thrive in our small business community.

Ascension Engineering Group reaches for the stars

by Dean J. Miller
djmillercommunications@gmail.com

Fascinated by all things technology in their youth, neither Andrew Dark nor Dan Wilson would have anticipated a future as leaders of one of the hottest space systems engineering start-ups in the nation.

Today the founders of Ascension Engineering Group, LLC. support America’s warfighters with high tech by prioritizing the most basic soft skills. At Ascension, taking care of people is a foundational company priority that includes an emphasis on mentoring, ensuring team member appreciation, and promoting a tailored, fulfilling work experience.

For Andrew, the journey included 10 years of uniformed Army service controlling and delivering crucial satellite communications to warfighters. For Dan it all started when his first job after college brought him to Aurora, Colorado to develop new satellite ground systems for Hughes Aircraft.

After fruitful 20-year careers in the industry, by 2017 the aerospace engineers had a dream to own and operate their own business. The dream, however, was tempered by healthy concerns about leaving the security of regular jobs.

Enter the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center.

“We didn’t know, what we didn’t know – and we would soon find out,” said Andrew. “SBDC was that comforting source for our questions and concerns about standing up our business. It’s a very intimidating process with a lot of moving pieces and SBDC was incredibly helpful.”

As their Pikes Peak SBDC mentor helped answer questions and encouraged development of their business plan, confidence soared.

“Our SBDC mentor was a trusted, reliable sounding board who provided that affirming voice and allowed us to move forward,” said Andrew.

The two recall invaluable Pikes Peak SBDC classes on company formation, hiring employees, cybersecurity, basic accounting, and more.

“Most importantly, networking with other entrepreneurs through SBDC gave us a strong sense of community,” said Dan. “We were all going through the same hardships of building a business – mutually encouraged by shared experience.”

In August 2017, emboldened by Pikes Peak SBDC, and with great support from friends and family, the sole providers to both their families resigned their jobs and took a calculated leap of faith. It was a long leap.

With three-to-four months of living expenses in savings, Ascension landed its first contract in October 2017.

Immediately and since, Andrew and Dan were running at a speed and efficiency they had always envisioned. Early on, their first contractual customer encouraged them to expand their team with as soon as they could.

Just two years later, the service-disabled veteran-owned small business has more than quadrupled earnings, employs 16 people, and manages seven contracts — three with Boeing and four with other major aerospace firms including Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and L3 Harris.

“There is great personal satisfaction in having a business that allows us to make sure our employees feel valued, and allows us to take care of our warfighters,” said Andrew.

“We really want a culture that values individuals in our company; this has been the key to our success,” said Dan. “Our first employees took a risk; now our employees are our best marketing – they love what they do and tell people about it.”

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