Matthew Schniper

Matthew Schniper, an award-winning long-form features writer and food critic, has 16 years of multimedia storytelling experience as a journalist, photographer and editor. His work has appeared in numerous Alt Weekly newspapers around the country, as well as in national publications like The Atlantic and Food Network Magazine. After serving as the Editor-in-Chief of the Colorado Springs Independent for several years, Matthew is now the Food and Drink Editor, allowing him more time to run his own Airbnb business and focus on freelance storytelling projects. He is the co-founder and moderator of Culinary Distancing COS, a Facebook group supporting food and drink businesses in the Pikes Peak Region during the Covid pandemic. Matthew is also working on a true crime book and podcast series exploring the intersection of autism, animal welfare, domestic violence and criminal justice. He holds a creative writing and film degree from Colorado College. Prior to working in journalism, he spent 10 years in the restaurant industry — cooking, serving and managing. Visit patreon.com/inSENSEd to follow his true crime project, and connect with Matthew at muckrack.com/matthewschniper and linkedin.com/in/matthew-schniper.

Inking Self-Esteem

“My passion ultimately comes from helping others solve problems,” says Cashmiyr Scott, co-owner and -operator of Chloe + Maddison Skin Studio, located in Colorado Springs’ Old North End neighborhood. “This profession allows me to use artistry to help people feel better about themselves, and that to me is priceless.”

Cashmiyr specializes in a technique called micro blading, a cosmetic tattoo that replicates eyebrow hair, while her husband, co-owner -operator Rodney performs scalp micropigmentation services, another method that involves filling in balding areas to give the look of a 5 o’clock shadow as he describes it. The Scotts also employ an eyeliner specialist and traditional esthetician to offer treatments like waxing and lash extensions.

Chloe + Maddison, named for the couples’ two daughters, holds the honor of being the first standalone permanent makeup studio in Colorado Springs, says Rodney, noting other permanent makeup artists tend to work in spaces attached to hair studios. Cashmiyr too started that way, renting space inside Salon Tava off Eighth Street four years ago before the couple made the leap to their own storefront two years ago.

“I feel like we’ve brought permanent makeup to life in town, and my goal is to expose it to newcomers,” says Rodney, who has an MBA in marketing operations management, and notes a three-month wait-list currently for certain services at Chloe + Maddison.

“I got microblading done myself and realized how much of a time saver it was and how much it was doing for women, so I was instantly intrigued,” Cashmiyr says, by way of how she came to her craft. “After getting out of the military, I tried a few jobs but felt unfulfilled as I wasn’t really utilizing my talents. I’ve always been into makeup as far back as high school, so in rediscovering my passion I went to The Salon Professional Academy for esthetics and shortly after discovered permanent makeup… skin care is paramount for me so I want to help express the importance within that.”

She had served three and half years in the Army, in logistics, while Rodney counts 17 years in the Air Force, 11 of those as a reservist; he also worked in logistics for the majority of that time. Those respective experiences set the couple up well with skills that apply directly to owning their own business, but they still turned to the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center for guidance on multiple aspects of running and growing their quickly successful enterprise.

The Scotts took advantage of the SBDC’s free workshops. And SBDC Senior Consultant on the Veterans Small Business program, and Vietnam Veteran Ron O’Herron mentored the couple, bringing not only decades of high-level business experience to the table, but a sense of camaraderie given his own military background. “He gave us valuable insights,” says Rodney, “tips on what to do and not to do, such as not growing too fast, how to secure our accounting, tax structuring, that type of thing. It especially was helpful as we moved from the old location to our new one.”

Then, when the pandemic hit and Chloe + Maddison was forced to shut down along with salons all over the state, Rodney and Cashmiyr reapproached the SBDC for help in securing both PPP (Payroll Protection Program) and EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) funding. “It was a smooth process,” Rodney says. “They communicated with us back and forth about the necessary questionnaires and forms and helped us navigate the SBA (Small Business Administration) portal. It was seamless.”

He says a big part of success is leaning into the advice of other professionals, so they’ve invested wisely in the services of other local businesses to help build everything from a slick logo to professional website. Their overall branding has attracted “all walks of life” as clientele, though almost exclusively women, including many high-power business professionals. That in itself speaks to success, especially for a minority-owned business.

“People come to us because we do great work,” Rodney says. “We just happen to be Black. They see that and know we’re Black. We don’t have to shout about it.”

But what’s important about embracing that blackness in business, he says, is “representation.” Cashmiyr is the beautiful face of the business, and she’s well represented in an inspirational way on the website and social media, even on after-care cards sent to clients. “We get feedback,” he says, “and those clients say how their daughter was so happy to see a Black woman on this card, they hadn’t seen that before. It lets them know, ‘hey, I can do that.’”

Not Just a Pet Project

“I can’t come up with the words — but without the SBDC, I simply would not be. They’ve taught me and encouraged me and guided me to everything that has made me be.”

That’s Brenda Davis, owner of Clip-N-Dales, a pet grooming business that’s seen more than its share of challenges in its first year and a half of operation. But to her credit, Davis is no stranger to adversity. She overcame addiction and the setback of years of incarceration to emerge and build her business quite literally with her own two hands.

She learned about the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center from her parole officer, after another venture she’d attempted to launch with her sister didn’t work out. “She said: ‘Go take this business class,’ and that’s the biggest gift she could have given me.”

Davis’ instructor for the class was SBDC Senior Business Consultant Cory Arcarese, also the Southern Colorado Lending Officer for Colorado Enterprise Fund. Arcarese focuses on helping those on the disadvantaged Southeast side of Colorado Springs via her SBDC mentoring. Davis is a Springs native from the Southeast side, who attended Harrison High School and parks her mobile trailer at the Mission Trace Shopping Center. Davis says Arcarese “really took me under her wing, and explained to me what I should be doing, almost daily.”

The two became so close, that Arcarese actually provided the name from Davis’ business as the two were just joking around one day: “What about Clip-N-Dales?” she’d said, prompting Davis to joke about logo imagery that might consist of a pets’ play on the famous Chippendales Las Vegas male revue shows. After the laugh, the two thought better of actually executing on that; so today there’s a happy dog’s face that welcomes clients to the grooming trailer alongside colorful lettering that’s cute and inviting. Davis purchased the trailer for $4,000 and then completely gutted the inside after discovering black mold in the walls — just the first of the many hurdles to overcome. She then personally constructed two grooming stations split by a central bathing stall, meticulously waterproofing it all and outfitting the interior with all the necessary equipment.

In her 25 years professional grooming experience working inside other studios, she’d grown tired of what she calls a competitive environment between groomers inside overly busy atmospheres she felt weren’t optimal for the true client, the animal’s, wellbeing. “You’re dealing with someone’s family member, like a child,” she says. “I believe in grooming that doesn’t traumatize… I want the animal to run up to me the second time I see them, not run from me.”

With that in mind, everything she designed in her space is meant to be calming and more relaxing for pups and cats. There’s no kennels or cages, no overlapping appointments, and dividers can be shut so there’s privacy between the two grooming stalls. The second has actually remained vacant as of yet, as Davis continues to search for another groomer interested in joining her team. That’s part of her longer-term business plan, which is one more thing she has in-hand thanks to Arcarese and the SBDC. She said she experienced a more difficult learning curve because of how much technology had advanced while she was in prison, so things like a free website provided by an SBDC program were crucial to her.

“I learned how to do business plan, make a weekly budget, create a program to manage my money — I even met my bookkeeper through Cory — and do advertising and set aside savings for emergencies.”

And the emergencies have unfortunately come. After attending several SBDC webinars and graduating from the SBDC’s flagship Leading Edge series, an 11-week course commitment — as well as qualifying for the Transforming Safety grant specific to Southeast Colorado Springs to support community development — Davis finally opened for business in early 2020. Then, of course, the Covid pandemic hit, shuttering her newly opened business and forcing her on to unemployment until early May, when salons and similar businesses were finally allowed to start seeing clients again.

From that point until just after the new year, she began proving her model and growing the business, “staying really busy” between mobile contracts such as a KOA campground and retirement communities. She’d also park at Mission Trace to serve folks directly in the Southeast. Things were going well — well enough that in October, for Halloween fun, she offered free mohawks for pups to anyone who wished to stop by for a few minutes.

Then, in February, a DoorDash driver, distracted by following GPS directions in an unfamiliar-to-them area, blew through a stop sign at 40 mph and hit Davis, who was doing 50 mph on a bustling main road, knocking her unconscious and herniating three discs in her spine, as she tells it. That began another period of being out of work for months, also struggling to now pay for chiropractic and physical therapy appointments. But Davis isn’t a quitter.

When she was finally able to begin physically working again, she utilized Payroll Protection Program money to purchase a new truck to pull her trailer, the former one having been totaled in the accident. It still needs some front-end work in order to pull the big trailer, so for now, she’s parked until she can save up for either a smaller trailer or mini bus to create a second, more easily mobile unit. Back to her business plan, she’d eventually like to build a fleet of mobile groomers, preferably with ex-offenders that she knows learned skills via the Cañon City correctional facility’s dog training program. She was housed on the same cell block, and often shared grooming tips and did what she could with a plastic comb and mustache trimmers on the dogs in training. “I’m a terrible dog trainer,” she jokes, commending her cohorts. “I’m too prone to say ‘come here puppy’” and love on them, “and I don’t want to change that about me.”

She says she wants to “accommodate my passion to help ex-offenders learn trades and help them succeed in their goals, and so many of them leave prison with that animal knowledge but don’t know where to go next. Maybe I can teach some to groom.”

Today, she remains on partial unemployment due to only being able to physically take two or three clients a day, down from seven or eight. “It takes me longer now,” she says. “I can’t bend in certain directions and I’m not allowed to lift much weight, but I manage. Luckily I built the bathtub low enough for dogs to jump into, and my table lifts and lowers.”

She says her goal is to further rehabilitate and return to mobile services, “because so many of my clients need it,” the in-home one-on-ones. She hopes maybe by summer’s end that will be possible, both physically and financially.

“I push forward,” she says. “I believe in this business.”

Small Subject Matters

By Matthew Schniper

Lauren Wallace had spent 14 years in the nonprofit sector, the last few of which had her coordinating with students and families and traveling internationally. Since leaving her home state of California, she’s lived in Germany, China and Italy, as well as a few states in the U.S. She moved to Colorado Springs in 2018, and her career path would have continued indefinitely were it not for the Covid pandemic. In 2020, she lost her job.

As she set out to find new work, she tuned into a longtime desire to get back into photography. She had shot for some magazines on campus at the University of California, Berkeley, from which she graduated. And she had done work for the Pleasanton Weekly newspaper as a news photographer, shooting events around town. In her spare time, she’d also shot senior portraits and family photos for folks on a volunteer basis, further honing her craft.

Now, she was inspired to get into photographing newborn babies for families. “I just thought it would be fun,” she says. So she enrolled in some online classes specific to that art. “I already knew how to operate a camera, but with newborns, it’s so different. They’re tiny humans. You have to be so careful.”

As she pursued that knowledge, she in-tandem realized she needed a crash course on operating her own business. She thought back to having taken some classes in New Mexico, while living and working there, at one of their area Small Business Development Centers. She was handling some account management tasks at the time and wanted to gain expertise with social media. She was aware that El Paso County also ran an SBDC division, so she decided to look into their offerings for first-timers looking to establish a business.

“I’d always thought it would be fun to own my own business,” she says, “but I wasn’t thinking about it realistically until I lost my job. Then I was like, ‘I don’t know how to do this.’”

So she took a free introductory class offered by the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, followed by another inexpensive, one-day intensive. “I had no idea how to get set up as a legal entity,” she says, “or anything about the necessary steps to set up a business. At first it felt overwhelming to me. But they broke it all down for me. They pointed me in the right direction to get set up with the State, handle my taxes and all that jazz. Now, I’m a small business owner!”

Wallace also picked up side work as an event manager for another small, local business, to supplement her lost income. But by September, 2020, Lauren Wallace Photography was up and running. And, “it’s going okay so far, and growing,” she says, noting that most of her bookings come via word of mouth — mainly friends of satisfied clients.

“I love working with new parents and their newborns,” she says. “They’re so fragile, and it takes a lot of patience and being gentle, knowing how to maneuver the babies safely.”

With so much going on for new parents, Wallace says she’s designed her business to be especially easy for them. While some portrait photographers prefer to work in studios, Wallace likes to shoot in clients’ homes, for convenience and an environment that’s comfortable to them. “The last thing they need to do during this time is have to lug equipment and drive somewhere,” she says. “I bring everything we need — outfits, props — I tell them not to clean the home, I’ve got it. It’s a service for me to show up and do it for them.”

At a recent shoot for a firefighter’s child, she planned with the parents to include a firefighter’s helmet that was thematically special to them. “I pride myself on being super chill,” she says. “It’s been a fun way to be creative and do something that I’m passionate about.”

She also still enjoys shooting families, utilizing area parks for Colorado’s stunning natural beauty that makes her portraits extra special and beautiful. And she runs the Colorado Springs Adventures Instagram page as a personal project to highlight everything from cool food and drink to tourist spots. In her short time here, she’s become quite an active local.

Relationships are of course foundational to community-minded work, personal and professional. So when it comes to our local SBDC, she says she’s very grateful for the work they do.

““Everyone there was super helpful, and they got me pointed in the right direction to get my business off the ground,” she says. “They legitimately helped me out, to get it going when I didn’t know what to do.”

Update! Camp is Back in Session

When Andrew and Arianne VanDerWege, co-owners and -directors of Go West Camps, recently purchased property to expand their business, the first call they made was to the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center.

“I said ‘who do you know in Fountain,’” Andrew explains. “They connected me with a woman in the local government offices. They always know who to connect you with. It’s networking on a whole other level.”

The VanDerWeges first learned about the SBDC’s services six years ago, when they took SBDC courses on entrepreneurship and how to start a business. They launched their camp that year, finding the free resources invaluable, says Andrew, noting they also found their attorney via the SBDC. “Once you’ve had a good SBDC experience,” he says, “you feel comfortable reaching out for more assistance.” He calls them “the ultimate resource for small businesses.”

That testimonial comes from first-hand experience throughout 2020, when the SBDC helped guide the VanDerWeges through the process of obtaining a Paycheck Protection Program Loan as well as an Economic Injury Disaster Loan. “That response from the Federal and State Government and the SBDC really set us up to feel confident moving forward,” he says.

The couple had made the heartbreaking decision to cancel their 2020 summer camp session, a total of nine weeks for which they work year-round to prepare. While they learned in late May they’d been given the go-ahead to operate, it was just a couple weeks ahead of when camp would have launched. They would have had to risk tens of thousands of dollars weeks prior to train staff for the season, at that time not knowing if they’d get a green light. This was only a few months into the pandemic, with much uncertainty lingering in all aspects of life.

“Our ultimate goal was to keep our kids healthy and safe,” he says, noting concern for the wider families they’d be coming home to each day. “And our camp community and alumni families played a huge role with their willingness to stick with us through these tough times.”

Around half the families — some of them clients since year one — elected to roll over into 2021 the tuition they’d already paid, allowing Go West Camps to hold onto the money for operating expenses. They were supportive, and gave the VanDerWeges the assurance that they’d made the right decision to close for the season. “We knew when we came back safely there’d be a huge demand for what we offer,” he says, “and we’re finding that in enrollment for summer 2021.”

Go West Camps is nearly booked out for this season, with some age brackets totally full, but registration ongoing for others. In order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, they added a second camp location (Chinook Trail Middle School, joining Eagle View Middle School). The goal with the purchased property in Fountain is to add a third site, one in which they have full control of the facility usage and where they can add programming related to farming and agriculture. “It’s a place we can call home,” he says.

Meanwhile, with the second location, they’re able to add around another 30 kids to this summer’s trio of three-week camp sessions, which will help bring in more revenue while still maintaining focus on safety. “The pandemic has put businesses to the test to show their values,” he says, “and in our industry, values are huge. We take care of the most important thing in peoples’ lives: their kids. My wife and I have been in the industry for 20 years. Our priority can’t be dollars over children.”

That said, dollars flowing keep kids exploring in nature and learning how to bike, fish, paddle board, rock climb and so much more at Go West Camps. So $200,000 in PPP money holds a lot of weight for the camp and its day campers. Thanks to a referral from the SBDC to ABC Bank, the VanDerWeges were able to create the community relationship they needed to secure the two rounds of loan money (when many other businesses missed out, due in-part to lacking those type connections with a banker).

“If a business owner doesn’t understand PPP loans and how they work, the SBDC is a huge resource for that,” he says. “I never in the whole process felt like I didn’t understand something because [Executive Director] Aikta [Marcoulier] and the volunteers and folks at the SBDC are really good at helping people out — that’s the whole point of the SBDC.”

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A Matter of Service

Despite military experience and more, Robin Bell felt institutional racism was depriving him of one job after another. So he created his own business, began employing other veterans and working to break down barriers to success for the disadvantaged.        

Robin Bell has worked since he was eight years old, and he’s had to prove himself every step of the way. He started by mowing lawns and shoveling snow, and at age 11 he delivered newspapers, learning the basic lessons of reliability, punctuality and hard work: “You owe 110 percent of what you’re getting paid,” he believes, partly in acknowledgment of “that one step further” people of color have to go to succeed in the world. “Just like women in the workplace, whatever I do, I need to do twice as well… I’m being judged at another level.”

As a teenager, he was denied a job at a carwash twice, having to resort on a third approach to negotiate: “I said let me work two weeks, and if you don’t like me in any way, don’t pay me and tell me to leave and there’ll be no discussion.” Six months later he was a manager at the place.

Bell spent six years in the Air Force out of high school, learning missile mechanics, and another 14 later in the Army, nine of those as a Ranger, serving domestically and abroad.

“My curiosity is to take things apart and put them back together, that drives my understanding of things,” he says, noting the penchant for being mechanically inclined at a young age once got him in trouble with his parents for taking his bike apart. He’s also musically inclined, playing bass, percussion and keyboards, and he used to play in and manage touring bands. During his time in the military he also taught at and later directed IntelliTec College. He has instructed project, business and supply chain management, statistics and logistics in the Colorado Springs area.

But even with all that experience and knowledge, plus more than ample qualifications, he says he couldn’t get hired in his late 50’s, enduring interview round after interview round, only to be defeated at the finish line for reasons he believed were not based on his expertise, and led back to his being black, and older. “The system has been working against me,” he says, citing the message of the Black Lives Matter movement and institutional racism that has not really changed in the decades he’d spent in the workforce. After one particularly disappointing experience — in which he went through five interview rounds, received a $75,000 offer, said he would accept it, and then was told they worried he wouldn’t stay with the company because with his expertise he was worth more — he says he was “done beating my head against a tree, trying to get people to do the right thing — I shouldn’t have to beg someone for a job.”

So, instead, he decided to create his own business, and launched American Veterans Cleaning Service (AVCS) in 2015. He already possessed the business savvy and mechanical skills to do work with all types of machinery. The commercial and residential cleaning outfit now employs six people, three of them veterans and two others related to those who served in the military. Bell, now 65, targeted vets and their families with his hiring to create mentoring and entrepreneurial opportunities for veterans and disadvantaged entrepreneurs, to teach what he’s learned, and to serve other veterans as customers wherever possible, in hopes of helping some of those with special needs around physical limitations or mental health.

In working with disadvantaged communities, he acknowledges that often “you can’t succeed without help.” He knows this, because in order to start AVCS, he reached out for a lot of assistance from the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center (SBDC), as well as the Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) and SCORE Colorado Springs.

Bell had worked with SCORE years prior when he’d wanted to launch a climbing business, starting from scratch when it came to learning how to write a business plan. PTAC later helped him understand the methods for landing government contracts once he was ready. While the SBDC proved a valuable link, connecting him both to classes and the mentorship he required. “They teach you what you need to know — it can be a better process than going to school,” he says, “and they’re free!”

The systemic racism had once again worked against him in earlier attempts to secure necessary loans to launch his ideas — even after 20 years of steady financial history at a bank and with a good credit score. In an SBDC class, he gleaned the importance of creating a strong relationship with a banker, and the instructor said “you come see me, we’ll make sure you’re square.” And they did.

“The SBDC is well aligned to connect you with the right people that will help your business,” he reiterates, noting that the lines of credit he finally accessed threw open the doors for AVCS to thrive. Sometimes big commercial cleaning contracts won’t pay out for as long as 30, 60 or 90 days, all the while Bell must pay his employees and account for the cost of supplies, his work trucks, equipment needs and much more. “We’re paid in arrears, so you need a safety net of extra cash on hand and a good credit line to back it up if you’re going to bid on the large projects,” he explains. Regular janitorial work provides consistency, and AVCS also specializes in post-construction work, working with many of the big-name builders in the area. Commercial contracts compose about 97 percent of Bell’s business, though he’s aiming to move the needle towards around 15 percent residential. It’s less consistent, but there’s better margins to be made in niche services such as carpet cleaning, and he’d love to expand locally, build up a fleet and employ more veterans.

Grateful for the education he received from our region’s free training agencies, Bell has made it a point to give back. He has had AVCS technicians go on to finish college, become teachers, and move from experiencing homelessness to becoming thriving community members. Since AVCS’ launch, the SBDC has used him as a resource to mentor others. Speaking to the black community in particular, he says: “It would be such a plus for minorities if they would utilize these free resources. It would change their lives, just connecting with a mentor. Often they’re just lacking the skills to succeed. They just need accessibility and opportunity, and they will succeed.”

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