In 2019, Longmont felt like a modern-day boomtown. Main Street brimmed with hip boutiques and eateries. J.M. Smucker Co., the jam company, opened a factory in July, bringing 200-plus well-paying jobs to the town, with an estimated 270 more anticipated in a future expansion. In November, the unemployment rate stood at 2.1 percent, lower even than Denver’s 2.3 percent.
But it wasn’t all sunshine and Uncrustables. Data from the Longmont Economic Development Partnership (LEDP) showed that in 2016 the town’s Hispanic and Latino residents, roughly a quarter of the population, were not sharing in the prosperity: 26.6 percent lived in poverty, well above the national level (10.5 percent) and that of Longmont’s white denizens (12.2 percent). “Unless we have all of the resources to support everyone within our community,” says LEDP president and CEO Jessica Erickson, “I don’t think we’ve been successful in our role of economic development.”
Part of the issue was a lack of Latino entrepreneurs—a consequence of America’s cycle of poverty, according to Berenice Garcia Tellez, a member of Boulder County’s Latino Chamber of Commerce. A dearth of generational resources often means kids can’t attend college (fewer than 11 percent of Longmont’s Latinos had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher as of 2016) or raise capital. And they frequently lack mentors, Garcia Tellez says. What Longmont Latinos needed, Erickson and Garcia Tellez agreed, was a business program specifically built for their community.
Just such an incubator was looking for a new outpost at the time. Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll) is a nonprofit started in Massachusetts in 2012 to help under-resourced founders, such as women, immigrants, and people of color, who live in areas that lack programs for entrepreneurs. Along with teaching basic business classes, EforAll pairs participants with mentors, who guide their pupils for nine months after the 12-week program ends. From 2013 to 2019, 502 EforAll alumni launched businesses, which generated more than $25 million in combined revenue in 2019. Having set up locations around Massachusetts, EforAll wanted to bring its success to another state.
As it turns out, an LEDP employee had previously reached out to EforAll. Brad Feld—co-founder of Foundry Group, one of Boulder’s most successful venture capital firms—also supported the nonprofit, donating money (EforAll is funded by philanthropists, foundations, and companies) and encouraging fellow business leaders to volunteer as mentors. “If you were a single mother with two kids living in Longmont and trying to start a business, you didn’t have an extra hour to drive back and forth to an event in Boulder,” Feld told 5280 via email. Bringing Boulder entrepreneurs to Longmont helped solve that problem.
Such enthusiasm and support made choosing the Colorado town easy, says Harris Rollinger, the executive director of EforAll Longmont, which started in January 2019. During its first year, the program supported 24 businesses, 38 percent of which were run by Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs. Francis Schneeweiss, the Latina founder of Volcán Azul Catering, was in the second cohort: “I’ve been a teacher for 28 years,” Schneeweiss says. “Business wasn’t part of my curriculum. I didn’t even know how to do my corporate taxes.” EforAll taught Schneeweiss those basics and gave her a network to help with marketing and planning for a COVID-19 winter.
EforAll Longmont’s third cohort begins this month, and this time classes will be held entirely in Spanish, a strategy that’s boosted participation among Latino entrepreneurs in Massachusetts. “The best way to create your own destiny is to create your own job,” Erickson says. “EforAll is helping connect underserved communities with the tools to do that.”