By Jerd Smith Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo.
When Boulder's Mergelane, a young accelerator designed to cultivate female entrepreneurs, heard that the Small Business Administration was offering grants to organizations that were helping startups launch, it entered the Growth Accelerator Fund Competition and won.
Founded in 2014, MergeLane was one of four Colorado accelerators this year to win a national competition sponsored by the SBA and to take home $50,000 in cash.
"That $50,000 was life changing," said Sue Heilbronner, Mergelane's CEO and co-founder.
Also among the 80 national winners was Loveland's Warehouse Business Accelerator, Alamosa's San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition, and Boulder's Unreasonable Institute.
The idea, according to the SBA, was to help the federal agency broaden its reach and support service offerings in the entrepreneurial world without going into the accelerator business itself. In exchange for the cash, each accelerator commits to making quarterly reports tracking such metrics as jobs created, funds raised, and startups launched.
Thanks to the first round in 2014, the agency reported that the accelerators it funded touched some 1,500 companies, raised $600 million and employed nearly 5,000 people nationwide.
Tuesday, Doug Kramer, SBA deputy administrator, and Ed Cardena, the director of the Colorado District offfice, were in Boulder to see how the SBA's efforts to integrate its traditional consulting and loan guarantee business with the world of startups was progressing.
That the SBA doesn't have a high profile in the "hip" world of entrepreneurs is largely a marketing problem, Kramer said, noting that the SBA has backed some of the most successful American tech companies out there, including Apple and Tesla.
"There are probably some social media apps that became unicorns that we didn't touch, but when you look at startups on a fast-growth track and the local hardware store going up against Lowe's, their needs are very similar," Kramer said.
The SBA's decision to award cash to Mergelane comes as part of the agency's ongoing effort to help women-owned companies proliferate and grow, and that's critical according to Mergelane's Heilbronner, given the scarcity of women in the entrepreneurial arena.
"Honestly, we would like eventually to put ourselves out of business," Heilbronner said. "We'd like to put enough pressure on mainstream accelerators so we don't walk into the next demo day and see 10 men (and no women)."
For more information on the Growth Accelerator Fund Competition visit sba.gov/accelerators.