Smiling faces of business owners at their storefronts and affirmations about the power of entrepreneurialism – like “change the world one small business at a time” – line the walls around Colorado Enterprise Fund. (CEF)
It’s an important motivator for CEF’s President and CEO Ceyl Prinster and her team as they help small businesses find access to capital and improve their business operations with consulting and coaching in areas like accounting, human resources and marketing.
“People are invested in their businesses … it’s part of who they are,” Prinster said. “It’s my role as part of this organization to say, ‘You can do this. You can have this dream.’”
It’s because of that work to champion small businesses that she’ll receive the David E. Bailey Small Business Advocate of the Year Award from the Chamber at its Business Awards on April 27.
It’s recognition that’s especially poignant for Prinster, because her first finance job was working for the award’s namesake Bailey at the United Bank of Denver.
“That was really the spark for me, under David Bailey, to really learn about small businesses, apply my skills and really see how important they are in our community,” Prinster said.
Today, she serves as CEF’s President and CEO. She was the first employee of the nonprofit, joining the team in 1987: “I wanted to build. I had that drive,” Prinster said. “I wanted to be able to help (entrepreneurs) and make something happen so they’d be able to fulfill their dreams.”
She took her finance experience working in small business loans and translated it to CEF, a community development financial institution that provides loans to startups and small businesses. The Fund plays an important role in the nonprofit lending space, providing capital to businesses that may not qualify for conventional loans. That was particularly true during the Great Recession, Prinster said.
“Banks were under stress in general, so they were required to pull back on their lending,” she said. “It was a perfect storm for many whose businesses were their livelihoods.”
Since joining CEF, Prinster said they’ve grown to $27 million in assets, from $200,000, and have made nearly $80 million in loans. Nearly 20,000 jobs have been created in the state as a result of that small business investment.
Their clients have always reflected a broad range of industries, size and long-term business goals. Notable borrowers include the popular Argentinian cafés of Maria Empanada to nursing and infant support pillow brand, Boppy Pillow.
“The entrepreneurial spirit (in Colorado) is alive and well – and on fire,” Prinster said.
That spirit, a willingness to collaborate across the public and private sectors and among businesses large and small – as well as a desire to extend opportunities to all – are just a few of the ways Colorado is different when it comes to doing business here, she said.
It’s that same approach that has led CEF to thrive, Prinster said: “It’s really been a lot of partnerships that have enabled us to grow.”
And, she says to be placed in the same category as award namesake Bailey, as well as recent honorees such as Burgess Services President and CEO Denise Burgess and Vectra Bank Executive Vice President and Director of Commercial Banking Todd Munson, is humbling: “To be put in that category really is amazing.”
Sara Crocker is the communications manager for the Chamber.