Colorado Enterprise Fund marking 40 years of small-biz dreams turned reality

Ceyl Prinster, the organization’s president and CEO, said when she started with CEF 28 years ago — she was the first part-time employee back then — the loans maxed out at $25,000. Now, CEF is a $20-million loan fund and some of their individual loans total $500,000.

AURORA | In just three years, Skye Barker Maa’s home-based music school had taken over her home. She had added four studios to the basement, but still the need for space grew. The last straw was the kitchen.

“It had fully just taken over our lives — like I couldn’t make dinner anymore,” she said.

The solution was simple: She needed more space, pronto.

But despite good credit, a business that had grown to 200 clients and several employees and contractors, Barker Maa’s business was still home based, and that factor was hugely important to traditional commercial lenders. She needed a store front, but the lenders, even though they insisted the business looked great on paper, weren’t interested.

“Without that perception of us being a ‘real business,’ despite how big we were, I couldn’t get anywhere with them,” she said.

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Skye Barker Maa, owner of Stapleton Music Stapleton, gets work done at the front desk Monday. Barker Maa secured a loan from Colorado Enterprise Fund and moved her music studio from her basement into an almost 5,000-square-foot facility in north Aurora. Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

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C.L. Morden teaches Lily Kingsbury, 8, to play violin on Monday March 21, 2016 at Neighborhood Music Stapleton. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

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Henry Brown, 9, plays the drums during his lesson on Monday March 21, 2016 at Neighborhood Music Stapleton. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

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Blythe Kingsbury waits with her daughter Lily Kingsbury, 8, for her violin lesson Monday at Neighborhood Music Stapleton. Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

Then Barker Maa heard about the Colorado Enterprise Fund, a nonprofit lender that specializes in start-up businesses that struggle to find credit in the traditional spots.

Last year, Barker Maa secured a loan from CEF and moved into an almost 5,000-square-foot facility in north Aurora. The Neighborhood Music School Stapleton at East 25th Avenue and Geneva Street now has 38 instructors teaching cello, piano, drums and 10 other instruments from close to 20 practice spaces.

This year, CEF is celebrating 40 years in business, a four-decade stretch during which they’ve grown even more than longtime employees could have dreamed. 

Ceyl Prinster, the organization’s president and CEO, said when she started with CEF 28 years ago — she was the first part-time employee back then — the loans maxed out at $25,000.

Now, CEF is a $20-million loan fund and some of their individual loans total $500,000.

Still though, the average is close to about $50,000, and Prinster said many of those businesses simply can’t get a commercial loan either because they want to do business in a less-wealthy neighborhood or because they aren’t quite big enough.

“Especially since the recession they are much more sensitive to credit history,” she said of traditional lenders

That means that while the organization gives out loans to clients whose credit scores could be more than 100 points below what a bank demands, they also charge higher interest rates than those banks. Still, Prinster said, about 96 percent of their loans are paid back.

Beyond the loans, Prinster said the organization provides business assistance to its clients, too, and tries to work with them so their business not only gets off the ground, but succeeds long term.

“We’re really looking at what’s the end result of what we do”

For Barker Maa, her relationship with CEF doesn’t look like most lender-debtor relationships. For one, officials from CEF helped her craft her business plan, figuring out how much space she needed. And while she was a bit more ambitious than they were about how much space Neighborhood Music School needed — ambitions that proved correct with the school’s rapid growth — Barker Maa said even a year later officials there remember even minute details about her work.

And when she took the loan, CEF let her wait a few months before the interest started.

She received her loan in April but the interest didn’t start until she drew the loan in June, something that the business development staff at CEF encouraged.

“Which is not typical lender advice, they usually want to start that clock,” she said. “But they are thinking of you as a business and trying to manage you for longevity.”

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