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New community foundation is supporting Black businesses in Colorado

The AYA Foundation aims to close the wealth gap for the Black community through programming and funding for entrepreneurs

DENVER — Colorado’s Black Business Initiative (BBI) has launched the AYA Foundation, a community led foundation that provides resources and funding to help Black business owners and entrepreneurs thrive in the community. The foundation provides capital and programming to support the Black businesses so they can create social change, along with helping to close the wealth gap for the Black community.

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“We lose sight of how important it is to support us,” said Tonoa Manuel, AYA Foundation’s programming director. “A lot of us are small business owners and entrepreneurs, and we’re building that community, so what does it look like to be able to support that in a way that promotes growth and sustainability?”

Credit: Byron Reed
Tonoa Manuel is the AYA Foundation's Director of Programming and Strategic Initiatives. She said "We lose sight of how important it is to support us."

The AYA Foundation has funding support from Mile High United Way, the Colorado Health Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, McKinsey Company, Cooley LLP, Rose Community Foundation and Colorado Enterprise Fund. Manuel said right now, the group is working with about 20 different Black businesses trying to make an impact.

“We don’t have the support or someone walking with us on this journey to say, ‘I can do it,'" Manuel said. “We need people to see that they have a seat at the table, and they can learn the things they need to learn.”

According to the group, there was no community foundation in Colorado dedicated to serving the Black community. AYA leadership understands that programming alone won’t fix the wealth disparity in the Black business community, but AYA is aiming to change that.

“I think in a place like Denver where the Black population is so low, I don’t think we realize the lack of access to things like this,” Manuel said. “Whether that is working capital loans or grants and having access to that down to accounting and finance.”

Evan Simmons started his house painting company called Panoramic Pro Painting in 2019. He said his company did well during the pandemic and he wants to see that trend continue so he got in contact with the AYA Foundation.

Credit: Byron Reed
Evan Simmons started his company Panoramic Pro Painting in 2019. He said "I reached out (to AYA) because I was told they have lots of resources available that could really help somebody like myself being a new entrepreneur."

“When I started the journey of entrepreneurship, I always told myself that I would be open to exploring different avenues and things that could help me grow the business,” Simmons said. “I reached out because I was told they have lots of resources available that could really help somebody like myself being a new entrepreneur.”

Programming at the AYA Foundation for entrepreneurs, professionals and community leaders include:

  • “Jumpstart my Biz” — a four-week startup boot camp that focuses on understanding and mapping foundational business concepts to equip entrepreneurs with the tools and knowledge needed to start their businesses.
  • “Minds Matter Monday” — a collaborative co-working space that allows creatives to connect, build, network, and simply get things done. AYA staff will lead conversations on a new business development or career-related topic each while, while also helping participants work through things on their to-do lists.
  • “Nav to Connect” — a one-on-one coaching and advisory service to help entrepreneurs develop strategic goals and be held accountable to see them through. This program provides the support and resources needed to be intentional about moving businesses forward.
  • “Black Capital” —- in partnership with BBI, Black Capital brings together aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners to understand capital systems and how to access them.
Credit: Byron Reed

“All the programs and resources they’ve been able to provide have really helped my company and really helped push me forward,” Simmons said. “It’s been amazing for my business and a huge resource and something I definitely wouldn’t be in the place I am today without.”

The foundation said they believe that successful Black businesses will help decrease unemployment rates and circulate more money within the community.

“What does that do to my family and my kids,” Manuel said. “To be able to see that we hold that type of power in our community and we can give it back and that it is impactful and powerful.”

For more information about AYA Foundation here.

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