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Entrepreneurs outline challenges in RBA surveys

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Elon Musk, where are you?

That's one question that wasn't asked in two surveys sponsored by the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, but the upshot is the same. What can Colorado Springs do to attract and nurture more original entrepreneurs?

The surveys, of 76 businesses that have existed for five years or fewer, found that entrepreneurs here employ fewer than 20 people each, lease their space, and mostly rely on money from themselves, friends or family, not venture capital. They also found that chief problems are a shortage of trained workers, and poor public infrastructure and community leadership.

More findings from the report, presented Monday to Council:

• Almost all surveyed are independent, with a single location; 79 percent identified their primary market as outside the area.

• Nearly three-quarters have annual revenue of less than $5 million, and only 20 percent report revenues higher than $10 million, which is the level where significant jobs are created.

• A third said they needed more space, which poses a risk of losing those businesses to other cities.

• Two out of three have started businesses before, and 59 percent said they had an exit strategy if things didn't work out.

• Workforce availability was named the top challenge. Manufacturers need machinists, welders and assemblers. Those in information technology seek programmers, cloud, software and cyber developers. For aerospace and defense firms, project and government contracting managers are in short supply. But the report found that most businesses are happy with the their workers' productivity.

Councilor Jan Martin said the report is encouraging because it shows entrepreneurs are starting businesses here. She said Council should work with the RBA to find capital and create a "more positive political climate." Councilor Jill Gaebler agreed, saying, "What is the government's role? To get out of the way or to encourage certain activities? And what is RBA's role?"

Al Wenstrand, the RBA's chief business development officer, said it's a community undertaking to create a "total environment that supports entrepreneurship," but didn't give specifics.

"Companies can find $100,000 in Denver but not in Colorado Springs," he said. "We're struggling with how to answer that."

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