New Amazon community fund grants $500,000 to Denver-area nonprofits

A new program started by Amazon has awarded a total of $500,000 to nine Colorado nonprofits working with people who are among the most economically hurt by the pandemic, including female entrepreneurs and people of color with small businesses.

The e-commerce giant, which has more than 16,500 employees in Colorado, created the Amazon Denver Community Fund in conjunction with The Denver Foundation in 2020. The intent was to get involved with local communities and neighborhoods, especially those hit hardest by the pandemic, said Brittany Morris Saunders, Amazon’s senior manager of external affairs in Denver.

“We worked very closely with The Denver Foundation team to identify nonprofits that were focusing on small business support, small business recovery,” Saunders said. “A very large driver of this program, along with The Denver Foundation, is equity.”

The company looked at  supporting organizations that, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, have supported businesses owned by women, Indigenous people and people of color, Saunders added.

The Denver Foundation manages more than 1,000 funds established by donors. The foundation distributed more than $1 million to support economic development through its Community Grants Program in 2021.

“Amazon and The Denver Foundation share a commitment to advancing economic opportunity,” Javier Alberto Soto, foundation president and CEO, said in a statement.

Energize Colorado received a $150,000 grant from the Amazon Denver Community Fund. The state legislature started the organization and its associated Gap Fund in 2020 to assist small businesses and address disparities in opportunities.

Another eight nonprofits received grants from $25,000 to $50,0000, according to The Denver Foundation. The grants will be distributed annually.

One of the organizations chosen for the inaugural program is Denver-based Sistahbiz Global Network, a business accelerator for Black female entrepreneurs. The nonprofit has participants and members in Colorado and 20 other states.

“Black women are the fast-growing group of entrepreneurs in the country, but among the least-funded and lowest-earning,” Sistahbiz founder Makisha Boothe said.

The nonprofit provides training, coaching and community support to help Black women grow their business “past the six-figure mark and beyond,”  Boothe said. The average Black-woman-owned business makes about $24,000 a year compared to $124,000  to $127,000 for white women, she added.

Black female entrepreneurs receive roughly 0.2% of the venture capital money, Boothe said, and typically can’t look to friends and family for financial support because of the wealth gap in the Black community.

When the coronavirus outbreak started, Black businesses came under even more pressure, Boothe said. For various reasons, including systemic racism and a lack of relationships with banks, the businesses weren’t getting money from state and federal aid programs, she said.

With help from donors, Sistahbiz provided $2,500 grants in 2020 while the organization joined others to advocate to make pandemic assistance more accessible to Black-owned businesses. Boothe said the murder of George Floyd and the nationwide protests helped shine a light on the economic inequities.

“One year of checks is not going to change the course of the inequities that exist in entrepreneurship and yet it’s a good start,” she said. “It matters that people are starting to make these changes.”

And it’s not just the money, Boothe said. “It’s the partnership and the fact that Amazon is aware of the disparities and inequities, and is turning its attention to being a partner in changing that.”

The other organizations chosen for the Amazon Denver Community Fund grants are:

  • Adelante Community Development, which advances economic and educational opportunities for Latinos by building partnerships with business owners, families, and community stakeholders.
  • African Chamber of Commerce, which encourages economic growth, collaboration, and investments in African Immigrant communities of Colorado.
  • African Leadership Group, which helps the African diaspora integrate and prosper by connecting cultures, developing strong community leaders, and advocating for economic, social, and educational impact.
  • Fax Partnership, which supports community-serving redevelopment and local employment for people who live along the East Colfax corridor.
  • Focus Points Family Resource Center, which serves low-income families in greater northeast Denver and operates three social enterprise programs, Comal Heritage Food Incubator, Huerta Urbana, and the community culinary accelerator CoCuA.
  • Mi Casa Resource Center, which provides support to entrepreneurs and small business owners through the Business Pathways at Mi Casa Resource Center, the only women’s business center in Colorado.
  • Village Exchange Center, which in partnership with the Aurora Branch of the NAACP and the Colorado Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, established the BIPOC Fund in 2021 to support BIPOC-owned small businesses and start-ups and to provide pandemic relief across Metro Denver.

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