Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute

Starting a business is difficult no matter who you are. It requires planning, dedication, knowledge, mentorship, networking and most important: funding. Without proper funding and financial support, a new business could be at a major disadvantage.

According to the 2022 Small Business Credit Survey released by Fed Small Business, 36% of businesses sought loans and financing in the past year, showing that over one-third of businesses are in need of financing to either start, grow or maintain their business. Additionally, 54% of businesses that did not apply for loans or financing said they would benefit from funding but chose not to apply. The top reasons they chose not to apply were weak business financials, strict requirements from lenders, lenders not approving financing for businesses like theirs or being previously denied for financing. This data shows that the majority of small businesses are in need of some sort of financial support, but many believe that the red-tape and restrictions don’t make it worth the effort.

There are lenders out there whose goals are to ensure entrepreneurs from all backgrounds and communities have access to the tools and resources they need to build successful businesses. As a Community Development Financial Institution, the Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute (RMMFI) aims to do just that by supporting Colorado entrepreneurs that have faced marginalization, societal barriers or low-wage employment.

“Our north star is to create the space for communities and people of all backgrounds to realize their unique potential through the power of entrepreneurship,” said Mary Kate Morr, Community Engagement Manager at RMMFI. “We invest in entrepreneurs both in terms of their personal development and their business development. So, our programming and services are a mix of classroom education, coaching and mentorship, capital investments, and then community connections and peer support.”

Founded in 2008, RMMFI has supported the launch or expansion of over 330 businesses in Colorado, of which 90% are owned by women or people of color. In this time, they have lent close to $950,000 and over 310 loans, receiving a 94% repayment rate. They have also launched several programs aimed at providing different communities with the tools to business ownership, including the Spanish-speaking Westwood program.

“We first listen [to] where we’re needed,” said Pablo Saavedra, Site Activation Coordinator at RMMFI. “Then we just find key partners within the community that could help us connect and build trust among the potential entrepreneurs that are in those communities.” Once these connections are made, RMMFI offers their entrepreneurial programs and services to the people who need it most, which led to the creation of RMMFI’s Westwood program.

“Our Westwood program was our first program dedicated to a Spanish-speaking community,” continued Saavedra. “We were trying to build equity in communities of color… [and] appreciate the diversity that this community offered, but also we invited inclusion in the community… The people in this area haven’t been offered these opportunities, both in capital and in education.”

Through their community ties, RMMFI launched their Westwood program to provide these community members with the access to education and microloans to start their own businesses. RMMFI also partnered with Re:Vision, another local nonprofit that promotes community-led development and community ownership, to launch their Westwood program in late 2019. Re:Vision focuses on developing local leaders by training community members to become advocates, and they also run a catalytic multipurpose food hub called RISE Westwood. Working together to build upon the assets within the Westwood neighborhood, RMMFI and Re:Vision have developed Spanish-language programming and resources to ensure that language is not a barrier to access for entrepreneurs in Denver.

“Our north star is to create the space for communities and people of all backgrounds to realize their unique potential through the power of entrepreneurship,” 

 – Mary Kate Morr, Community Engagement Manager at RMMFI

“One thing that we’ve learned… throughout our history, certainly as we work with Prosper CO and the other organizations involved, is just the importance of truly thinking about equitable economies as an ecosystem,” continued Morr. “There’s not one solution, there’s not one organization that’s going to solve everything, and we really understand that we’re going to provide this deep business development support and capital access, but that on its own still isn’t even enough.

“There’s other barriers that individuals are facing in their personal lives or their families or communities that we can’t address… In the spirit of Prosper CO, bringing people together, working together to find bigger solutions is really what’s going to lead to long-term equitable outcomes in our economy.”

Morr also stated that peer support has played a vital role in encouraging entrepreneurs to keep moving forward despite roadblocks. She stressed that peer support and the ability to connect with other entrepreneurs who are in similar circumstances can go a long way in making people feel understood and valued.

An Example of Success: Postres: Delicias Saludables, Dedicación con Cariño Alimentario by Elizabeth Alvarez

One entrepreneur that RMMFI has helped grow is Elizabeth Alvarez, who went through the Westwood program to learn how to run her own healthy bakery. Alvarez is a native Spanish speaker, and Saavedra translated her responses.

Alvarez has always wanted to own a business, but it wasn’t until she went through the Westwood program that she believed this would even be a possibility. It provided her the mentors that she needed to gain an understanding and foundation of business ownership. She’s now taking steps toward her goals, one of which is to get a small space where she can sell her products: healthy pastries, pies, empanadas, cookies and other baked goods.

When asked about her Westwood experience, Alvarez said the whole program was amazing! She is working to apply everything she learned through the program toward her business, and now looks at her business with a new perspective and scope.

Alvarez said that the entire experience provided her much-needed information, but the most valuable lessons she learned from Westwood were focused on finances. She first learned how to market and grow her business, but once her business began to grow, she realized how important it is to understand how to sustain her business through financial means.

To any businesses thinking about joining the Westwood program, Alvarez emphasizes how great the program is, especially for small businesses who are interested in learning about finance management and growing their business.

To place an order with Elizabeth Alvarez’s bakery, you can email her at

If you are interested in starting or growing your business, volunteering to mentor an aspiring entrepreneur or supporting local small businesses, visit the website to get involved.