Thrive Network had its genesis in a church. It was in 2014 that Myron Pierce and Taj Stokes, co-founders of what’s become Southeast’s entrepreneurial educational program, brainstormed ideas at Passion City Church on how to revitalize their community.
Pierce and Stokes wanted to see more jobs and resources throughout the Southeast, so they started hosting job fairs in 2015. They quickly realized job fairs wouldn’t be enough.
They decided to take a mindset approach, teaching locals the importance of entrepreneurship. That course evolved into a class that got into the nuts and bolts of running a business.
Today, Thrive hosts three 14-week entrepreneur courses each year, each with a cohort of 15 Southeast residents.
Pierce and Stokes have since moved on — Pierce moved to Nebraska and Stokes left for “personal reasons” — but Thrive keeps thriving.
The things they’re learning and the connections they’re making are great to see. — Heather McBroom
“Typically, we have 15 to 18 applicants,” says Heather McBroom, Thrive Network’s program development manager. “In our last cohort, we had 37 applicants. The movement is phenomenal and the things they’re learning and the connections they’re making are great to see.”
Each 14-week course includes free classes twice a week for anyone aged 20 to 65 who’s looking for a career path outside the typical 9-to-5. And sometimes its greatest strength is giving participants a perspective they didn’t expect.
“Some of the people who go through our classes don’t start their businesses right away because they recognize they’re not ready,” says Cory Arcarese, Thrive board member and CEO of Nursing and Therapy Services.
“One of our graduates wanted to start a concrete business … but decided he wasn’t ready. He went to work for a construction company that quickly made him the supervisor. They asked him how he learned to read a balance sheet and understand their cash flow and, he told me [that] he told them about the class.”
To join a cohort, applicants answer questions and are graded based on their responses. McBroom says grades don’t determine entry, but answers show whether they have a workable concept.
“If it’s not a viable idea, then we look to give them some resources to help them get to the point of a viable idea,” McBroom says. “When you come in the class, then we start to talk about your viable idea. Our ask is that you use the idea, resources or tools we’re going to give you throughout the class. … Whether you open that business, a different business or go back to being an employee, we hope this program develops whoever takes it. We want you to be able to take the resources and connections we provide and start any business with the steps we’ve shown.”
Thrive teaches everything from how to ace an elevator pitch and how to read a financial report, to how to use a computer to run a business.
Arcarese says Thrive focuses on analytics and research data to boost a business’ chance at success.
“We have research experts who show our members how to do what we like to call ‘economic gardening,’” Arcarese says. “If you want to open a vegan restaurant in Southeast Colorado Springs, you can do the research of how many vegan restaurants there are in Southeast Colorado Springs or anywhere. You can see who’s the competition and what are their sales.”
Arcarese says it’s important for would-be entrepreneurs to know how people spend their money each year. Researchers show participants how to find and analyze consumers’ spending habits.
“You can do a search for what the average household spends on the product you’re looking to sell,” Arcarese says. “You can get down to the ZIP code. That way you can see the likelihood of your potential success.”
They also look at traffic patterns, which the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) tracks, to decide on good potential business sites.
“CDOT publishes traffic patterns by location,” Arcarese says. “If you’re debating between two different locations, you can go to the CDOT website, plug in the addresses and see which location gets more traffic. That’s all public information. You just have to know that it’s there and where to look for it.”
As the most recent cohort started boot camp the first week of January, Andi Propst, Thrive operations manager, says she felt proud of the dynamic in
“I’m not always an emotional person, but being in our boot camp with this first Class of 2023, seeing the excitement and buzz in the room of people who were grateful to be there, was amazing,” she says.
“I was trying to hold back tears because of how proud I was of that. Our alum who recently graduated spoke to the class. She was sharing her story, and seeing how far she’s come in the last six months has been incredible. Sometimes you get in the grind of work — and hearing positive stories and what they’ve experienced [makes me realize] this is why I do what I do.”
Program graduates often return with questions and Arcarese says Thrive instructors “happily help,” because the graduates “have a resource that they know they can go to.”
Inevitably, graduates sometimes make mistakes. But Arcarese doesn’t believe there are failures in business — only lessons.
“To me there isn’t a story that isn’t a success story because everybody comes away with more self-confidence knowing more about business than what they started with,” Arcarese says. “This organization is helping the community make sure it stays viable and continues to — no pun intended — thrive. There are different stages to business; we’re there every step of the way if they want the help.”
As each new cohort enters, Thrive tweaks its curriculum to meet entrepreneurs’ needs.
“Our goal when they graduate is they have a business plan, three years’ worth of financial projections [and] they have their elevator pitch down pat,” McBroom says. “They still have a network of people who they can go to as they begin to work on their businesses and begin the next steps.
“We also have partnerships with the SBDC … We have an entrepreneur who is starting a day care. We teach one side and SBDC teaches a course specific to child care. She can learn about laws and licensing requirements she needs to get the business off the ground.”
Venus Collective and Melissa’s Hair Therapy are among the Southeast businesses Thrive has helped launch.
On Thrive’s website, Melissa’s Hair Therapy owner Melissa Chapman credits the program for her business’ progress.
“I got help with my sign, I got help with my space [and] I got a lot of coaching out of that [program],” Chapman says. “Doing it with somebody walking beside you is much better than trying to do it by yourself.”