FORT COLLINS — About 100 local entrepreneurs and small business owners across Northern Colorado are picking up free laptops beginning Monday as part of a partnership between the Larimer Small Business Development Center and Human-I-T, a nonprofit working to create equitable access to economic opportunity for communities that have been left on the wrong side of the digital divide.
Chromebooks are being distributed from the SBDC office, housed within Front Range Community College, to the center’s clients (small businesses and entrepreneurs in targeted areas of Larimer County), home-based child-care businesses that participated in the Larimer SBDC’s recent program in English and Spanish, Estes Park Hispanic Business Alliance members, students at Front Range Community College who are or are considering becoming entrepreneurs, and the Multicultural Business & Entrepreneur Center, a partner group organized by the city of Fort Collins whose primary clients are Latino.
The Chromebooks were donated by businesses that want to keep their electronics out of landfills, then refurbished by Human-I-T.
“Entrepreneurs who don’t have access to technology clearly don’t get the same opportunities as those who do,” said Hope Hartman, the Larimer SBDC’s executive director. “By providing these devices, we’re helping them to more effectively start, run and grow their local businesses. This initiative is just one way we’re working to increase digital empowerment for local small businesses.”
One entrepreneur happy to get a Chromebook along with classes in information technology is Jennifer Strange, founder and operator of Saddles 2 Paddles in Wellington, a business that provides horseback-riding lessons, stand-up paddle board/inflatable kayak lessons and rentals.
“Our new (to us) Chromebook and IT classes will help us keep connected to our clients and friends through newsletters, client photos and social media fun,” she said. “This technology is all a part of operating a successful business.”
Human-I-T provides the free devices by refurbishing and refreshing donated ones, helping to reduce electronic waste and empowering businesses and organizations to divert their old electronics from landfills. The organization also provides internet access, digital skills training and tech support to targeted local communities.
The current round of laptops have already been assigned to specific recipients, but the SBDC hopes to continue the partnership. “This is an evolving initiative with new community partners coming into the fold,” said Hartman.
Local partners like the SBDC have begun meeting with the city of Fort Collins to assess how they can work together to support initiatives such as Larimer County’s Digital Roots program, which helps local job seekers boost their digital skills.
“We see these Chromebooks as just one of the ways to decrease the digital divide through digital empowerment, specifically for small business owners,” Hartman said. “The SBDC can get the computers to a specific market niche that aligns with our mission of helping local entrepreneurs, especially those who have been historically underserved.”