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Start-up by start-up, job by job, one of Denver's lowest-income neighborhoods is steadily becoming an urban hub of entrepreneurship

Bringing back neighborhood prosperity

by Meredith Erlewine

December 1998

For more than a decade, the Denver Enterprise Center (DEC) has been helping residents of one of Denver's highest unemployment areas create new companies, jobs and wealth at an impressive rate. The incubator has won many accolades from the city of Denver, and this year NBIA presented DEC its Incubator of the Year award in the special focus category. But the picture wasn't always so bright.

In 1987, Denver's historic Curtis Park neighborhood was riddled with boarded up buildings and weed-filled lots. The unkempt surroundings meant low morale, few jobs and lost hope for many in the community; neighborhood residents were hardly in an entrepreneurial state of mind. But Denver's city officials had a hunch that the neighborhood was just right for entrepreneurship the –blight was just a veneer over an area primed to be a hub for business.

"Historically [Curtis Park] has been one of the highest unemployment areas in Denver, but it's on its way back up. And the incubator has had a lot to do with that," says David Gonzales, DEC's executive director. Even though Curtis Park comprises the city's largest Hispanic- and black-populated communities, Gonzales emphasizes that DEC is a "mixed-use" rather than "minority" incubator. "We do have a special emphasis on encouraging minority and women business development. We would be negligent if we didn't, in our neighborhood. But we are not an entitlement program," he says.

DEC took on a wide mission. In addition to assisting manufacturing, technology, mail-order and professional service companies, DEC also boasts a 7,900 square foot kitchen incubator that is known throughout the industry as the facility by which all others should be judged. DEC operates at 100 percent occupancy for light manufacturing space, 92 percent for office space and 100 percent in the kitchen. To date, current clients and graduates have created 116 businesses and more than 1,000 jobs.

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Keywords: best practices, kitchen incubator, social entrepreneurship

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