Editor’s note: This is one in an occasional series profiling young professionals in the Colorado Springs area.
Leading a community relief program for small businesses devastated by a crippling pandemic was not in Natasha Main’s job description. She had plenty on her plate since becoming executive director late last year of Exponential Impact, a Colorado Springs-based, nonprofit incubator/accelerator for tech startups.
But she’s more than stepped up to the challenge, says Exponential Impact co-founder and chairman Vance Brown, who developed the Survive & Thrive relief program, which is being administered by XI. In fact, he says, “she’s crushing it.”
Tony Rosendo, who has known Main since her days as executive director of Peak Startup, agrees.
“She has been incredibly flexible and fast moving to stand up Survive & Thrive through XI. It’s been an amazing thing to see,” says Rosendo, founder of Spur Philanthropy, which manages three family foundations, including the Lane Foundation, a key partner in Survive & Thrive.
Survive & Thrive, which also has received support from the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC and other entities, has provided $2.2 million in low-interest-rate loans to area nonprofits and small businesses and is raising funds in hopes of providing more.
The program also provides mentoring and other resources for struggling businesses.
Main, Brown notes, “is managing over 100 volunteers for this Survive & Thrive program. That’s not easy.”
But, he adds, it speaks to her skills. She’s “very, very bright,” is incredibly detailed and has the ability to bring people together, Brown says.
“People trust her.”
Main says the experience has been humbling and inspiring.
“This certainly was not something anyone anticipated. ... As a community, we have a lot to be proud of and that comes from the relationships formed and the connections we maintain, reconnect with and newly establish in a time of crisis. Survive & Thrive has allowed me to see this happen in all facets of the community.”
A move to the Springs
Main, 26, grew up in St. Louis and earned a degree in economics and international studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., where she was a Bonner Scholar. The Bonner Program provides four-year scholarships to a group of incoming students each year with a commitment to service and social justice; Bonner Scholars dedicate a portion of each week to community service at area nonprofits.
At Rhodes, Main says, she “fell in love with this intersection of community building and economic development.” After graduating, she worked at Little Bird Innovation in Memphis, a research, strategy and design firm “focused on projects that drive economic development, social impact and civic innovation.”
It was in Memphis that Main met her husband-to-be, Anthony Siracusa. They married in November 2017 and in the same week moved to Colorado Springs for Siracusa to take a job at Colorado College.
In the Springs, Main spent a couple of months getting to know the community and networking. In June 2018, she became executive director of Peak Startup, which is dedicated to bolstering the Colorado Springs startup community. In moving forward, she first took a look back, “to assess what the community needed most, to draw on that design team experience and figure out what was most impactful and getting a sense of where our community was and building up those programs.”
Main, says Spur Philanthropy’s Rosendo, “was flexible and energetic and thoughtful and aggressive in thinking about different ways to bring Peak Startup into a new relevance.”
In December, though, she left Peak Startup to become Exponential Impact’s first executive director — “an amazing opportunity,” she says, that appealed to her for several reasons, including working with the XI team, from staff to the board to volunteers. “I’m a very team-oriented person.”
While there was plenty of competition for the job, Main was a leading candidate at the start, Brown says. “We knew her reputation, we knew her success at Peak Startup, and nobody had anything but incredible things to say about her.”
Adjusting to the crisis
Exponential Impact’s programs include the XI Accelerator, a 14-week program for promising early-stage companies, and Amplify, designed to support startups that have a product in the market or are about to release a product. Among the startups in the initial Amplify class is FitSW, a software platform for personal trainers and gyms to manage all aspects of their businesses. FitSW’s founder, Jacob Montoya, says Amplify has benefited the startup in many ways, from mentorship to “top notch” programming to plugging FitSW into the Colorado Springs startup ecosystem. “It was like we instantly added dozens of people to our team who were all rooting for us and in our corner,” he said in an email.
Main, he says, “has exemplified the phrase ‘hit the ground running’ since she started at XI. ... It really does feel like FitSW has an additional executive team member with her support and advice. I walk out of my meetings with her enthusiastic, with a fresh perspective, and eager to continue growing FitSW.”
The pandemic has caused XI and FitSW to pivot. XI’s summer accelerator will be delayed. Amplify, meanwhile, moved to a virtual format in mid-March; originally set to end in April, the first stage of the program has been extended indefinitely to support the teams during these changing times.
“This support has been critical to us at FitSW,” Montoya says, “since the COVID-19 pandemic completely changed how our primary customers, personal trainers and gyms, operate. FitSW is working to adapt and move quickly in order to provide new remote training software features and solutions for personal trainers and gyms in this new landscape.”
The pandemic and its impact will be “a mixed bag” for the startup community, Main says. “Some startups that are relying on investor dollars and institutional funding to scale and grow, that is going to be a lot harder.”
On the other hand, startups are nimble and can more easily adapt to change. Many of the startups in the Amplify program are emerging as “COVID success stories,” Main says. For example, Bytable Foods, which uses block chain technology to trace food from farm to fork, has seen “an explosion” in demand for ethically raised food from its marketplace that can now be delivered. Barn Owl, which oversees remote properties with cellular-connected cameras to allow farmers and ranchers to protect their resources, is also seeing increased demand as the need for remote surveillance grows, Main says.
The best startups, she says, are those aimed at solving a problem — and the pandemic has brought a whole host of new problems.
“l think the entrepreneurial spirit, if anything, is going to grow,” Brown says. “How do we prevent things like this in the future?”
Main, meanwhile, will have to adjust to a change close to home; her husband has left his job as assistant director of the Collaborative for Community Engagement at Colorado College to become director of community engagement at the University of Mississippi. He has been working remotely during the pandemic but will be moving to Mississippi.
“We are looking at a period of long distance as we both pursue our careers,” Main says.
Outside work, Main says she loves being active and enjoying Colorado’s outdoor resources. She played tennis in high school and still takes to the neighborhood courts. (On vacation, she also tries to go surfing, an activity not available in landlocked Colorado, every chance she gets.)
“In addition to physical activity, I stay balanced through art,” she says, specifically pottery. “I learned how to throw on the wheel in high school and had the most amazing teacher, Tom Hunt, who really helped to foster a lifelong passion for creative expression. This is still my favorite hobby. I throw on the wheel at open studios around town.”