As the pandemic unfolded last year, like so many small business owners, Tia Cavender wondered more than a few times if she’d be able to keep her company open long enough to weather the COVID-related setbacks. As the founder and CEO of Dig Deep, she’d devoted the past 11 years to pairing public and private entities with funding resources for water infrastructure projects. Suddenly, she was looking for her own influx of capital.
That’s when Arapahoe County CARES stepped in. Financed by funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that passed in mid-2020, the County’s CARES program set up a series of grants and loans that addressed all aspects of COVID relief, from food and housing assistance to job placement and training to grants for businesses.
This latter category proved to be a lifeline for Cavender and Dig Deep. Several months into the crisis, a number of Dig Deep’s clients had cut their budgets by up to 25%, which forced the company to offer “abbreviated” memberships to preserve their longtime relationships. “Just because they couldn’t afford us doesn’t mean we’d abandon them,” Cavender said.
The ultimately welcome irony of the situation was that after building her business around helping her clients find grants for water projects—a notoriously complex, expensive and time-consuming process that offers only sporadic rewards—Cavender now needed her own financial lifeline. She found it in the form of a $40,000 award from the Arapahoe Advance Business Assistance program that finally came through in December.
The funds helped stabilize Dig Deep after a very tough year, and they also vaulted the company into a new category. Prior to receiving the grant, Cavender figured that Dig Deep wouldn’t be able to qualify for another economic development grant program she had her eye on, but the money from Arapahoe CARES meant Dig Deep could now submit a competitive proposal for a $185,000 grant that would add two full-time staffers and create a GPS-enabled product line that would further bolster the company. “We’re competing against ‘flashier’ renewable energy companies for this one, and it often costs more to pursue certain grants than whatever the amount of the grant is,” she said. “Prior to receiving the CARES grants we never had enough capital on hand to be able to chase this kind of additional funding.”
Dig Deep will learn whether it will receive the additional funds sometime this spring. In the meantime, Cavender continues to be nimble with her business approach, a pay-it-forward philosophy that has included helping other organizations apply for their own CARES-funded grants. “I can’t stress enough how much we were able to leverage the CARES money,” she said. “It makes it worth spending the time and effort on the other items we’ve had on our wish list for some time.”