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Treasury Secretary Lew Tours Denver's Knotty Tie

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew talks printing with Jeremy Priest, left, and Nick Yakuboff.

Knotty Tie printed monetary themes on fabric in honor of Lew's visit.

 Today about half of the company's employees are resettled refugees from such countries as Iraq, Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew speaks with co-founders Mark Johnson, right, and Jeremy Priest.

During a day in Denver, United States Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew visited Denver startup Knotty Tie last week and talked shop with the company's employees.
During a Jan. 5 morning tour from Knotty Tie Co. co-founders Jeremy Priest and Mark Johnson, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew got an education on the finer points of of printing and sewing custom ties -- and advancing a social purpose.

Founded in January 2013, Knotty Tie has come a long way in three years. The custom neckwear manufacturer in the Art District on Santa Fe roughly tripled its staff from six to 16 employees in 2015 as sales neared $1 million for the year. Coming soon: a new location that's 1,5000 square feet larger and custom socks and other apparel and fabrics that leverages the company's core capabilities.

The company initially launched with the financial help of the Colorado Enterprise Fund (CEF). A seed of $10,000 was followed by $100,000. "At the very beginning it was what we used to initially hire resettled refugees and actually start the social mission," Priest explained. "Later it allowed us to buy equipment and bring printing in-house, and that cut our costs considerably."

Today about half of the company's employees are resettled refugees from such countries as Iraq, Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea. "Single mothers are the most disadvantaged of that community," said Priest.

CEF gets funding from the U.S. Treasury's State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), a program that has staked about 12,000 small businesses with more than $1.2 billion to date.

Federal support for startups like Knotty Tie is "very important," Lew said. "You can't get started without access to capital. The system is not easy for new ideas to get funded through the traditional financial infrastructure. Getting that first capital, that first start, or making a pivot at a tough moment, these programs are critical."

Lew called Knotty Tie "a great idea. It just shows you that entrepreneurship is alive and well, and creative ideas can be combined with really impressive social purpose. The combination of a startup that is creating work opportunities for new immigrants who are starting out in this country is very impressive."

"This seems to me to be the kind of enterprise that will graduate from that kind of funding," he added. "They've shown they can use the money well. It makes me very proud of the program we run. When you come and see how an idea becomes a reality with really small amounts of help, a $10,000 loan out of the box."

Lew touted the Treasury Department's new myRA program for people who don't have a savings plan at work. "We're in the early stages of getting the word out and getting people to sign up," he explained.

"It's the perfect opportunity for people like the folks who are working here who just need to get started on saving and can't afford to paying a lot of fees or taking a lot of risks. They need something that's simple, safe and affordable. This is something they can put $5 a week or a month and get started. What we know is that once people get  started, they continue."Lew speaks with co-founders Mark Johnson, right, and Jeremy Priest.

On his whirlwind day in Colorado, Lew said he was happy to be a mile high. "Denver's a great city," he said. "It has a diverse economy, ranging from technology and natural resources to innovation and arts, and I think the vibrancy of Denver's economy is something you should be proud of."

Is he planning on acquiring a Knottie Tie for his own wardrobe? Lew said he had his eye on some fabric printing during his tour that featured the Treasury seal and currency patterns. "I saw a bunch that had my name on it ," he laughed, "but they weren't ties yet."

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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