SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet shared insights from her days as an entrepreneur and her career as a Cabinet member with South Florida small businesses gathered May 3 at the College of Business. Her audience: entrepreneurs hungry to get a business off the ground or to drive their ventures to the next level.
During the roundtable conversation, Contreras-Sweet noted that small businesses are generating two out of three net jobs in the U.S. and currently employ 50 percent of the U.S. workforce. She also noted the “dramatic change” in small business confidence, which is now at an all-time high.
Yet while small business is booming, challenges still abound.
“We understand the challenge before you,” said Contreras-Sweet, noting that she launched a community business bank shortly before the economic downfall. “Sometimes there are ups and other times they are hard downs.”
The SBA provides part of the funding that fuels the SBDC at FIU, a small business development center, where financial experts assist with business development, strategic planning and access to capital, as well as international expansion, financial management, marketing strategies and more. The two organizations also collaborate on workshops and events including the SBA’s Emerging Leaders program, an intensive training course for small-business owners.
“Our team of highly experienced consultants works with entrepreneurs and businesses in Miami-Dade County to help them grow and succeed,” said Jacqueline Bueno Sousa, Regional Director FIU College of Business, SBDC.
Streamlining the process.
During the discussion, attendee Jeff Lozama, CEO of export company CMS International Group, recalled the challenges he faced when approaching the SBA and other financial institutions to start his business back in 1999.
Since then, under Contreras-Sweet’s administration, the SBA has simplified the process of getting financial assistance. The agency has placed a greater focus on helping business owners learn how to access capital, counseling and contract opportunities.
Additionally, the SBA has signed up hundreds of new lenders, including many community banks, credit unions and nonprofit organizations.
“As the co-founder of a community business bank in downtown Los Angeles, I saw the small business credit crunch up close,” she told the business owners. “I saw the difference SBA-backed capital could make and the potential of technology to help banks make good loans to underserved populations.”
In an effort to make micro loans more accessible, the SBA eliminated the fees for borrowers on loans under $150,000. Last week, the organization unveiled a Spanish-language website and will begin offering materials and counseling in multiple languages.
Advice and a helping hand.
Since its launch in January 2014, the SBDC at FIU has helped launch 21 companies and helped create or retain 234 jobs. Its team of experts has assisted businesses in accessing $9.5 million in capital and increasing sales by more than $14.5 million.
The creators of Moonlighter Lounge, a café that’s equal parts maker-space, design shop and tech studio, turned to the SBDC at FIU to launch the business. Daisy Nodal, Tom Pupo and Angie Cohen are working with consultant Marjorie Weber to secure startup financing for the facility and programs.
The College of Business roundtable was part of the SBA’s commemoration of National Small Business Week 2015, which included Contreras-Sweet’s keynote address at the eMerge conference in Miami Beach as well as events in Los Angeles, San Antonio, New York, and Washington, D.C.
“Everybody’s thinking about starting their own business today,” Contreras-Sweet told the entrepreneurs. “It’s not easy to be a risk-taker, a pioneer. I salute you.”