Recently in the Small Business Category
11:35 AM December 9, 2014
Entrepreneurs, Policy Makers Discuss What's Working and Share Advice
The Atlantic's 2014 Small Business Forum
By Martin Feeney
From within the ultra modern, concrete-exposed confines of Washington's 1776, a startup incubator, The Atlantic Magazine hosted its annual Small Business Forum. Representative Judy Chu (D-CA) kicked off the morning's session with a bang. The recently passed defense authorization bill included sole source authority for the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Procurement Program. This is a major victory for all women business owners and is something we've been advocating for many years. According to Rep. Chu, other changes for small businesses included in the defense bill are limitations on reverse auctions, changes to subcontracting, and review of contract bundling.
When the new Congress convenes in January, Rep. Chu shared her plans to introduce a bill to restart the refinance section under the SBA's 504 commercial real-estate loan program. It allowed small businesses to cut costs by refinance existing commercial property loans at today's low interest rates, but it expired in 2012. We look forward to working with her next year to make this a reality.
Many of the morning's panelists, including SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, the National Journal's Fawn Johnson, 1776 Co-Founder Evan Burfield, and the founders of two of DC's favorite establishments, Ben's Chili Bowl's Nazim Ali and Port City Brewing Company's Bill Butcher, all agreed that access to capital remains the major obstacle for startups. Port City's Bill Butcher recalled his attempts to get a loan to start Washington's first brewery since prohibition. Despite success in the winemaking industry and having his personal finances in order, he heard the all-too-familiar refrain from the first ten banks he tried: "sorry, we only lend to businesses that are at least 24 months old." His advice: "keep trying," he said, "and learn from your failures and mistakes." Luckily for beer lovers, Port City was able to obtain an SBA loan with some business counseling.
With respect to what the government is doing, the SBA's Maria Contreras-Sweet highlighted initiatives specifically designed for small businesses. On lending, she noted that the SBA waived fees on 7(a) loans below $150,000 last year and has committed to continuing through September 2015. According to her, this has resulted in increased loans to the smallest businesses, including those run by women and minorities. To boost the number of microloans (loans up to $50,000), the SBA plans to enter into an agreement with credit unions, which will increase the program's reach into more communities across the country.
On technology and how the SBA is innovating, Administrator Contreras-Sweet also announced SBA One. The online platform will automate the application and approval process for almost all SBA loans. She likened the idea to what TurboTax did for filing taxes by making the entire process online and automated. No more paperwork or headaches? Sounds like a great idea me. SBA One is expected to launch in the second quarter of 2015.
From the private sector's perspective, Bank of America's chief small business lender, Robb Hilson, shared a couple of statistics about generational approaches to entrepreneurship. Not surprisingly, millennials are the most confident when it comes to taking the leap and starting a business. But they're also the most dependent on technology, with 44% saying they wouldn't be able to survive without a smartphone. Surprisingly, on the other end of the spectrum, encore entrepreneurs (those aged 50+), often considered the luddites of the entrepreneurial world, is in fact the age group most likely to do so following the millennial generation.
At the end of each panel, each participant was asked for the one piece of advice each would give an aspiring entrepreneur. I think Ben's Mr. Ali framed it perfectly: "know your community, know your neighbors, and know what they want." He credited this advice, passed down from his father who founded Ben's Chili Bowl almost 60 years ago, with the famed restaurant's continued success. They've been able to succeed in their community because they're a part of it and know their needs and desires.
So here's my piece of advice: If you're ever in Washington and
haven't already, make sure to support these local
by grabbing a Ben's Half-Smoke and a pint of Port City's IPA. You won't regret
All told, the forum offered a wide range of perspectives, including experiences, lessons learned, opportunities, and thoughts on the state of small business in general. I encourage you to watch the webcast if you haven't had the chance to do so yet.
2:39 PM December 3, 2014
We Did It
By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Government Relations
WIPP Works In Washington
It was against all odds that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a vitally important improvement to the WOSB procurement program - sole source authority. Yes, you read it right - the WOSB program will now have parity with every other small business procurement program.
The law wasn't written that way back in the year 2000, but through WIPP's persistence for 14 years, we finally have a program that is sustainable. First, of course, we had to get the program put into place. If you recall, SBA delayed implementation for 11 years. Then we went about changing the underlying law that was flawed. First, we advocated for the removal of the dollar caps on the program--the original law limited contracts under this program to $5 million, rendering the program largely ineffective. Since the caps on awards through this program were removed, the program has tripled in size.
But, in our view, removing the dollar caps was not enough to make this program work. The original law only permits contracts to be set-aside for women owned companies if the business is owned and controlled by women and two or more women owned companies will submit offers. Meanwhile, every other small business procurement program allows contracts up to $4 million (or $6.5 million in the case of manufacturing) to be directly awarded to one firm. That is a critical tool used by the federal government to award contracts to minorities, veterans and HUBZone firms to access the federal market.
Now that I have explained the long road toward making the WOSB procurement program work, we have a few things left to do. First, agencies (in this case the SBA) have to promulgate rules to implement the law passed by Congress. The SBA did this for the removal of dollar caps in six months, which is lightening speed for an agency. Second, the FAR Council, which oversees contracting rules, has to approve the changes. That takes additional time. Third, all the contracting officers and small business offices in the government need to understand the change and start using it.
It is a long process, but not as long as we have been working on making this program successful. And we certainly did not do this alone. To thank everyone that deserves thanks would require pages but here are some special shout-outs. If you ever responded to a WIPP Call to Action or ever wrote a letter to your elected officials on the WOSB program--THANK YOU, you made a difference. To the fifteen organizations that supported WIPP on this effort--THANK YOU. If you attended the hearing during WIPP's annual leadership conference, you played a big part--THANK YOU. Special thanks go to those on Capitol Hill who shepherded this program through the Congressional system- Senators Cantwell, Shaheen, Landrieu and Representatives Speier and Graves. The staffs of the Senate and House Small Business Committee were instrumental in this success. The SBA Administrators Mills and Contreras-Sweet made the success of this program a top priority and we will never forget their contribution. Speaking of staff members, the dedicated SBA employees on the Government Contracting team and in the General Counsel's office deserve our gratitude. The WIPP team and WIPP's board members have been solidly behind these successes devoting endless hours on these issues, ensuring that Congress heard directly from business leaders. Lastly I am really proud of my team's efforts. As I am sure you are aware, there has been very few votes in this Congress this year--this effort was particularly difficult and fraught with many twists and turns.
But in the end--WE WON--WOMEN BUSINESS OWNERS WON. Now, for the first time in history, let's make sure the federal government meets its goal of 5% with women owned firms.
Protect Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself: How to Celebrate National Cyber Security Awareness Month
1:53 PM October 23, 2014
Happy National Cyber Security Awareness Month! It may not sound as sexy or cool as National Ice Cream Month (July), or National Jazz Appreciation Month (April), but cyber security is just as, if not more, important. In fact, Cyber Security Awareness Month is the only national awareness month out of the aforementioned that is administered and promoted by the Department of Homeland Security. Sound important yet? It should. Although we all use the internet, few of us take the time to make sure our connections are secure, our information is safe and our assets are protected. Well, this month is the time to do it.
- Use and regularly update anti-virus and anti-spyware software on all computers; automate patch deployments across your organization to protect against vulnerabilities.
- Secure your internet connection by using a firewall, encrypting information, and hiding your Wi-Fi network.
- Establish security practices and policies to protect sensitive information; educate employees about cyber threats and how to protect your organizations data and hold them accountable to the Internet security policies and procedures.
- Require that employees use strong passwords and regularly change them.
- Invest in data loss protection software for your network and use encryption technologies to protect data in transit.
- Protect all pages on your public facing websites, not just the checkout and sign up pages.
5:09 PM October 8, 2014
The NCRC made several recommendations for leveling the playing field when it comes to small business loans, among them increasing the number of WBCs and CDFIs in the so-called "lending deserts". The NCRC also recommended additional research, especially on the lending patterns in the private sector. Although this report affirms the findings of studies before it, it sheds a new light on both the geographic and demographic disparities in small business lending, and confirms the need for proactive programs such as WIPP's Women Accessing Capital program. The report was funded through the WE Lend Initiative, established by the Sam's Club Giving Program to increase access to capital for women entrepreneurs. WIPP partners with NCRC on the WE Lend Initiative, which also is assisting Women Business Centers in becoming micro-lenders and preparing standardized financial education curriculum for women business owners utilizing these Centers.
A new report issued by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found large, unsettling inconsistencies in lending patterns for small businesses starting in the years following the Great Recession. The report, Small Business Lending Deserts and Oases, outlines the ways in which access to credit for small businesses is affected by geographic and demographic characteristics. Although overall lending to small businesses plummeted during the Great Recession, women and African-American owned small businesses were found to be disproportionately affected, along with small businesses located in the Midwest and the South. Importantly, the NCRC found that counties with little access to Women Business Centers (WBCs) or Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) had the lowest rates of lending for small businesses. The report spanned both the private sector and federally funded lending, painting a comprehensive picture of the barriers that small business owners are facing today.
The NCRC made several recommendations for leveling the playing field when it comes to small business loans, among them increasing the number of WBCs and CDFIs in the so-called "lending deserts". The NCRC also recommended additional research, especially on the lending patterns in the private sector. Although this report affirms the findings of studies before it, it sheds a new light on both the geographic and demographic disparities in small business lending, and confirms the need for proactive programs such as WIPP's Women Accessing Capital program.
The report was funded through the WE Lend Initiative, established by the Sam's Club Giving Program to increase access to capital for women entrepreneurs. WIPP partners with NCRC on the WE Lend Initiative, which also is assisting Women Business Centers in becoming micro-lenders and preparing standardized financial education curriculum for women business owners utilizing these Centers.
11:57 AM March 28, 2014
Women Impacting Public Policy joined a recent White House Business Council Meeting to share how various policies are affecting women business owners across the country. The meeting included several White House staff along with top officials from the Department of Commerce and the Small Business Administration.
At the meeting, WIPP stressed the importance of capital access as the critical issue for women business owners looking to start and grow their companies, and highlighted WIPP's 2013 Annual Survey finding that it takes an average of two attempts for women business owners to secure funding.
Commerce Undersecretary for Economic Affairs, Mark Doms, agreed that the economy would be best served by giving business owners more access to capital. The Commerce Department's new strategic plan, America is Open for Business, reflects that priority by stressing innovation and investment.
SBA Associate Administrator for Capital Access Ann Marie Mehlum concurred, saying her office will continue to identify opportunities to expand access while strengthening SBA's already available capital access programs. She went on to highlight the 7(a) loan program, which supported more than $15 billion in small business loans in FY13.
The meeting closed with a discussion of how trade can be used to fuel growth for businesses of all sizes. The Administration agreed there is a need for streamlining and simplification in exporting as well as engaging the women's business community on the value of selling goods and services abroad. Both of those priorities are at the front of WIPP's ExportNOW program that encourages women entrepreneurs to grow beyond our borders.
These meetings are open dialogues with policymakers, giving WIPP's advocacy team the opportunity to share ideas and concerns raised by WIPP's members.