Above: SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet addresses a group at Roxbury’s Dudley Cafe
“We believe that everybody who wants to start a small business should be able to,” Maria Contreras-Sweet, Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA), told a group of entrepreneurs on April 11 at a roundtable event in Boston. Hosted by ICIC, the event brought together the Administrator with a group of Boston-area entrepreneurs at the Dudley Café in our Boston neighborhood, Dudley Square.
The visit began with a tour, led by ICIC President and COO Matt Camp, featuring the revitalization and redevelopment that is reshaping Dudley Square. The group walked from Hibernian Hall, a historic social club and dance hall that housed ICIC’s office for several years, to the Bolling Building, the new home of the Boston Public Schools and the Roxbury Innovation Center, where the discussion took place.
The 14 entrepreneurs in attendance were all alumni of one or more of ICIC’s Urban Business Initiatives: the Inner City 100, Inner City Capital Connections or Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses. They represented a wide range of backgrounds and industries, but shared the experience of running a business in distressed urban neighborhoods. The group had the opportunity to provide feedback on SBA programs and to ask questions on a variety of topics – from how to navigate the loan application process to broader questions about programs for veteran-owned businesses.
Above: ICIC’s CEO, Steve Grossman, welcomes the group
Contreras-Sweet, an experienced entrepreneur who has started three businesses including a community bank, acknowledged that it can be difficult for government programs to operate at the same speed as a business. Her administration has prioritized financial technology with the goal of improving the turnaround of the business loan process. She touted the success of many of the SBA’s capital programs, particularly the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC), which facilitates long-term capital flow to businesses. The SBIC has been so successful, she said, that it runs at zero government subsidy.
Also in attendance were several local and state government dignitaries, including representatives from the SBA’s Massachusetts District Office, which is one of the top offices in the nation for small business loans. As the Administrator pointed out, while her office sets policies, they depend on their counterparts at the state, local and federal levels to administer those policies, and she encouraged all the entrepreneurs in attendance to get to know their state and regional SBA partners.
For attendees, the event provided invaluable connections and discussion. “This is not the beginning of a conversation, this is not the end of a conversation – this is a continuing conversation,” said ICIC’s CEO, Steve Grossman. It’s a conversation that both ICIC and the SBA have carried on both jointly and separately for decades. Contreras-Sweet referenced “the transformative nature of (ICIC’s) work.” In the revitalized Bolling Building, surrounded by successful entrepreneurs who are creating inner city jobs and wealth, it was easy to see this transformation.
The companies and organizations in attendance were: Tremendous Maid, Guardian Healthcare, HDM Systems Corporation, IMINS, Boston Organics, Rise & Shine Contract Cleaning, Boston Impact Initiative, Catalyst Ventures Development, Proverb, Quality Interactions, Pinck & Co., Janey Construction Management and Vanguard Parking & General Services.