Jump to Main Content
USA flagAn Official Website of the United States Government
Speeches & Op-Eds

National Small Business Week Kickoff at Twitter Headquarters

Speech Date: 
Monday, May 12, 2014
Speech Location: 
San Francisco, California
As Prepared For: 
Maria Contreras Sweet, SBA Administrator

 

Welcome to the kickoff of National Small Business Week 2014. We're delighted that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is with us today. Leader Pelosi never stops fighting for America's small businesses. Thank you for so ardently championing our innovators.

We're also honored today to welcome one of America's youngest and most inspiring entrepreneurs.

Vivienne Harr of Marin County, California, is 10 years old. In 2012, she saw a heart-breaking photo of two enslaved brothers in Nepal with rocks strapped across their backs. So Vivienne decided to take action. She set up a lemonade stand every day for the better part of a year to raise money to eradicate child slavery. With her Twitter account, she raised more than $100,000. In doing so, she showed us how social media can turn a lemonade stand into an instrument of social change.

Today, her lemonade, called "Make a Stand," is bottled and sold at major grocery stores like Whole Foods. Her business is dedicated to creating a better world. Vivienne's brashness and business savvy is a call to action to every entrepreneur to think about ways they can do well by doing good. In the social media age, consumers know what they're buying, and they reward companies with a conscience. Thank you, Vivienne, for making a stand.

You'll also hear today from Premal Shah, who founded Kiva, a social media vehicle that lets ordinary citizens make microloans to deliver things like clean water and economic opportunity to communities worldwide. Let's replicate the stories of success in this room. Whether you started a business to provide for your family, to satisfy an unfulfilled passion, or because you want to start a second act and be your own boss, you're strengthening America. This week, we commit to growing small businesses so we can help fulfill the promise of America.

With Vivienne and Premal as our inspiration, today begins a weeklong focus on the risk-takers who make the wheels of our economy turn. America's 28 million small businesses create nearly two out of three jobs in our economy, employing half of our private-sector workforce. So you can't have a conversation about creating jobs and economic growth without talking about what is truly the lifeblood of our economy – our entrepreneurs.

As President Obama said in his proclamation declaring National Small Business Week: "Small businesses represent an ideal at the heart of our nation's promise – that with ingenuity and hard work, anyone can build a better life." President Obama passed 18 direct tax breaks into law for American small businesses. But I agree with him, we have more to do. He said, "We must protect tax credits that help small business hire and add incentives for paying workers higher wages. We must ensure entrepreneurs – even those who are not rich – have the resources to take their businesses to the next level. Because if we create a more level playing field, the best ideas will rise to the top, opportunity will flourish, and America will prosper."

This week, we're celebrating small businesses and hosting events across the nation, starting in San Francisco in the shadows of the Golden Gate Bridge. Then we go to Kansas City tomorrow, host an online event Wednesday, we're in Boston on Thursday, and we finish in our nation's capital, Washington D.C., on Friday. All of our events, workshops and panels will be live-streamed at sba.gov. On Friday, we'll announce our National Small Business of the Year, so you'll want to tune in for that to be inspired.

Today, I want to recognize our Northern California 2014 Small Business of the Year – Iron Construction. This is a general contracting company that provides quality local jobs, and they're passionate about environmental stewardship. Last year, SBA financing allowed the company to purchase a 27,000-square-foot building in Sunnyvale. It's LEED certified and powered partly by geothermal energy. Claudia Folzman and Dave Edgar are here today. Will you please stand and be recognized?

Did you know there's a federal agency – supported by Democrats and Republicans – that exists for one reason only: to help small business owners succeed? And did you know that President Obama added a brand-new seat at his cabinet table for someone whose entire job is to make your job easier? Well, it's all true. SBA is the name of the agency, and President Obama appointed me to that seat because he recognizes the critical role that you play.

As we kick off National Small Business Week today, I want every small business owner in America to get to know your SBA, because we want to be your partner. And we're the best kind of partner: a silent partner that takes zero percent. Our payoff is helping you build a successful business that creates jobs and put Americans back to work.

Today, we're here in the Bay Area – the global capital of high technology and angel investors. But there are angels outside of Silicon Valley, too. The SBA has angels fanned out across every state in this country, and we're in the business of helping you succeed.

We help you get capital on good terms to start or grow your business. We counsel you about how to get your business plan in shape and how to take your company to the next level. And we do matchmaking so you can land contracts: government contracts, corporate contracts, or international export contracts. Capital. Counseling. Contracts. These "Three Cs" benefit every small business. If you have a small business, or want to start one, the SBA exists to help you succeed. Go to sba.gov, and click on the local assistance button to find your angel. They already have their wings. Their job is to help you get yours and take your small business to new heights.

I started my first business more than 20 years ago, leaving a good, safe corporate job in Los Angeles to start my own firm. It was both exhilarating and terrifying. The entrepreneurs out there know the feeling I'm talking about. I named my firm the Contreras-Sweet Company. OK, so the name wasn't as flashy as some of our incredible start-ups in Silicon Valley. But my husband liked it, because as he puts it, he's the one who made me Sweet.

I remember the first thing I decided I needed was a business card. But that meant I needed an office number and a fax number to put on that card. And that meant I needed a commercial phone and fax system and a space to put it all. So I priced everything out, and just like that, I had my first crash course on why new small businesses need access to capital.

In those early years, I worked a lot of late nights, because I spent most of the daylight hours marketing new business. That left the evenings to do the actual work. I wish I would've known then what I know now. The SBA specializes in helping entrepreneurs with business planning and strategic networking. We open doors to customers in the public sector, in corporate supply chains, even to foreign buyers halfway around the world.

Now, you may ask: Is this all too good to be true? Well, on the first C, capital, the SBA has supported more loans to our small businesses in the last five years than at any time in history. Our loan volume has totaled $146 billion since this President took office. That's more than the total GDP of medium-size countries like Hungary OR Vietnam.

On the second C, for counseling, we provide mentorship, counseling, and strategic advice to more than 1 million small business owners every year. We have hundreds of Small Business Development Centers, Women's Business Centers, Veterans Outreach Centers, and our SBA district offices. Our seasoned business executives with SCORE operate out of 800 locations in communities across every state in America. They log more than a million hours every year, because they want to give back and offer their knowledge and experience. They do 1-on-1 counseling or in some instances will come right to your place of business. Wherever you meet, one thing remains the same: Their counseling and mentoring services are absolutely free.

On the third C, contracts, we oversee the federal government's supply chain for small businesses. Uncle Sam is the largest buyer in the world, purchasing $400 billion of goods and services each year. Some have a helpful uncle; now you have Uncle Sam. The SBA helps small businesses do nearly $100 billion of federal business a year. We also help small businesses plug into the supply chain of Fortune 500 companies. Small firms that enter large corporate supply chains increase their revenue by an average of 250 percent. And the SBA can also help you go global, too. Last year, we counseled more than 15,000 entrepreneurs interested in exporting and we shattered our record for export finance, supporting $3 billion in lending. Think about it: 95 percent of consumers live outside of this country's borders, but only 1 percent of our small businesses are selling to them right now. Talk about an untapped market.

There's so much growth potential in our interconnected, global economy. Over the last three decades, technology has transformed the business world, enabling international commerce, and no one has benefited more than our small businesses. In 2014, small firms can reach customers with one smart click of a mouse. They can analyze data faster, conduct national recruiting searches from their laptop, and communicate with potential customers across the globe.

Technology also means small businesses can get to profitability faster. Social media companies have revolutionized the way companies engage with their customers. As a former marketer, I can attest to the paradigm shift this medium represents. It used to take millions of dollars in ad buys for a small business to become a big one. Not anymore. Today, companies like Twitter can help entrepreneurs start real conversations with consumers to build customer loyalty.

It's a different world in 2014. Entrepreneurs can do business now in their pajamas. All you need is a great idea, a marketable skill, and passion. We'll be hosting workshops live-streamed at sba.gov all week. We'll show you how to promote your business in the mobile and digital age, get counseling and capital

Finally, I couldn't let the opportunity to make a little start-up news. Today, the SBA is announcing a new competition for those who help seed organizations and are dedicated to helping start-ups go from zero to 60 in record time. These organizations are called growth accelerators. Accelerators provide physical infrastructure in places like university incubators or local nonprofits. They offer up space, as well as mentoring, networking, business-plan assistance, and sometimes startup capital, too.

Throughout most of American history, it has been companies like Xerox, GM and DuPont that served as our laboratories for innovation. They invented and produced game-changing technologies like the computer mouse and Teflon. But now small businesses have taken the lead, outpacing the innovation rate of larger firms. There are hundreds of growth accelerators in communities across America, but most of them are concentrated on the coasts. We want to export the Silicon Valley model to communities in Middle America and across this nation, in urban centers and rural communities.

We want to seed new accelerators focused on key industries like clean energy and new accelerators focused on underserved communities, whether it's women, minorities, or veteran or encore entrepreneurs.

So today, the SBA is announcing a $2 ½ million dollar national competition to help these accelerators scale up and to help new accelerators spring up. Those who apply will be eligible for $50,000 prizes. Winners can use that money for things like rent, office equipment, wifi connections, and white boards. We'll announce the prize winners this fall. Again, go to sba.gov to learn more.

So let me just close my comments here at National Small Business Week by reminding everyone about the Three Cs. If you need capital to grow, if you need counseling to plan, or if you need contracts to expand your portfolio, then look up your local SBA office. It doesn't matter if you run a restaurant, a janitorial company, an E-commerce website, or the next big thing in hi-tech, the SBA is here for you. We'll be your angels. Give us a call or stop by. And please, let's keep the conversation going using the #SBW2014. Together, we'll grow your business and the national economy along with it. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.