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SCORE 50th Anniversary

The SBA Administrator

MARIA CONTRERAS-SWEET

SCORE 50th Anniversary

Speech Date: 
Thursday, August 14, 2014
Speech Location: 
SCORE 50th Anniversary National Conference
As Prepared For: 
Maria Contreras Sweet, SBA Administrator

Good morning, SCORE, and happy golden anniversary! What a special occasion to be together to celebrate what this organization has meant to America’s entrepreneurs for the last 50 years. Let me start by thanking Tameka for her leadership in our Office of Entrepreneurial Development. I also want to recognize Ellen Thrasher for her passionate advocacy on behalf of the entire SCORE family.

I want to extend a huge SBA “thank you” to your fearless leader Ken Yancey for his stewardship of SCORE for 21 years. I also want to recognize Jerry Glenn and his colleagues on the National Board for all that they do to guide SCORE. Most of all, though, I want celebrate all of you, the volunteer leaders of SCORE.

As Tameka mentioned, I was a business banker before coming to Washington. A few weeks ago, I did an interview with the AP, and I told the reporter something that seemed obvious to me, but my comment made the headline and caused a minor splash. I said the consulting we provide can be even more important than the capital. You and I know that if owners don’t know how to effectively deploy the capital they get, then their business endeavor probably won’t have a happy ending.

That’s why SCORE plays such a pivotal role in America’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. You provide sage wisdom at every stage of the life cycle of a small business. You help aspiring entrepreneurs plan and incorporate. You get them lender-ready, so they can succeed in getting that first loan. You help companies open their doors, manage their revenue, and market themselves to build their customer base. You advise them on everything from how to manage cash flow to how to stay out of trouble with the IRS. You help them survive that two-year danger zone when most businesses either sink or swim. Then you help them staff up, scale up, get contracts, go global, and even devise an exit strategy once their dreams are realized.

SCORE mentors help truly small businesses that may not attract the attention of fancy for-profit consultants. Whether it’s a sole proprietor daycare service – or a future powerhouse during its infancy, like Babies R’ Us – SCORE mentors help companies go from small to big.

As former business executives, you know that being an entrepreneur can be a lonely and isolating experience.  The people you advise have invested their heart, soul and savings in a dream … and often their friends’ and family members’ savings, too. It’s stressful to have so many people counting on you, and you’re the folks who offer an ear to bend when they’re having those sleepless nights. You offer the comfort that only someone who has stood in their shoes can provide. You share your successes and your failures, so your clients can learn from your mistakes. Ten and a half million entrepreneurs strong owe you their gratitude, and so do I.

What inspires me even more than the expert advice you provide is the reason you provide it. You aren’t in it for money, fame or glory. You do this because you care – you genuinely care about the success of others. You’ve accumulated a lifetime’s worth of expertise, and you want to share it to help your community and your country. For this, my friends, you’ve earned the thanks of a grateful nation. SCORE: You matter, and I’m so proud to be your partner.

I know how important the work of our entrepreneurs is, because I am one. I started three businesses in Los Angeles. I was a grandmother living a comfortable life, running my bank in Los Angeles, when the White House called with this incredible opportunity. I’ve been at the SBA for four months, and the chance to sit at the President’s cabinet table and be a champion for small business is the honor a lifetime.

I’ve developed a mantra to inform and guide my work that I want to share with you. I want SBA to stand for Smart, Bold and Accessible.

Let me spend some time walking you through what I mean by that. Let’s start with Smart. Technology is transforming how Americans do their banking and conduct their business. You can scan and deposit checks now from your living room. You can apply for a credit card and get an answer in a matter of minutes. SCORE has pioneered innovations like online counseling, email mentoring, and client tracking.  I want you to know that I’m committed to using my time in office to modernize the SBA. We must operate at the speed of business, and we must be as innovative as the small businesses we serve

During the height of the downturn, many entrepreneurs spent money out of their own pockets to make payroll, cover expenses, and weather the downturn.  As a result, their personal credit score went down, and it became more difficult for them to secure capital to hire workers and grow.  Owners who make personal sacrifices for their employees in tough times shouldn’t be penalized for doing so. We should honor this type of commitment. A person’s gender, ethnicity, or neighborhood should never impact their ability to get a small business loan; only their creditworthiness should. 

So two months into my tenure, the SBA implemented a new predictive credit scoring model. It looks at an owner’s business credit and personal credit score in tandem. This “smart system” will ensure equitable access to capital and speed borrowing decisions. We’re dramatically reducing the paperwork burden on banks. As a result, hundreds of new banks have joined our lending network. So if you are advising an entrepreneur on seeking capital, please spread the word about the underwriting changes we’ve made. It’s going to get more capital into the hands of credit-worthy borrowers.

By Bold, I mean we have to think outside of the box. As I’ve traveled the country and asked entrepreneurs their No. 1 challenge, they tell me: “Our customers love what we’re selling. Now, I just need the working capital to scale up so we can service more of them.” The President implemented the QuickPay program to make sure those with government contracts are getting paid in 15 days or less.

Last month, we decided to be even bolder. I stood with the President at the White House to announce our Supplier Pay initiative so small firms in corporate supply chains get paid more quickly, too. More than two dozen corporations have already signed on, and we’re getting new commitments every week to provide payment certainty and affordable working capital. That way, small businesses can invest in new equipment, new products and new people.

“Bold” also means we must do more to help small businesses reach the 95 percent of consumers who live outside of our borders. Over the next decade, one billion consumers in the emerging world are going to join the middle class. Our small businesses must sell to them for America to remain competitive. I know the humanitarian crisis on the border is getting a lot of attention right now, as well it should. But when we talk about border crossings, let’s keep in mind than $1 billion in trade is exchanged daily between the U.S. and Mexico. So we have to focus on that, too.  The SBA broke our record for export financing last year. We have export assistance centers in communities across America, so please keep in mind the importance of exporting as you advise clients on strategies to expand their customer base.

Finally, the A stands for Accessible. Accessible starts with serving our military heroes. We were so proud that SCORE was asked by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden to serve on the executive committee for Veterans Fast Launch. I also want to thank SCORE for being our partner in the Boots to Business Program to help transitioning service members apply their military leadership skills to their dream of opening a business. Now we’ve launched Boots to Business: Reboot, which is expanding this successful program to all veterans. We have a responsibility to serve our veterans as well as they’ve served us, and I want to thank SCORE for honoring this sacred duty.

We all know that the face of entrepreneurship is changing. More companies today are owned by African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans, women, and veterans. Making SBA services broadly available and culturally appropriate is a top priority for me. I want to recognize SCORE for your work to serve the growing Hispanic market. Your bilingual workshops are cutting through language barriers to help more Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs succeed, and your branch in Brooklyn is doing terrific work to serve the Caribbean-American community. When we do right by our underserved businesses, we’re lifting up entire communities working to rebuild after the recession.

Last month, America celebrated a special anniversary – the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Years after that historic law passed, Dr. King posed a question that still rings true today. He asked: “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?” Dr. King understood that our civil rights needed to be coupled with market rights—and economic empowerment.  

We have to vote at the ballot box and vote at the point of purchase by supporting the kind of companies we want to succeed. The American Dream used to be about owning a home, but for millions of Americans, now it’s about owning a business, too. That has been my story, and I want to help others realize their Dream, as well.

I immigrated to this country at the age of 5 from Guadalajara, Mexico, with my Mom and my five siblings. I didn’t speak a word of English, and our family didn’t have much in the way of money or material things, but what we did have was the belief that America is the land of opportunity. My mother worked in a poultry plant to give her six children opportunities she would never have.

I come from a family of migrant workers in Mexico. My grandmother taught me that if you come to this country – and work hard and do right by others – the American Dream can come true for you.  She even told me maybe I could work in an office some day and become a secretary. Well, the good lord heard her, and I went on to become a cabinet secretary in California, and now I have that office job in the cabinet the President of the United States. Only in America can we harvest such bounty of opportunity.

That fight for economic power that Dr. King spoke is a fight that must be waged every day, everywhere.  Civil rights must be combined with market rights.  We must vote at the ballot box and at the local mall for America’s small businesses. Let’s work together to make small business a big deal.   That way, your clients won’t just be able to afford that hamburger at the lunch counter. They’ll own the restaurant. God bless you, and God bless the United States.