Entrepreneurs, in their quest for guidance and resources, often overlook the treasure trove of opportunities offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA). These valuable programs encompass advice, mentoring, access to capital, federal contracting assistance, and various other forms of support. Regrettably, many time-pressed entrepreneurs remain unaware of these programs or fail to explore their full potential.
In a recent article in the the Wall Street Journal, Holly Wade, the Executive Director of the NFIB Research Center at the National Federation of Independent Business, a staunch advocate for small businesses, observes, “It’s often a challenge to find the thing that would be most helpful in a huge universe of information.”
While the utilization of SBA programs has been steadily increasing, with approximately 33.5 million small businesses currently benefitting from them, there remains a continuous drive to reach more enterprises and expand the suite of available programs, according to an SBA spokesperson. The need to raise awareness is paramount.
Here, we shed light on several lesser-known SBA programs that could significantly benefit small businesses, as recommended by consultants, government officials, and trade-group executives who regularly collaborate with small enterprises:
1. Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)
SBA-sponsored SBDCs offer counseling and training to small businesses in various critical areas, including capital procurement, business planning enhancement, financial management, and marketing. Karen Mills, former director of the SBA under President Obama, emphasizes the importance of counseling in identifying a business’s specific needs and providing appropriate financial or other resources. To locate the nearest SBDC, business owners can refer to the SBA website’s “Local Assistance” tab.
2. Score Mentoring Program
Since 1964, Score, a nonprofit organization based in Herndon, Virginia, has assisted over 11 million entrepreneurs in launching, expanding, or exiting their businesses. The organization, partially funded by the SBA, boasts a roster of approximately 10,000 volunteers who offer expert mentoring, resources, and education across the United States and its territories. Score mentors guide various domains, including financing, human resources, and business planning. As Karen Mills says, “This is a perfect place to vet your business plan.” These specialized mentors maintain ongoing communication with small-business clients via email, telephone, and video. The program offers various services, including training, webinars, online workshops, on-demand courses, and other valuable online resources. For more information or to find a local mentor, business owners can visit the SBA’s website under the “Local Assistance” tab or explore score.org.
3. Federal Contracting-Assistance Programs
The federal government strives to allocate at least 23% of all federal contracting dollars annually to small businesses, offering specialized programs to facilitate this objective. In fiscal year 2022, small-business contracting programs resulted in $163 billion in federal contracts for U.S. small businesses, up from $154 billion in the preceding fiscal year, according to the SBA.
Within this framework, the SBA administers programs to support disadvantaged small-business owners who meet specific eligibility criteria. Furthermore, programs specifically cater to women business owners, veterans, and businesses in historically underutilized business zones, known as HUBZones. Remarkably, many business owners must be aware of these beneficial programs.
For instance, the federal government aims to allocate at least 5% of all federal contracting dollars annually to women-owned small businesses. Yet, many women-owned businesses must know they can become certified to compete in this category. To qualify, businesses must meet the SBA’s size standards, as determined by an online tool available. Additionally, businesses must be at least 51% owned and controlled by U.S. citizen women, with women managing day-to-day operations and making long-term decisions.
Another objective is to award at least 3% of federal contract dollars to HUBZone-certified companies annually. To qualify for this program, small businesses must meet the SBA size standards, fulfill specific ownership requirements, and have their principal office in a HUBZone, among other conditions. Detailed information on these programs and other contracting opportunities can be found on the SBA website under the “Federal Contracting” tab.
4. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Programs
Also referred to as America’s Seed Fund, SBIR initiatives allocate more than $4 billion in early-stage funding each year to technology-focused entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses to transform innovative research and development concepts into commercial products and services. Although highly competitive, this program bestows over 6,000 awards annually, with an approximately 18% selection rate based on the past five fiscal years’ data. For further information, resources, and opportunities to participate, business owners can visit sbir.gov.
5. SBA Loan and Investment-Capital Programs
The SBA also extends several loan and investment-capital programs that can be invaluable to many companies. Entrepreneurs should recognize the SBA’s diverse programs, substantially supporting business growth and development. By tapping into these resources, small businesses can access the guidance and tools they need to thrive in a competitive landscape.