Small Business Majority Blog

Small Business Matters

When Monica J. Scott touched down in Washington, D.C. on May 11, 2015, she had no idea the magnitude of the event she was about to take part in.

Gathering at our nation’s capital for Small Business Majority’s inaugural Small Business Leadership Summit, Scott was a member of a group of the best and brightest small business owners who came to voice their opinions to policymakers, hoping to institute real change that would benefit the greater small business community.

As the CEO of Doctor Physical Therapy, an outpatient physical therapy clinic based in Woodbury, N.J, Scott was thrilled to be chosen to attend this three-day event of education, collaboration and action.

“It was an honor to be chosen to attend the Summit,” Scott said. “I was both thrilled and humbled by the fact that I was one of only 113 small business owners from across the country to be chosen to attend such an event.”

Small businesses like Scott’s are crucial to our country’s vitality and our economic success. That’s why it’s important for small business owners’ voices to be heard by lawmakers on the top issues they face. With this Leadership Summit, a select group of talented and innovative small business owners had the chance to do just that: interacting with policymakers who can help institute the change they need to continue serving as the driving force of our economy.

“Listening to the presenters was an awesome and inspiring experience,” she said. What inspired Scott even more was talking and sharing with her fellow small business owners.

“One of the things I will treasure most was the opportunity to network and learn from the other business owners in attendance. Part of the failure stories of being a business owner is you have to figure out so much on your own and hope that you can keep your financial curve greater than your debt curve. We all have had successes and failures, and we all had valuable things to share to help one another.”

The bonds that Scott formed with other small business owners during the Summit took her by surprise, as she wasn’t expecting to find such common ground with others across a variety of fields and locations, commenting that “people in completely different industries have ideas and success stories that have been instrumental in the growth and development of your own business.”

Small Business Majority Leadership Summit Networking Group 2015

A photo posted by Doctor Physical Therapy (@doctorphysicaltherapy) on

A major issue that Scott discovered impacted all small business owners to varying degrees is access to capital. The topic came up frequently on panels, in breakout sessions and in one-on-one conversations with small business owners about the difficulty of acquiring sufficient funds and resources to run and grow their businesses.

As a learning experience, the Summit taught Scott an important fact – her struggle as a small business owner is not unique to just her.

“All business owners, whether they have been in business one year or 30 struggle with many of the same obstacles and situations; the key is to be innovative in your methods of problem solving and utilize your assets and resources to find the solution that moves you to the next level.”

Ultimately, the Summit was an enlightening and rewarding experience for Scott, who found comfort and strength uniting with other small business owners, recalling it was a “fantastic opportunity to bring the business owners together and the community at large to share and provide information.”

When asked if she would recommend that other small business owners attend the Summit in the future, her response was quick: “Absolutely!”

Award winners Chanceé Lundy & Veronica Davis, Owners of Nspiregreen; Virginia McAllister, Owner of Iron Horse Architects; Beverly Hanstrom, President and Owner of Colorado Medical Waste

Four superstar small business owners didn’t just receive the opportunity of a lifetime by meeting with lawmakers to find solutions to pressing small business issues at our inaugural Small Business Leadership Summit in the nation’s capitol earlier this month, they also walked away with prestigious honors, and some nice hardware to boot.

Virginia McAllister, Beverly Hanstrom, Chancee Lundy and Veronica Davis were all honored with small business leadership awards at a reception in Google’s D.C. headquarters on May 12, a ceremony that bookended the second day of Small Business Majority’s Leadership Summit.

McAllister owns Iron Horse Architects, an architectural firm based in Denver, CO that centers on the principles of sustainability, adaptability and longevity. The company has been at the forefront of implementing Building Information Modeling (BIM), which facilitates the planning, designing, constructing and managing of buildings and infrastructure at a digital level. Through McAllister’s use of innovative technology to grow her business and break ground in her industry, she was awarded our Technological Innovation Award.

Chancee Lundy and Veronica Davis co-own Nspiregreen, a D.C.-based environmental consulting firm with an eye toward serving their community. They engage in extensive outreach to ensure the voices of disadvantaged residents are heard in decisions on planning infrastructure projects.

Outside their business, Davis launched “Black Women Bike,” an organization that gives women of color a voice at the infrastructure policy table, while Lundy serves on the board of Together Restoring Economic Empowerment, a nonprofit dedicated to helping minority communities tackle economic and environmental civil rights issues. For their personal and professional commitment to serving their community, Davis and Lundy received our Community Development Award.

“Our public engagement supports our other business units,” Davis said, discussing her and Lundy’s community efforts. “Our projects impact people. We believe it is important to hear from the people who are impacted by the projects we work on.”

Beverly Hanstrom owns Colorado Medical Waste, a local leader in medical waste disposal offering services for everything from collection and transportation to treatment and incineration. She incorporates a process known as ozone medical waste processing which utilizes ozone, electricity and an industrial shredder to reduce medical waste volume by 90 percent while diverting tons of waste from landfills with absolutely no emissions resulting from the process. For her environmental consciousness and business practices, Hanstrom was awarded our Sustainability Award.

“It was an honor to receive the Sustainability Award from Small Business Majority,” Hanstrom said. “The Summit gave me a platform to raise awareness and promote change in the medical waste industry. It was an unforgettable opportunity to share our sustainable disposal method with fellow participants and leaders from the Environmental Protection Agency.”

There you have it: four creative and innovative small business owners who are doing their best to become the leaders of tomorrow. We couldn’t have been more thrilled to honor them with these accolades, and have them be among the 100-plus business owners in attendance at our Summit.

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What happens when you put more than 100 small business owners in a room together to discuss the biggest issues facing small businesses today? That’s what we found out during our inaugural Small Business Leadership Summit, a three-day event of education, collaboration and action that took place May 11-13 in our nation’s capitol.

The event provided a select group of talented small business owners, representing 25 states and an array of business industries, with the chance of a lifetime: actual interaction with policymakers and experts who can help institute the change small businesses need in order to thrive.

The goal was simple: to discuss topline issues impacting our nation’s small businesses. These issues included accessing capital and ensuring small businesses can obtain the credit they need to grow, adapting to new technologies, creating tax policies that spur growth while leveling the playing field for small businesses and critical workforces issues like healthcare, retirement saving, minimum wage and opportunity youth hiring.

During our full-day conference at the National Press Club, small business owners discussed those issues, and many more, during panels, Q&As with issue experts and breakout sessions. They shared personal anecdotes with each other about their own business struggles, like having difficulty acquiring capital or finding skilled workers, and they discussed solutions they’d like to see from lawmakers.

Between those breakout sessions were speeches from a group of Washington superstars. First, attendees heard from Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who discussed workforce issues, innovation and immigration reform. Next, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York discussed the importance of women entrepreneurship and educated our attendees on family medical leave policies. Finally, Maria Contreras-Sweet, head of the Small Business Administration, talked about alleviating the process of acquiring capital and creating more opportunities for entrepreneurs to obtain it.

That night, our attendees gathered at Google’s D.C. headquarters for a reception and an awards ceremony that honored some of the best and brightest of the bunch. The following day, Summit attendees headed to the White House where they met with senior members of the Obama Administration to discuss important policy issues impacting small businesses. Some of the officials on-hand included Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Jason Furman, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. It was an unparalleled opportunity for these small business owners to talk shop with high-ranking policymakers inside the walls of the White House.

Following policy presentations at the White House, small business owners participated in a technology training session with experts at Google. With that, our three-day Summit came to a close. Since then, our small business owners have been reflecting on their experiences and all they learned during the event.

“This year’s Summit allowed me a unique opportunity to discuss important issues facing my small business and other entrepreneurs today,” said Harland Henry, President of SunBiz Showcase Alliance in Tampa, Florida. “The Summit was not only invigorating, but informative and engaging. I met so many kindred spirits in the small business advocacy world that I no longer feel like a lonely fish swimming with the sharks. I am extremely proud to have been part of the entire Summit.”

Harland Henry wasn’t the only one who expressed sentiments like these – many of our small business owners took their voices and experiences to social media and created a storm of social conversation using the hashtag #SmallBizLeaders, which was used more than 600 times throughout the Summit and in the days leading up to it. Meanwhile, our own social media posts around the Summit received a whopping 1.5 million audience impressions.

But don’t just take our word for it; let the small business owners speak for themselves! The following Storify illustrates an inside look at our Leadership Summit from the perspective of the small business owners in attendance. Through the power of social media, they captured how awe-inspiring their experiences, and the Summit, truly was.

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For a professional baker, nothing could be worse than discovering the thing you love the most is detrimental to your health. But that’s what bake lover Michelle Retik began to realize when she was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis.

While researching her condition, Retik learned grain, sugar and dairy could be inflammatory to her immune system – a living nightmare for a baker who relies on these staples everyday. Rather than let her condition set back her health and her career, Retik set out to tweak her lifestyle so she could still bake with the best of them and open a business that would help others facing her condition.

The Squirrel & The Bee, a grain-less bake shop based in Short Hills, NJ, is Retik’s defiant stance against the baking ingredients that have done her, and many like her, wrong. After an immediate turnaround in health from removing grain, refined sugar and dairy from her diet, Retik returned to her “happy place” in the kitchen and got cooking.

“I went back into the kitchen determined to make new foods that I loved and were also good for me, “ Retik recalled. “I knew I could create a place that would provide delicious, healthy and safe foods for all of us.”

As a former baker at a top-tier bakery in New York City and a pastry chef in New Jersey, Retik had ample baking chops to lead a bakery of her own. Without typical baking ingredients at her disposal, Retik fell back on nuts and local honey for her baked goods and used them as inspiration for her shop’s namesake. Still, The Squirrel & The Bee is a bit of a hard sell as a bakery.

“Because we are not a typical bakery, I knew from the beginning that we would have to work very hard to explain to customers what we are all about and why they should want to eat what we are offering,” she said.

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Retik trains each of her employees about the different diets her business supports and which ingredients can and can’t be used. This allows every employee to educate new customers that come in to the shop.

“I like to think of the baristas as ambassadors for a healthier way of eating and living,” she said.

That education is a huge part of Retik’s overall goal in helping others with her condition.

“I want to bring my products to people in need, but I equally want to introduce a better, healthier way of eating to everyone. I am thrilled that we currently have a large customer base who is not in “need” but come by choice.”

Despite no grain, dairy or sugar, Retik manages to concoct delicious offerings that ensure people choose The Squirrel & The Bee. Though she’s been open just nine months, Retik estimates she’s already sold more than 30,000 blueberry muffins—the clear morning-time winner. But it’s the Belgian waffles, served only on Sundays, that have people lining up all day.

It’s not just the opportunity to help people and work everyday doing something she loves that Retik relishes as a business owner – it’s the reward of providing jobs for other people as well.

“I am humbled at the thought that I have created a business that helps not only the people who come to eat, but also provides jobs for people who need them. I am now up to 21 employees and I consider each of them to be a part of my family.”

The Squirrel & The Bee is the clear breadwinner for Retik and all she seeks to serve.

 

Small Business Majority CEO John Arensmeyer

Small Business Majority CEO John Arensmeyer

Originally published on The Huffington Post

By all accounts, our economy is continuing on a path of recovery in the aftermath of the recession. And while this should signal good times ahead for our nation’s small businesses, entrepreneurs are still struggling to get what they need most to grow and thrive: access to traditional loans and more reasonable terms on alternative lending.

That’s why we addressed this problem head-on during our access to capital panel on May 12 at our Small Business Leadership Summit–an event that’s brought more than 100 small business owners from around the country to D.C. to speak directly to policymakers, issue experts and members of the Administration about the top issues facing small businesses, including the shortage of lending for entrepreneurs.

Discussions like these are important because while small business confidence is on the rise and entrepreneurs are ready to expand their businesses, very few are getting the credit they need to do so. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, lending for big businesses reached record levels last year, but small business lending still hasn’t caught up with pre-recession levels.

That’s because many traditional lenders see start-ups as risky ventures, or they don’t offer loans that meet the needs of small businesses.

In the absence of traditional bank loans, many small business owners are turning to alternative sources of lending. While these options can help open up opportunities for short-term loans and cash advances, this new breed of lending brings with it its own set of problems–unscrupulous actors who would take advantage of small business owners solely to pad their own pocketbooks.

Catarah Coleman, co-owner of Southern Girl Desserts in Los Angeles, knows firsthand how difficult it can be to dig out from under one of these short-term loans.

Coleman started Southern Girl Desserts out of her home in 2007. After some initial success, Coleman and her business partner, Shoneji Robinson, were invited to open up a shop in their local mall. Unfortunately, Southern Girl Desserts couldn’t get a traditional loan from any of their local banks to cover their start-up costs.

“When we were approached by a broker who said he could get us a loan of $30,000 in three days with limited collateral, we jumped at the chance,” said Coleman.

Coleman and Robinson were able to pay that initial loan off in six months; meanwhile, numerous other loan offers started flowing in. They were still struggling with cash flow issues, so they took out some merchant cash advances, not realizing they were being charged up to 56 percent interest on each of those advances.

“We fell into a terrible financial cycle trying to pay off those cash advances,” said Coleman. “We were living paycheck to paycheck, constantly worried about paying off the advances while making payroll and paying off our other regular bills. I felt like we would never get out from under the debt from those advances.”

Stories like this are unfortunately becoming all too common, and many small businesses can’t keep up with both their bills and their repayments.

Luckily for Coleman, her story has a positive ending. Southern Girl Desserts secured a microloan through Opportunity Fund, a California-based microfinance organization, and they were able to pay off their merchant cash advances. And Opportunity Fund is only charging them 8 percent interest on their loan.

The development of online lending and alternative financing options hold the potential to get needed capital to entrepreneurs like Coleman and to communities that have long been underserved, but it needs to be done fairly and responsibly. As Coleman’s story shows, we need more transparency and oversight in the alternative lending space.

Policymakers should take note and consider regulations that will protect small business owners from being taken advantage of, but it’s equally important that regulations don’t become so stringent that they stifle innovation.

Small business owners are our biggest job creators. And like all businesses, they need credit in order to expand their ventures or turn their business ideas into a reality. It’s time to take steps to protect small businesses from unscrupulous lenders while getting them the capital they need to grow and succeed.