In Dallas, SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman had a clear message: “We need to inspire entrepreneurs to take the leap and know they won’t be alone.” And as America cements its “startup nation” status, she wants to open doors for businesses.
Administrator Guzman, President Biden’s cabinet member for America’s 33 million small businesses, recently touched down in North Texas, speaking on the administration’s commitment to entrepreneurs, SBA initiatives like the Community Navigator Pilot Program, and the two-year-plus boom in new business applications nationwide.
With Texas contributing 1.1 million of the 12.2 million new business applications filed since January 2021, Guzman’s Dallas visit highlighted the state’s role in this historic uptrend.
The SBA chief’s packed day began at The DEC Network’s Entrepreneur Showcase, celebrating success stories born from the SBA’s Navigator Program. A gastronomic detour took her to Ferris Wheeler’s Backyard & BBQ, which had benefitted from the SBA’s COVID-19 relief programs. Engaging with owner Brandon Hays, Guzman delved into the challenges and triumphs experienced by Texas small businesses.
Later, at the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Conclave, Guzman discussed the SBA’s symbiotic partnership with the National Pan-Hellenic Council’s nine historically Black fraternities and sororities, also known as the “Divine Nine.”
Guzman rounded off her Dallas stop by acknowledging the efforts of the SBA’s Dallas-Fort Worth District Office team, which directed over $1 billion in lending to small businesses last year.
Discussions on “Bidenomics,” equitable access to capital, and proactive strategies for Black and historically disadvantaged small business owners dominated the SBA leader’s agenda.
Championing the cause of small business
The SBA chief—who has family ties in Corpus Christi—took the stage at Dallas College’s Bill J. Priest Institute by saying, “It’s good to be back in Texas.”
“When the president first talked to me about taking this job on,” Guzman said at the Entrepreneur Showcase in Dallas, “it was really about ensuring that the SBA could fulfill its original mission of filling gaps in the marketplace—and ensuring that we’re connecting to the entrepreneurs of today.”
The SBA chief is no stranger to entrepreneurship. Her formative years, spent alongside her father in a chain of veterinary hospitals, gave her a real-world view of the challenges and triumphs of running a small enterprise. Her experience, which includes public service, has shaped a leader/advocate attuned to the needs of the American entrepreneur.
At the Bill J. Priest Center at Dallas College, stage partner Tarsha Hearns of The DEC Network delved into Guzman’s deep connections to entrepreneurship.
In her early years in the private sector, Guzman took on roles as a founder, advisor, and consultant. These experiences equipped her with a perspective on the nuances of small business challenges and their significance in shaping the American economic trajectory, according to Hearns, the senior director of The DEC’s Southern Dallas ecosystem and a former director of LiftFund DFW.
Guzman’s transition to public service furthered her commitment to the cause of entrepreneurship, Hearns noted. As the deputy chief of staff and, later, a senior advisor at the SBA, she zeroed in on policy and strategies tailored to the needs of small businesses.
Under Guzman’s leadership, the SBA has scaled up and revamped its programs, delivering hundreds of billions in pandemic relief to support millions of small businesses, according to Hearns.
Community Navigator Pilot Program: ‘You have to know how to know’
A key focus of the Entrepreneur Showcase event was the Community Navigator Pilot Program, launched as a part of the American Rescue Plan funding signed into law by President Biden in March 2021.
The navigator initiative was designed to assist underserved small businesses, especially those owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, in accessing resources for pandemic recovery. Local organizations, called “navigators,” guide businesses through available SBA offerings, helping them connect with lenders, resources, and services tailored to their needs.
Guzman says the number of Americans pursuing their dreams of business ownership is at “historic highs and not being experienced around the world,” she said.
However, the real story may lie in the changing demographics of these startups. Women and people of color are at the forefront of that entrepreneurial boom—a point that Guzman emphasized, signifying a broader shift in business dynamics.
Guzman touched on a core tenet underpinning her leadership at the SBA: knowledge. Not just its acquisition, but the ability to decipher, disseminate, and apply it.
“You have to know ‘how to know,’” she said, emphasizing the need for mentorship, technical assistance, and community-centric information sharing.
That makes the “on-the-ground” work of organizations like The DEC Networks’ vital.
Entrepreneurs don’t go it alone, she said. They’re backed by supportive networks, mentors, and communities.
Funding for small businesses: Impact in Dallas
Guzman said SBA has channeled funds to support small businesses and their initiatives. Particularly significant is the American Rescue Plan, which endowed the Community Navigator Pilot Program with “$100 million across the country.”
Guzman hinted at more funds being processed, with “tens of millions still in the pipeline.”
In Dallas, The DEC Network and its spokes have played a significant role, helping distribute almost $5 million to small businesses. The DEC was one of only two organizations in Texas, and one of 51 in the U.S., to be selected as an SBA navigator.
“[The DEC Network] was competitive in the grant process,” Guzman said. “We got nearly 1,000 applications, and 51 winners emerged.”
There’s power in those distributed dollars: Often, “small-dollar loans” can build “future empires,” Guzman said.
The SBA chief encourages stakeholders to “leverage the SBA and its “great resources around capital, revenue growth opportunities, and contracting.” International trade, digital commerce, and the pressing issue of disaster resilience, particularly in the wake of current climatic challenges, is also on the SBA’s radar, she said.
Guzman, commenting on the current heat wave in the U.S., noted “the impact that natural disasters are increasingly having on our society and our entrepreneurs.”
Other key players on the ground in North Texas, Guzman said, include Ted James, SBA’s regional administrator. James, alongside other regional representatives, partners with local entities and works to foster a collaborative environment to grow small businesses, Guzman said.
The SBA wants to ensure the journey is as inclusive as it is innovative. “Our aim is to bolster the 33 million small businesses and innovative startups, driving both Texas’s economy and the nation’s forward,” Guzman said.
“This ensures we remain globally competitive and build an economy that truly works for all.”
MORE COVERAGE OF THE EVENT
At the Entrepreneur Showcase in Dallas, four emerging startups were spotlighted alongside Biden Cabinet Member Isabella Casillas Guzman, who leads the Small Business Administration, and Mark Madrid, the driving force behind SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurial Development. “I feel like I’ve just been to a TED talk with these entrepreneurs’ words of wisdom,” Madrid said at the event powered by Dallas College and The DEC Network.
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