As the administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration, Isabella Casillas Guzman travels the country to promote business ownership and encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to access SBA resources and tools.
That mission landed her in the Hall of Mayors at Memphis City Hall Oct. 20 for a “Fireside Chat,” staged as part of a multi-city tour.
“We are committed to building an economy that works for everyone,” said Guzman. “Black and brown women have been leading entrepreneurship for the past 10 years. President Biden remains committed to overcoming the barriers to small businesses being connected to capital.”
Moderator April Thompson, with WREC TV, questioned three chat panelists — Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Operation Hope founder John Hope Bryant, and Guzman.
Strickland shared a story about the late Fred Davis, who owned his own insurance company and was a former City Council member.
“Thirty years ago, I saw my friend, Fred Davis, and he asked me if I knew what percentage of people patronize Black businesses. I said ‘no,’ and he told me it was one percent…After I was elected, he told me that it was still one percent…In a city that is 65 percent Black, I knew that wasn’t right.”
Strickland said he made intentional moves to make the city’s contracting services more accessible to minority businesses. The number moved “from 12 percent to almost double that number.”
He added, though, “I realize that it’s still not enough.”
Bryant commended Strickland’s effort to make the city’s bidding processes more equitable for small and minority business owners.
Operation Hope provides services centered on financial literacy, credit counseling, home ownership, and programs designed for successful entrepreneurship.
Bryant referred to “Dr. King’s dream” and what it has to do with economic empowerment.
“Dr. King gave his life in this city,” said Bryant. “It’s the event we want to forget, but we must always remember. It is the event we want to forget, but we must always remember…Everything is about money. The first Reconstruction was about freedom. The second was about poverty…the Poor People’s Campaign, and the third is about opportunity and ownership…”
Bryant has partnered with the SBA to provide services and mentorship to aspiring business owners. His initiative “1MBB,” one million Black businesses by 2030, was praised by Guzman.
Bryant said there are only 2.6 million “Black businesses” across the country. And of that number, 96 percent have no employees.
Guzman said she came from a family of small businesspeople, and that she “came to the SBA knowing what needed to be done for small businesses.”
“The SBA has a profound potential to truly help small businesses,” said Guzman. “We need to eliminate the barriers small business owners face…such as access to capital and credit lines. There has been a decline of Black businesses in government contracting because of systemic problems.”
Guzman said a rollout of new initiatives would help millions of businesses. Capital and financial products will “meet businesses where they are.”
Additional strategies and tools to small businesses taking advantage of capital and marketing opportunities are included in the plan.
“Small businesses will be able to take advantage of global opportunities,” said Guzman. “When small businesses are globally engaged, the economy is lifted as well as their communities. This level of investment in America will be historic.”
Utilizing the tools and services of Operation Hope gives new businesses a greater chance for success, Guzman said.
Also, the 1,600 SBA centers around the country offer great resources.
Bryant said businesses fail within the first three to five years. All businesses need technical support.
Credit score is important. The owner must have a 700-credit score for the business to be “bankable,” Bryant said.