The Small Business Administration: Its Resources and Opportunities

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Getting a startup off the ground is a grueling task. What’s harder is working through the process alone. Luckily, the US federal government recognizes the value in entrepreneurship and as such, works to support small companies through various resources offered by the Small Business Administration. In this article, we will highlight the key resources offered by the SBA broken into four categories.

Funding Programs

For its funding programs, the SBA mostly acts as a mediator between lenders and small businesses. For instance, interested entrepreneurs can utilize the SBA’s Lender Match service, an online referral tool that connects small businesses with SBA-approved lenders in an effort to boost access to investment capital. To the same end, the SBA acts as a guarantor for small businesses looking to receive surety bonds. The only grant programs the SBA currently operates are selective, providing funds to businesses affected by natural disasters, businesses involved in scientific research and development, or small businesses developing their export capacity. On the whole, the SBA finds it more beneficial to facilitate rather than give.

We’ve covered the SBA’s scientific research grants, (SBIR and STTR are not SBA’s research grants) the SBIR and STTR, on the OTT blog before. Researchers at Emory who are looking to commercialize their scientific work might benefit from either program. Both require government agencies to allocate a percentage of their yearly allowance for projects helmed by small businesses. This can provide a hefty amount of non-dilutive capital for entrepreneurs involved in technology-based startups.

Federal Contracting

The SBA runs a handful of assistance programs meant to support small businesses that compete for federal contracts and are operated by underrepresented groups. These include businesses owned by women and service-disabled veterans as well as businesses that either operate out of historically underserved areas or are run by economically insecure owners (i.e. business in the HUBZone and 8(a) Business Development program). The federal government tries to award a percentage of federal contracting dollars each year to businesses in these categories and once again, the SBA acts as the mediating point between the two. These programs offer mentoring resources and create set-aside contracts – contracts that have their applicant pool reduced exclusively to program participants.

Technology startups at Emory interested in contracting with the federal government should assess if they are eligible for any of these SBA assistance programs. If you’re a female PI who recently incorporated your startup, you could benefit greatly from registering as a Women-Owned Small Business with the SBA. Not only can you gain access to valuable federal contract assignments, but you can acquire industry contacts along the way.

Learning Center

The SBA also provides an invaluable educational resource through the maintenance of its Learning Center, a free series of courses on the SBA website. These courses typically consist of audio lectures paired with worksheets for the thorough student. The Learning Center features classes that cover the fundamentals of business management and classes that delve deeper on topics that might concern more niche industries.

Emory researchers who pursue the startup route could benefit from two of the courses on the Learning Center website. The first is the Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights course, which provides a primer on intellectual property law for business owners looking to leverage their research. The course covers the legal theory differentiating patents from trademarks from copyrights and walks through the details concerning the application process for all three. The SBA also offers a course on Taking Your High-Tech Product to Market, which is useful for researchers deploying a new medical software or biotechnology advancement. This course takes a more straightforwardly business angle in elucidating the market characteristics of high-tech products and introducing concepts related to the product life cycle and diffusion curve.

Business Guide

The centerpiece of the SBA website is its Business Guide, a collection of informational webpages that walk through the different phases of business planning and management. Through these guides, the SBA hopes to instruct business owners on how to plan, launch, manage, and grow a business. These guides don’t just offer self-contained information, but often hyperlink out to other helpful resources across the web and hosted by other government agencies. For instance, you can use the guide to locate government databases that indicate spending patterns on federal contracts and databases that allow various agencies to list what they anticipate they’ll be contracting for.