By Amy Watkins HBJ Freelance Writer
REDMOND — Hundreds of small business entrepreneurs and supporters gathered on the Microsoft campus to kick-off National Small Business Week.
The event on June 17 was the first of five scheduled by the U.S. Small Business Administration in cities throughout the country. The week’s events cumulate on June 21 in Washington, D.C.
National Small Business Week was first declared 50 years ago by President John Kennedy and recognizes entrepreneurial spirit and the role small businesses play in the country’s economy. The week is also an opportunity to make sure small businesses know about resources that are available to them, said Karen Mills, SBA administrator.
“National Small Business Week is a time that we focus with partners all across the country to make sure small businesses know what tools and tips and technology is available to allow them to compete and win in all kinds of competitive situations,” she said.
Mills was appointed by President Barack Obama and sworn into her administrator role in April 2009. She led an armchair interview during the morning of the event. The discussion included Cindy Bates, vice president of the U.S. Small and Medium-Sized Businesses organization at Microsoft Corp., and Joe Koreis, president and CEO of Clarus Fluid Intelligence, LLC, in Bellingham.
As part of the interview, Mills asked how Microsoft is working to help small businesses. Bates said that Microsoft has built a market in the country through an ecosystem of 30,000 information technology companies that are focused on small business. She added that software like Microsoft Office 365 allows business owners to work and connect virtually through tools including videoconferencing while products like BitLocker, encrypt and protect data. Microsoft also published a disaster preparedness guide for small businesses, Bates said.
“We really think about how we can help America’s small businesses recognize the opportunity that technology brings to them to start, grow and thrive,” she said.
After finishing the armchair interview, Mills said she was excited to talk about how technology can level the playing field for small businesses but also explained how the SBA is working to support business accelerators that provide advice and other kinds of help for startups.
“It’s the evolution of (business) incubators,” Mills said. “They sometimes provide the space and sometimes the network of mentors and funders and people who can help them navigate and then this becomes a community.”
The SBA in July plans to host an event for accelerators where they can make presentations to potential investors and is interested in preparing a list of best practices for accelerators. The SBA has also asked for $5 million in the 2014 federal budget to help fund accelerators.
“Creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem is the new economic development,” Mills said. “…Our job is to build that ecosystem in places where it needs some help.”
Although entrepreneurs are working throughout the country, 60 percent of venture capital is in just three states: California, New York and Massachusetts. Washington state comes in fourth place, Mills said. In Seattle alone, the SBA last year backed $637 million in loans to 1,430 local business owners. Another $409 million in loans throughout the state have been supported so far this year.
“When you look at Seattle, this is really a hotbed of entrepreneurship,” Mills said.
The sold-out event seemed to support her observation. Throughout the day, hundreds of participants attended panel discussions and breakout sessions with topics including government contracting opportunities for women-owned businesses, resources for tribal businesses, cyber security threats, supplier diversity, speed mentoring, business blogging and social media.
Participants were encouraged to network with others, use the SBA website, www.sba.gov, and SBA district offices to learn more about starting and running a small business. In a panel discussion titled “Seattle’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem,” Red Russak, founder of Startup Seattle, encouraged people in the audience to find a mentor and start networking by attending an event.
“There are real estate meetups, franchise meetups, lemonade stand meetups for children,” he said. “There are groups for every single possible industry but it’s up to you to find it… It’s never going to be delivered on a silver platter but the best part of Seattle is we are the top city in multiple industries.”
The whole day went well, said event participant Andrea Sherwood, the vice president of Ameritrust CDC in Seattle. The company works in partnership with the SBA to provide loans to small businesses.
“I think it ran the gamut from every step of the way, whether or not you’ve gotten your business off the ground, whether or not you’re looking for funding, and how to break into government contracting,” she said.
To find out more about National Small Business Week and watch a video from the event, go to www.sba.gov/nsbw.