Rethinking Federal Small Business Programs

Earlier today, the Urban Institute hosted an excellent workshop tied to the release of its new report, Federal Small Business Supports, a deep dive into what’s working, and what’s not working, at the US Small Business Administration and other federal agencies supporting small business and entrepreneurship.  This 180-page report assesses how the Federal government is doing in terms of supporting America’s small business owners, and the grades are mixed at best.

The study looks at the full mix of current Federal programs, including small business lending, procurement assistance, technical assistance provided by Small Business Development Centers and others, as well as tax and regulatory initiatives.  The authors note that SBA and other agencies provide a critical lifeline to small businesses, but that they also have the capability to do much more.  Federal programs are too risk averse, too complex, and not easy to access. As a result, many worthy projects and businesses, especially those owned by women and minority entrepreneurs,  fall through the cracks, failing to access the funds and support that they need—and deserve!  The report concludes with a series of sensible and achievable (even in our current political environment) recommendations for program reform and revitalization.  While the list of ideas is too long to summarize in detail, key themes include:  embracing more risk in lending and support programs, increasing the level of funding for key programs, and streamlining access to lending, equity, and technical assistance support.