When CEO John Arensmeyer founded the non-profit Small Business Majority almost 16 years ago, he was committed to helping advance diverse entrepreneurs. As the nation struggles to bounce back from COVID-19, Arensmeyer is more dedicated than ever to paving a path for under-resourced business owners.
“Small businesses are at the heart of our economy and our democracy,” Arensmeyer said. “Our job is to make sure we are creating opportunities and communicating those opportunities to current and potentially future entrepreneurs.”
Building an inclusive and thriving small business sector not only involves providing access to capital, but also offering and communicating resources to small businesses eager to compete in a changing marketplace.
Leveling the playing field
Scientific opinion polling finds many small businesses have experienced difficulty maintaining benefits, with entrepreneurs of color twice as likely to consider dropping benefits because of financial setbacks tied to the pandemic.
“As we recover, we are helping entrepreneurs navigate a challenging and expensive benefits landscape so they can support their employees and attract talent,” Arensmeyer said. “Additionally, we are driving state and national policies that will empower entrepreneurs to create higher-quality jobs through benefits such as health insurance, retirement, paid family leave, and childcare.”
Arensmeyer says small businesses need targeted resources. He points to the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) Program as a lifeline.
“SSBCI was a critical resource to strengthen state programs that support financing for small businesses across the country,” explained Arensmeyer, who also recognizes the value of the Southern Opportunity and Resilience (SOAR) Fund.
“SOAR is a new program built to support small businesses in the South and Southeast as they adapt, reopen safely, and recover from COVID-19,” he said.
In addition, the California Rebuilding Fund offers flexible, low-cost loans to support long-term recovery from the pandemic. The public-private partnership combines capital from private, philanthropic, and public sector organizations to support new lending administered by Community Development Financial Institutions.
Having the right tools
Arensmeyer believes business support services and technical assistance are crucial to small business owners who want to achieve success. Getting the word out through webinars and digital online platforms is essential, and so is making sure these people have access to broadband.
“Small Business Majority continues to connect these entrepreneurs to local resources, and leverage our digital platform Venturize, in order to help businesses access the support they need to grow,” he said. “They need people working with them to understand their needs, people who speak their language, who are culturally sensitive.”
Been there, done that
Arensmeyer understands many of the challenges at hand, having run a small business for 12 years.
“I had to deal with customers, contractors, building a team of dedicated employees, cash-flow issues, and sometimes worrying about making payroll twice a month, so I’m very sensitive to that,” he said. “earlier in my life, I had done some public policy work, and I realized there was an intersection between the two.”
Finding the silver lining
While COVID-19 has proved devastating to countless business owners, there has actually been an impressive number of startups created during this time.
“Americans filed paperwork to start 4.3 million businesses last year, according to data from the Census Bureau, a 24 percent increase from the year before, and by far the most in the decade and a half that the government has kept track,” Arensmeyer said. “Applications are on pace to be even higher this year.”
Arensmeyer acknowledges a need for a fundamental restructuring of our capital system, but is cautiously optimistic about the future.
“I think what the pandemic has done is wreak a lot of havoc, but it’s also opened people’s eyes,” he said. “You have a lot of partners, both government and private sector, who are more aware of the problems now.
“There’s a lot of work to do, but I think even more so before the pandemic, there’s an emphasis and need and desire to come together to address these problems.”