SBA Nominee Talks Marketing to Banks, Businesses at Confirmation Hearing

SBA nominee Maria Contreras Sweet

If finally confirmed, the newly nominated chief of the U.S. Small Business Administration promised to do more to promote the agency’s services.

Maria Contreras-Sweet said at her confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship that more must be done to brand the SBA.  “Understand that this is not your grandfather’s SBA,” Contreras-Sweet told Senators yesterday, February 12, 2014.

Senator James Risch (R- Idaho) asked her views about the SBA’s Office of Advocacy. He cited its need to remain independent so as to be able to address the “crush of regulations” on small businesses.  Contreras-Sweet said she understood what small businesses go through based on her own startup experience.  She said she supported the need for the Office of Advocacy to “provide an ardent voice for small businesses.”

Currently there are about 2,400 SBA lenders, including ProAmérica Bank, the Latino owned community bank that Contreras-Sweet founded with the help of family and friends.

But the SBA nominee said not enough is done to simplify the process for small community banks that want to offer SBA backed loans.  Contreras-Sweet said more must be done to help these banks understand the process so that they actually want to become an SBA backed lender.

After that, Contreras-Sweet says more must be done to promote SBA backed loans and other products to small businesses. She said that this is because when community banks finally do decide to offer SBA backed loans, they often face a daunting task promoting them in their communities.

Contreras-Sweet advocated the same approach when seeking to get more businesses involved bidding for government contracts.  Last July, the Small Business Administration reported that only 22.25 percent of an estimated $400 billion in government contracts went to small businesses in 2012. That’s about $3 billion short of the federal government’s goal. Contreras-Sweet said hitting that goal in the future would require more effort from the agency to explain the process of getting government contracts so that more small businesses would bid.

However, she also said it would require what she called “de-bundling” larger government contracts often given to much larger corporations to be sure that small businesses get their share.

The position of SBA Administrator has remained unfilled since the departure of former Administrator Karen Mills in February of 2013.  President Barack Obama nominated Contreras-Sweet for the position in January 2014.  Contreras-Sweet is considered to be a well-qualified candidate, given her background and experience, especially her experience starting and running a community bank.

12 Comments ▼

Shawn Hessinger - Editor


Shawn Hessinger Shawn Hessinger is the Editor for Small Business Trends. He is a journalist and social media networker with more than a decade of experience in the traditional newspaper business before moving to the digital world. He was the former community manager of BizSugar and the former community editor at AllAnalytics, a site dedicated to professionals in the business intelligence and analytics community.

12 Reactions

  1. She sounds like a good choice and I wish her the best. The government needs someone on the inside telling it how cumbersome its regulations can be.

    • I agree. I like how she fights for small businesses even if she is on the inside. I guess it really takes someone who knows how to run a small business to protect its industry.

  2. Anita Campbell

    Hi Robert,

    Personally I do believe she is a good choice for SBA Administrator. It will be terrific to see someone who actually has experience running a business, in government.

    Most of the small business groups have been warm to her as a choice, also, as far as I am aware. They are cautiously optimistic for the future.

    Kudos to President Obama on this nomination, and let’s hope it sails through.

    - Anita

  3. She sounds promising. Hopefully, she can deliver results and back up her plans in case. At the end of the day, it’s all about concrete plans and actions more than promises. If she does her job well, it may open doors for small businesses, a definite good news for many of us small time entrepreneurs.

  4. Although she is a venture capitalist, which is one VERY big strike against her, Maria Contreras-Sweet could be a great pick if she leaves that behind. Karen Mills left the SBA with a legacy of favoring large businesses with 100-500 employees (2% of all businesses in America) and ignoring the 28 million with 1-19 employees (98% of all businesses).

    Mills expanded the definition of “small” to include tens thousands of large businesses. This allowed banks and the SBA to make significantly fewer loans to much larger businesses, and still claim they were advocates of small business.

    1-19s need loans with an average size of $100,000 or less. In 2007, the average SBA loan was $180,000 and 24% of SBA-backed loans were under $100,000. In 2013, the average SBA loan was $585,000, loans under $100,000 were only 9% of all SBA loans, and the SBA backed fewer loans under $100,000 than any time in their 60 year history.

    Maria appears to have a background in true small business, which Karen Mills lacked. It will be interesting to see if she gets drawn into Washington’s addiction to “big”, or if she will advocate for the 98% of small businesses with 1-19 employees. One of her first acts should be to reverse Mills’ expansion of the definition of “small”, and return the SBA to a focus on true small businesses. If the venture capital community loves her, that will be a big yellow light for the 98%.

    I wish her the best and look forward to seeing the SBA turned around as a true small business advocate.

    • Anita Campbell

      Hi Chuck, good observations. Especially on the loan size …

      Keep it small and keep it simple should be the mantra for the SBA. People should stop trying to force the SBA to get into bed with venture capitalists where the focus is on high growth companies (most of which will be out of business eventually anyway). All that does is help line the pockets of venture capitalists by supporting their investments. It’s exciting and sexy to talk about, but it does nothing for the small businesses that run America. Only people not in the know would ever confuse the world of venture capital with the world of small business.

      - Anita

      • Anita,

        Agreed.

        Once thing to watch regarding Contreras-Sweet that may or may not be an issue – she has a background in both venture capitalism and a little bit in small-ish business – so she could go either way in her focus. The problem is that Washington is over run with venture capitalists like Scott Case, Steve Case and others who have worked very aggressively to pull $2billion in SBA funding from small businesses for use only by VCs. They’ve got the Administration’s ear, and the SBA has been moving in the VC direction and away from small business for four years. We’ll see if she can keep a true small business (1-19 employee) focus while living in the midst of the Washington addiction to big.

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