Inside Goldman’s $500 Million Small Business Initiative

Dina Powell, the executive in charge of the program, fills in some of the details.

Goldman Sachs recently announced that it would provide $500 million in support for 10,000 small businesses, particularly those located in urban neighborhoods. A Who’s Who of business leaders including the billionaire investor Warren Buffett and Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter have signed on the help. But the person who will be responsible for running the initiative day-to-day is Dina Powell, a former State Department official in the Bush administration who worked with Karen Hughes on education and cultural issues. Powell joined Goldman Sachs in 2007, as the global head of corporate engagement. Her first task was to set up a program called 10,000 Women–an initiative to foster entrepreneurship among women around the world. The small business outreach effort will be modeled on that program. Powell outlined the bank’s plans in an interview with editor Mike Hofman.

So it’s a $500 million program. Can you break down how the money will be spent?   There’s a $200 million contribution to management education, combined with wraparound services, and a $300 million capital investment in Community Development Financial Institutions or CDFIs, which provide capital to small businesses particularly in underserved areas.

Why are you choosing to invest money through CDFIs?  We became interested in small business as a focal point for an initiative starting a year ago because we believe, as many people do, that the vitality of the small-business sector was crucial to the overall economic recovery. The significant job creation that’s needed for the recovery will inevitably fall on the shoulders of small business owners. And so we wanted to use our resources, our people, and our partners together to make an impact on the part of the economy where 65 percent of all new jobs are created. And then we started talking to Dr. Porter, who founded the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, to study what factors contribute to the success of inner-city entrepreneurs, and we found that the list included educational opportunities, access to markets, access to networks, and access to capital. And as we were thinking about the size of the investment we wanted to make–the number of companies we needed to reach in an impactful way to achieve the results we wanted–we decided to work as partners with CDFIs because access to capital was critical, and they understand the areas we are looking to invest in. So we’ll be providing them with investment capital and also with resources so, for example, some CDFIs will be able to hire more loan officers so they’ll be able to get more done.

When is that awards program set to begin? It hasn’t been decided yet, but some time in 2010.

So how does a small business owner get his or her name on the list?I know I keep referring to the model I have with 10,000 Women, but I want to note that that program has a 14-percent acceptance rate, and we think 10,000 Small Businesses will operate in a similar way. To identify candidates, we’ll be working with our partners such as the community colleges and universities, plus other partners like the Urban League and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce–the gentlemen who head these organizations are on our advisory council, for example. We’ll also be sourcing candidates through local chambers of commerce. Our criteria are that a business must have between $150,000 and $4 million in revenue, four or more full-time employees, and that it has been in operation for two years at a minimum.

Is the program geared more toward start-ups or toward established businesses?  Established businesses.


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