Cathy Hughes (Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images)
Later this week the Small Business Administration will unveil the members of the its new Advisory Council on Underserved Communities. Headed by Cathy Hughes, founder and chairperson of Radio One, the council aims to advise SBA on how it can expand and strengthen entrepreneurship in minority and other communities. The group also will work to ensure that those communities become aware of the myriad services SBA provides so that they can begin taking greater advantage of them.
According to SBA deputy administrator Marie Johns, two out of three new private-sector jobs are created by the small businesses sector, which is rebounding faster than others even though it suffered the most during the recession. And while many people in underserved communities are struggling to find jobs, there also are plenty of people who have the potential to become entrepreneurs and create jobs. The problem, Johns told a group of reporters Monday, is that not enough people are fully aware of what the SBA does, which goes far beyond guaranteeing business loans. In turn, Johns said, the SBA also needs to learn a good deal more about how it can better serve minority, veteran, rural and women entrepreneurs, which is why the council was created. Its 20 members represent various parts of the nation and all business sectors, including lending and technical assistance.
Hughes, who once sought financial and technical assistance from the SBA, said that underserved communities have not been a priority for previous administrations. The council will provide them with opportunities to have their voices heard.
“So often you hear complaints, but there’s nobody that you go to or organization that’s going to really take your position and present it to those who can make a difference, those who can in fact create a change for you,” said Hughes, who says that will be part of the council’s mission.
During the next couple of months, members of the advisory board will participate in 10 listening sessions around the country to increase awareness about SPA programs and services, but also to gather information from current small business owners and entrepreneurial hopefuls about their needs. When the council meets in July, the group will work to better align SBA policies to what they heard, Hughes said.
Both Johns and Hughes are particularly interested in attracting young African-Americans who aspire to own their own businesses.
“They want a good education in order to work for themselves and start their own businesses. Young people have been an underserved community for a very long time in America,” Hughes said. “Here the policies now will match the desires of that younger generation that really wants to become well-prepared to work themselves.”