Head of the Class

The SBA Emerging 200 program gives entrepreneurs an MBA-like experience without the high price tag.

Not all entrepreneurs can afford to get a Harvard MBA. With this in mind, the Small Business Administration (SBA) created the Emerging 200 program.

The goal of the SBA Emerging 200 initiative is to identify 200 inner-city businesses across the country that show a high potential for growth — and to provide them the network, resources and motivation required to build a sustainable business of size and scale within a designed inner-city geographic location.

The reasons for launching the program were fairly obvious to the SBA, according to Jeff Andrade, Associate Administrator for Entrepreneurial Development at the SBA. “The area we’ve been focusing on historically have challenges of high unemployment, negative job growth, and poverty,” he said. “By building a network of growing businesses within those areas, we think that we can build a sustainable force of growth within those communities.

For the city selection process, the SBA commissioned research by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner-City (ICIC) in Oct. 2007 to identify the largest inner-cities (40,000+ inner city jobs) with low or negative compound annual job growth rates (below 1%) from 1998-2005. They identified 55 eligible cities; at which time the SBA send a broad invitation to the inner city economic development community in these cities to participate in the pilot year of the program in 2008.

The SBA ended up receiving 23 proposals (out of the 55 cities eligible) and evaluated on the basis of local community support, vision for program development and ability to support with staff and in-kind contributions.

Because the launch of the E200 was so successful they are expanding the program to add 5 new cities in 2009. Participating cities include Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis, Chicago, Des Moines, Milwaukee, Albuquerque, Oakland, Detroit, Dallas, Denver, Jacksonville and Portland, Ore.

Andrade added that the SBA was able to learn a lot from the first session of the program. “I think one surprising thing was the responsiveness of the group to come together as a single group,” he said. “At the very first meeting, they showed up and were 18-19 company presidents and by the second or third class, they were really identifying with one another and doing a lot of peer support and interactive training. I think what came out of it was that the group wanted to stay together and continue to try to find business opportunities and some have even chosen to meet outside of the classroom setting. They really want to help each other to succeed.”

In Chicago, 17 entrepreneurs completed the E200 program in 2008. David Rambhajan, CEO of Industria, Inc., a construction, program, and management services firm, was one of them.

As an entrepreneur, Rambhajan said he sometimes feels like he works so much that important things like setting goals can end up getting forgotten. “One of the most common mistake we make, as business owners, is that we just come in and work,” he said. “And we’re not building and we’re not leading. Now, I’m trying to move away from being an employee of my company and start being an owner and a leader. It can sometimes be easier to just sit there and do work. Now, I have to learn about human resources and financial responsibilities.”

Rambhajan said the most valuable thing he took away from the program is to be clear about who you are. “The first day of class we had to stand up and introduce ourselves,” he said. “While it seems easy, the last day of class we had to do the same thing and there was a big difference in the way everyone presented themselves. They taught us how to state our name, company, what we do, and our name again. Another thing I learned is the importance of having a good understanding of your financials and cash flow.” —Lynn Celmer

David Rambhajan (center) completed the SBA’s Emerging 200 program in Dec. 2008. The SBA offers the six-month mini-MBA program for free to inner-city businesses that demonstrate a high potential for growth.

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