SBA administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet also led a roundtable discussion with University of Louisville researchers who have started businesses and learned about their progress and challenges.
Contreras, who kicked off an 18-state promotional tour in Louisville, described the city’s growing entrepreneurial sector as “phenomenal” and praised the work done by Nucleus: Kentucky’s Innovation Center to foster it. Nucleus is the development arm of the University of Louisville Foundation Inc., and it hosted Contreras in its Nucleus TechCenter on Jefferson Street in downtown Louisville.
“I’m really keen on this area,” Contreras said during the roundtable session. She said the goal of her “road tour” is to learn “how to lift America’s entrepreneurs in this global environment.”
Specifically, Contreras, who has been in her position for a year, is promoting the SBA’s underused Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs to advanced technology communities, including women-owned and minority-owned companies.
Those programs allocate $2.5 billion a year to small business owners and reserve a specific percentage of federal research and development funds for small firms. Grant recipients have created breakthroughs in nanotechnology, robotics, mobile communications, genetic therapies, clean energy and space.
Many of the participants in the March 24 roundtable discussion had received SBIR or STTR grants or other SBA services.
Contreras said the SBA is “a really great tool,” and she encouraged small business owners to take advantage of the many services it offers. In addition to providing funding opportunities, the agency helps businesses through consulting and training.
Several roundtable participants lauded the SBA’s efforts, but they asked that it and other government agencies do a better job of coordinating their efforts, particularly when it comes to communications and directing people to the right program for their needs.
They also wanted Contreras-Sweet to be aware of the many strides being made here on the entrepreneurial front. Greater Louisville has seen a 50-percent increase in the number of business startups over the past decade.
“The whole ecosystem is moving in the right direction,” said Eugene Krentsel, UofL’s associate vice president for research and innovation. He credited progress made here to a “triple helix” of government, businesses and academia that is willing to work together.
“It’s like making stone soup,” said Nucleus CEO Vickie Yates Brown, noting that, in Kentucky, a variety of groups contribute to help businesses achieve success.
“We want these companies to expand here and to grow here.”