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U. S. Small Business Administration receives the Harvard Bright Ideas in Government Award

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by Curt Wagner

A recent award for its LGBT project has emboldened the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Field Operations to expand its efforts in the disabled community.

In January, the Ash Center for Democratic Government and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard honored the LGBT Business Builder with its 2017 Bright Ideas in Government award.

The SBA partnered with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in 2015 to establish the education and outreach initiative on SBA programs and services and the NGLCC’s LGBT certification, which help participants grow their businesses.

Eugene Cornelius, Jr., who at the time was deputy associate administrator for field operations at the SBA, is considered to be the architect of LGBT inclusion. He said during a recent interview that he was surprised Harvard recognized the efforts of a smaller agency over much larger and well-known groups.

“I was amazed that they felt our marketing and outreach initiative was significant enough and really something dynamic,” he said. “I was flattered they recognized the economic impact that our initiative had in underserved communities.”

Participants in the LGBT Business Builder learn how to grow their businesses with the NGLCC certification, leverage the resources and capital programs provided by the SBA, and take advantage of emerging procurement opportunities now open across the Fortune 500 and with federal, state and municipal agencies actively seeking LGBT suppliers.

Since the completion of the two-year co-sponsorships between the SBA and NGLCC, there are now nearly 1,000 certified LGBT businesses, Cornelius said.

“When you know that you’re helping [owners] with a leg up, and with that, expanding their businesses and their firms and hiring people within a community that has been underserved, that’s your reward,” he said. “The (Harvard) award is the cherry on top.”

With the success of the LGBT Business Builder, the SBA now will apply the “working roadmap,” as Cornelius calls it, to another underserved group—the disability community. The agency is partnering with the U.S. Business Leadership Network and the National Council on Independent Living.

USBLN is a national non-profit that helps business drive performance by leveraging disability inclusion. NCIL advances independent living and the rights of people with disabilities.

“We’re now developing outreach strategies to engage people with disabilities and connect them to our District Offices and scale their businesses with USBLN Disability Owned Business Enterprise (DOBE) certification,” he said. “And we’re saying, ‘Let’s see what we can do to create entrepreneurship in those communities and, of course, reduce unemployment in those communities.”

Cornelius and his team have already met with the partners and work has begun on the Disability Owned Business Enterprise Business Builder. It will launch later this year.

While recent changes at the SBA mean that Cornelius won’t work as closely on the project as he did in the past—he is now the deputy associate administrator at the SBA’s Office of International Trade—he is confident the new initiative will be a success.

He’s also confident Linda McMahon, newly sworn in to lead the SBA, is the right person for the job. She’s not only a strong advocate for women entrepreneurs—another underserved community upon which the SBA focuses—but a role model for women entrepreneurs, he said.

The former World Wide Wrestling executive—an appointee of President Donald Trump—“embodies the soul of SBA,” Cornelius said.

“She started with her and her husband, and they created a business that employed up to 800 people—a multi-million dollar enterprise from a two-person business,” he said. “That’s what SBA is all about.”

Business Equality Pride (BEQPride) is the first publication from the BEQ family of national print and digital magazines exclusively addressing the needs of LGBTQ small-to-medium sized businesses, entrepreneurs and professionals.