Somewhere in Charlotte, 50 small-business owners are hoping for a phone call. They’ve all applied for a U.S. Small Business Administration education and mentoring program designed to help them grow their companies.
Only 17 will be chosen, with winners announced in early April.
The SBA Emerging Leaders initiative was launched in 2008 to help small business in “historically challenged communities.” About 2,400 people have graduated so far, but the program was never offered in Charlotte, until now.
Mike Ernandes, an SBA spokesman in the Charlotte office, said Emerging Leaders requires a serious commitment from those chosen. Winners are expected to complete about 100 hours of classroom and out-of-classroom work. For local winners, much of that learning will happen at Central Piedmont Community College. The first class meets in April and will meet twice a month through October.
Charlotte is one of 22 cities that will get the program this year, bringing to 48 the total number of communities participating.
SBA officials say Emerging Leaders can be transformational for small-business owners who take it seriously. According to SBA figures, business owners who graduated from the program have secured more than $1 billion in government contracts and accessed $73 million in new financing. Graduates also report having created nearly 2,000 new full-time jobs.
“It’s really like getting an MBA for your business,” Cassius Butts, the administrator of SBA’s Region IV, said in an earlier Shop Talk interview. “The executive must be committed to attending 13 evening training sessions.”
Butts said the 2008 recession took a heavy toll on some of the nation’s more vulnerable communities. The Emerging Leaders program, he said, is designed to help business owners in those communities create jobs.
Training is focused in the areas of growth strategies, financing, government contracting and CEO mentoring, with each graduate leaving the program with a three-year growth plan complete with benchmarks and performance targets.
Roger A. House, president and CEO of Axiom Corp., an Atlanta-based federal contractor, said Emerging Leaders helped him most in his understanding and analysis of income statements, balance sheets and cash flow statements.
“I knew how to sell my company, I knew how to do business development, but I knew nothing about the financial piece at all,” said House, a retired Navy officer. “That class basically saved me. It taught me how to work on my business, not in my business.”
Armed with better financial understanding, House said, he began to see new ways to strengthen his company, even with its existing clients. The class also created a network of peers committed to helping each other, he said.
Although the 2015 deadline has passed, Ernandes said the North Carolina office will accept applications again next year.
To qualify, a business must be at least 3 years old, have annual revenues of at least $400,000 and have at least one full-time employee, in addition to the owner.
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, an online news site targeting Charlotte’s African-American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Charlotte Observer business editor.