Introduction. Entrepreneurs may feel like they are alone and adrift on the waves of commerce, but they are really not. In fact some organizations are providing life boats in the forms of financial assistance, education and training, and consultation with subject matter experts for entrepreneurs with varying experience levels. Many programs exist to aid entrepreneurs reach their professional goals and ultimately to help build a healthy economy.
Financial Aid Programs
Trusts and programs exist within both private and public organizations to help entrepreneurs financially. Government or public organizations offer many loans and grants to entrepreneurs who own businesses that qualify. The government backed Small Business Administration (SBA) offers small business loans to entrepreneurs who qualify. Most notably, government organizations advertise grant opportunities for entrepreneurs with businesses dealing with engineering, medical, energy, and other science related disciplines. Here is a list of a few government organizations that offer grants.
• Department of Commerce
• U.S. National Science Foundation
• Department of Energy
Private organizations offer entrepreneurs venture capital investment options in addition to loans and grants. Venture capital investment involves an investor sometimes known as an “angel” who provides a significant amount of seed money to high potential but high risk businesses. In exchange the venture capitalist gets to be a major equity holder in the business and contribute to the decision making. The terms may vary depending on the venture capitalist and company involved, but the concept remains the same. Here is a list of those offering grants, loans, and venture capital to entrepreneurs with qualifying businesses.
• Reid Hoffman (venture capitalist)
• Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (grants)
• Bank of America (loans)
There are some decided benefits to the financial aid support offered to entrepreneurs. However, there are some limitations. For most organizations offering grant opportunities, the business must meet very stringent qualifications. Some grant opportunities do not specifically call for a certain education level requirement, but it is unofficially understood that those entrepreneurs applying for science and engineering grants better have a Ph.D. in the associated discipline in the role of “principal director” of the grant project to be seriously considered for grant award. Entrepreneurs also face limitations when trying to attract the right venture capitalists.
Many venture capitalists have narrowed their investments to certain technology products or ideas. Some may also only want to invest in very new, small companies; this leaves many mid-size or mature small businesses out. Even if a company does not focus on technology there are still some venture capital opportunities out there; one just has to search. Echoing Green is an example of a venture capital company that invests in businesses that have innovative ideas for social change.
Education and Training Support for Entrepreneurs
Many public and private organizations believe that providing education to future entrepreneurs and training to current ones is an even better way to support entrepreneurs than directly providing financial aid to them. Budding entrepreneurs learn early about operations, budgeting, and management techniques. For example, the MicroSociety educates children from kindergarten to eighth grade about real world, real life experiences. They have created a small world system within the classroom where students participate as entrepreneurs, bankers, judges, peace officers, and even the much maligned politician! The students earn wages, learn to save, and operate businesses as in the real world.
The Self-Employment Technical Assistance, Resources, & Training (START-UP/USA) provides training to entrepreneurs who are bit older than the students of the MicroSociety. As the name implies, this organization trains and mentors entrepreneurs on the technical aspects of running and maintaining their businesses. They focus on individuals with disabilities but offer services to all entrepreneurs within their designated geographic areas. The Department of Labor’s Education and Training Department offers classes for continuing education for all entrepreneurs.
Consultative Support for Entrepreneurs
Although the Department of Labor, the Department of Commerce, and the Social Security Administration all have programs to mentor and train entrepreneurs of all shades, the SBA and the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) have the most comprehensive programs that provide entrepreneurs with specialized business consulting. The SBA offers periodic training and one on one counseling for entrepreneurs in various phases of their business. They offer information and guidance concerning funding, operations, and even state and federal contract opportunities.
SCORE has an arsenal of retired executives from a wide variety of disciplines. Entrepreneurs’ businesses are matched to the skill set of the SCORE representatives. The representatives often have the skills to mentor an entrepreneur from business plan to start-up operations and beyond. SCORE operates nationwide so in- person consultation sessions are possible, and the consulting services are free of charge.
Because entrepreneurs are recognized as America’s future job creators, there are many organizations offering to support them in a variety of ways. There are programs and trust organizations that help entrepreneurs that run small businesses, happen to be women or minorities, are disabled, or who haven’t even finished high school yet. Cultivating a healthy economy through support of entrepreneurs has become serious business.