Back in the 1980s, a company called Titan Sports, now known as the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) gave us mainstream professional wrestling, which has grown into a globally recognized entity. Linda McMahon (cofounder and CEO) and her husband Vince started the company to bring premier wrestling to the forefront and fundamentally changed the wrestling business. Linda helped grow WWE from a 13-person regional operation to a publicly traded global enterprise with more than 800 employees in offices worldwide.
In 2009, Linda stepped down as CEO of WWE to run for the U.S. Senate and was the Republican nominee to represent the people of Connecticut in 2010 and 2012. She’s also the cofounder and former chief executive officer of Women’s Leadership LIVE, LLC, a company that trains women to launch and expand their own businesses.
Today, she serves as the 25th Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
Startups can get a leg up when they want to build a business through the SBA’s affordable programs, mentorship opportunities and even learn skills such as cybersecurity methods, social media marketing, and more. In 2017 alone, the SBA has approved nearly 67,000 loans worth almost $30 billion. This includes more than 11,000 loans worth more than $4 billion for women-owned small businesses.
During Denver Startup Week powered by Chase for Business, we interviewed Linda about her recent appointment, experience growing the WWE, how the SBA is fostering entrepreneurship, diversity initiatives, and how founders can take advantage of their affordable programs and funding to grow a company.
Now that you’ve taken the reins at the SBA, what changes do you see in store to foster entrepreneurship?
One of my goals in leading the U.S. Small Business Administration is to revitalize a sense of entrepreneurship in America. We want entrepreneurs to feel confident taking a risk on starting or expanding their small businesses. President Trump has set the tone for this with a pro-growth agenda. We in the Administration are working to roll back overly burdensome regulations that hinder innovation. We are working to reform taxes to lower rates and make filing less complicated, which will also make American companies more competitive.
We are also working to ensure the workforce has the skills small businesses demand, both today and in the future. Earlier this summer I joined the President as he signed an executive order in support of internships and apprenticeships. There are 6 million vacant jobs in this country that remain unfilled because employers – especially in manufacturing, IT and health care – can’t find workers with the right skills. The President’s proposal would allow $100 million in federal job training funding be used to support apprenticeships. Not everyone wants to go to college or be saddled with student loan debt when they graduate. We need to show there are many paths to success.
I am also committed to ensuring the SBA operates as efficiently and effectively as possible. Small business owners are busy – they don’t have time to navigate a confusing website or stack of redundant paperwork. Our Office of Capital Access is working to streamline and modernize our programs for getting loans, such as through our new LenderMatch program online; and our Office of Government Contracting and Business Development is working to streamline the process for getting small businesses certified to sell their products and services to the government.
What SBA programs can startup founders and entrepreneurs take full advantage of in their community?
The SBA refers to its core operations as “three Cs and a D” – Capital, Counseling, Contracts and Disaster assistance – and all are available in communities nationwide.
The first is access to capital. Loans are the lifeblood of small businesses, and the SBA has lending partners in communities across the country. Whether they are starting up or purchasing equipment or looking to scale their business or just trying to get through a tough season, cash can be critical. SBA-guaranteed loans fill a significant market gap by incentivizing banks and credit unions to provide capital, especially to those businesses in underserved communities. Our signature loans are the 7(a), which fund startup costs and equipment; and the 504 for the purchase and refinancing of fixed assets.
The second C is counseling. The SBA offers a wealth of knowledge aimed at educating entrepreneurs on things like how to write a business plan and how to scale a business. The SBA has 68 district offices, including at least one in each state, that offer counseling and mentorship free of charge. We also work with resource partners including Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, Veterans Business Outreach Centers and SCORE chapters that serve millions of entrepreneurs each year in communities nationwide.
The third C is contracts. The United States government is the world’s largest purchaser of goods and services, everything from pencils to aircraft carriers. The SBA is committed to ensuring that small businesses have the training they need to access these contracts. The federal government has a goal that 23 percent of all contract dollars go to small businesses, and it has specific programs to ensure businesses owned by women, minorities, service-disabled veterans and other disadvantaged groups have access to these contracts. This spring the SBA announced that the federal government met the small business prime contracting goal for the fourth year in a row, awarding over $99 billion to small businesses.
And the D is what has been getting a lot of our attention over the past few weeks – disaster assistance. Following declared disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma that devastated Texas and Florida, the SBA manages long-term economic recovery through our partnerships with FEMA and other federal agencies, as well as with our partners at the state and local levels. It’s the only time the SBA makes direct loans to businesses – they can get low-interest loans of up to $2 million to pay for lost inventory, machinery, equipment, property repairs and even working capital.
As an entrepreneur and founder of WWE, how has that helped you with your role at SBA?
I understand the concerns small business owners have because I have walked in their shoes. The company my husband and I started is a big business now, but we started out sharing a desk.
I have known the full range of successes and failures – we even declared bankruptcy early in our lives and had to start over from scratch. I like to tell entrepreneurs, it’s not how you fall but how you get back up that matters. I know what it’s like to worry about making payroll, to not take a check yourself so you could afford to pay your employees. I also know what it’s like to expand to new markets, open international offices, adapt to changing technologies and consumer tastes, and take a company public. When entrepreneurs share their concerns with me, I get it because I’ve been there.
I have truly lived the American Dream. As head of the SBA, I want to help more entrepreneurs have that same opportunity for success.
What is SBA doing to help entrepreneurs in underserved communities?
The SBA is committed to ensuring all small business owners have an opportunity to succeed. The SBA’s Community Advantage and Microloan programs work to ensure entrepreneurs in underserved communities have access to capital. The 8(a) Business Development Program helps firms that are at least 51 percent owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals compete for government contracts; and the HUBZone (Historically Underutilized Business Zone) program helps small businesses in urban and rural communities get preferential access to government contracts.
With the concern about cybersecurity, how is SBA educating small business owners to protect their data?
The SBA continues to educate small business owners on cybersecurity through our online learning center, our resource partners and blogs. Earlier this year, SBA established a partnership with Synergy Solutions to launch a free, comprehensive series web-based training series to educate eligible small businesses about cybersecurity and steps they can take to protect their company’s assets and intellectual property. The SBA also offers resources through the Small Business Technology Coalition, which helps entrepreneurs leverage technology to make their businesses more effective and efficient.
Talk about the importance of mentors while growing a business.
The SBA’s district offices and resource partners (Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, Veterans Business Outreach Centers and SCORE chapters) offer counseling and mentorship that can be invaluable to an entrepreneur. Often the advice is just as important as the capital in getting a business off the ground!
Sometimes entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs don’t know what they don’t know. The advice from someone who has “been there” can help them refine their business plan – or even determine if an idea is even viable as a business. Guidance from an experienced advisor can help them avoid potential pitfalls and put them on the path to success.
Read more founder interviews at TechCo
This article is part of a Startup Week content series brought to you by CHASE for BUSINESS. Startup Week is celebration of entrepreneurs in cities around the globe. CHASE for BUSINESS is everything a business needs in one place, from expert advice to valuable products and services. Find business news, stories, insights and expert tips all in one place at Chase.com/forbusiness. Read the rest of our Startup Week series.