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Q&A with Shirah Apple of SBA’s Wisconsin District Office

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Q&A with Shirah Apple of SBA’s Wisconsin District Office

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) helps Americans start, build and grow businesses. Through an extensive network of field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations, the SBA delivers its services to people throughout the United States, including the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam. Here, Shirah Apple, public affairs specialist in the SBA’s Wisconsin District Office, shares how SBA funds help businesses grow.

Q: What is the SBA?

A: The U.S. Small Business Administration, established in 1953, is a federal agency whose mission is to help small businesses start, grow and succeed. The agency has 68 district offices around the country, including the Wisconsin District Office with locations in Milwaukee and Madison.

Q: Can you tell me about the programs SBA offers?

A: First, access to capital is one of the main challenges for small businesses. The SBA works with banks, credit unions and community-based lenders to guarantee loans, which enables lenders to take a risk they might not without the SBA guarantee. The advantage for borrowers is a longer loan terms (up to 25 years). Last year, 350 lenders made 1,503 SBA-approved loans for $650 million in Wisconsin alone, including 554 loans to startups. Nationwide, SBA borrowers accessed more than $30 billion last year. SBA loans are available for amounts up to $5 million. SBA also works with micro-loan intermediaries who make loans up to $50,000. View a list of SBA preferred lenders in Wisconsin.

Helping entrepreneurs succeed, whatever stage of business they are in, is also part of SBA’s mission. We have found that businesses that work with mentors survive longer, generate more revenue and hire more employees. SBA’s partners for business mentoring and counseling include SCORE, with 7 chapters and more than 20 locations around Wisconsin; the Small Business Development Centers at UW campuses statewide; seven Women’s Business Center locations; and the Veterans Business Outreach Center. All offer educational programs and business mentoring and counseling at little to no cost. In 2016, SBA’s partners mentored more than 14,000 small business owners in Wisconsin.

By law, 23 percent of federal contracts are targeted to go to small businesses—nearly $100 billion nationwide last year. The SBA helps small businesses get qualified for Federal contracting, and in Wisconsin works closely with the Wisconsin Procurement Institute for this purpose.

The SBA also plays a little-known but important role in disasters with direct, low-interest loans to small businesses, large businesses, homeowners, renters and nonprofits. Right now, SBA staff are working to deliver low-interest loans to hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Houston and fire victims on the West Coast. Whenever there is a declared disaster in Wisconsin, such as the recent tornado in Gays Mills or flooding in southeastern Wisconsin, SBA loans are available and SBA staff have come to assist. Visit www.sba.gov/disaster for more information.

Q: What kind of companies can apply for these programs?

A: Any company that meets the federal definition of “small” is eligible. Generally, this means a business that is independently owned and operated and is not dominant in its industry. It also depends on the amount of revenue and number of employees.

Q: How does the SBA benefit the overall business climate of the state?

A: In addition to our work mentioned above, SBA also provides funds to WEDC’s export programs to help businesses get prepared to sell outside the U.S. We have also supported several growth accelerators in the state, as well as The Water Council.

Q: Why is Wisconsin an ideal location to start a business?

A: Wisconsin is already home to 445,000 small businesses, which employ more than half of Wisconsin’s workforce, and it’s a place where small businesses can succeed in a big way. For example, last year’s SBA Small Business Person of the Year for Wisconsin, Kristina Pence-Dunow, took Hometown Trolley in Crandon from a small family-owned enterprise to an industry leader. Full Compass Systems grew, with the help of an SBA loan, to become one of the largest woman-owned businesses in the state.  And there are many more examples.

Q: What is the best way for companies to learn more?

A: Visit www.sba.gov or our Wisconsin District website, www.sba.gov/wi. For daily updates, follow us on Twitter @SBA_Wisconsin.