SBA Has New Approach, New Critics

W. Todd Roberson of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business wrote a guest column for our BizVoice magazine analyzing the new look of the Small Business Administration. Here’s a taste, but he explains the reasons some are for and some are against new measures in the full column:

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2008 (the “stimulus bill”) authorizes significant changes in the way the 338 federally sanctioned Small Business Investment Companies (SBICs) can support small enterprises. In a nutshell, firms supported by venture capital (VC) now qualify for SBA guaranteed loans, grants and assistance. In other words, VC firms can now tap into federally guaranteed funds double the base of capital they have to invest in emerging enterprises.

The SBA also has raised the amount that VC firms can invest in any one business to 30% of the total capital under management. For favored small business owners this translates into less time pounding the pavement to find financing – a great advantage in a period of severe credit contraction. Time, after all, even in a new age, is money.

Note the word “favored” above. Herein lies the rub. Critics note that truly “small” firms generally do not interface with venture capital. (The current definition of “small” at the SBA is $18 million or less in net worth.) One direct and immediately observable effect of the SBA’s foray into working with VC firms is the increase in the lobbying outlays by the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA): from $500,000 in 2005 to over $2 million in 2008.

Critics suggest an alternative: simply lower business taxes on the nation’s entrepreneurs. In fact, studies by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (a think tank associated with American entrepreneurship) find no correlation between long-term job creation and early-stage association with venture capital. The correlation, however, is striking between VC involvement and government and university (read: quasi-government) grants.