I recently had the honor and opportunity to speak to the graduates of the 2012 Atlanta Emerging Leaders (e200) Initiative. This is a program offered by the Small Business Administration that works with a small number (12-15) of existing entrepreneurs, CEOs and business owners in approximately 20 different cities nationwide. Through a seven month course, “Streetwise MBA,” lead by an experienced business coach, participants are given the knowledge, resources and motivation to grow their companies to the next level. It is essentially a business course for business owners.
Last year, Grecian Gyro was one of the companies selected to participate in the Atlanta program. My class was filled with entrepreneurs and business owners from a variety of industries – architecture, dentistry, plumbing, consulting, housekeeping, and IT (to name a few). While we differed in background and experience, and our businesses were varied the product or service we provided, all the participants in my class shared similarities in the challenges we faced in growing.
Over the span of seven months, we attended 12 classroom sessions where we were lead in discussion by our instructor and coach, Russ. The course was broken down into four parts, or modules. We began with Goal Setting & Leadership, where we analyzed the needs of our companies and set clear, realistic goals. The next module was Financial Management. Along with a panel of CPA guest mentors, we dove into our companies’ finances and got a very real understanding of where we stood. Almost everyone’s goals included either or both increasing profit and expanding the business, so this was an especially important step. The third module focused on Sales & Marketing. The final module, Resource Management actually had two parts: human resources and financial resources. During the first part we read the excellent book, First, Break All The Rules and discussed strategies to better lead, manage, motivate, and train our people. This part was a favorite among the group, as we were each very fond of our teams and enjoyed learning ways that we could be better employers. In the final part of the course we learned about the financial resources available to us and how to access them. Those sessions featured a panel of guest speakers from banks, the SBA, Invest Atlanta, and investment firms who listened to our needs and gave advice and information as to how we can access the finances necessary to grow.
At the end of the course, each participant wrote a 3-Year Strategic Growth Action Plan. In this plan we outlined the goals set in the first module, and using the information we gained in the other modules, defined the steps necessary to achieve those goals. After writing the plan and reviewing it in a one-on-one session with Russ, we presented our plans to a panel of experts for feedback.
As I’ve mentioned before, the e200 program was a “game changer” for Grecian Gyro. We were able to apply the education and resources we gained through my participation in the program and to the business and have seen great results. But we’re not the only ones to see results.
By the end of this year, 1,800 small businesses will have participated in the program nationwide. Last year, e200 participants created over 1,000 new jobs and saw an average 64% increase in their income. In addition, in 2011, e200 participants had a 14% increase in job growth, while private sector growth only increased by an average 2%.
I feel very privileged and blessed to have participated in this program. I learned about it quite randomly on Twitter one afternoon and decided to apply on a whim. Little did I know the great effect that small decision would have on my business.
I was especially flattered when the nice folks at the SBA graciously asked me to attend the graduation of the new class and speak to them about my experience with the program. I appreciated the opportunity to share my story and how this program has helped us elevate our little business. My message to the room was simple that day:
Small businesses are the future of our city, our country and our economic recovery. Whether it’s restaurants, or architects, or barbershops, it is these small proprietors, risking it all and reaching for the American Dream that create jobs, revitalize neighborhoods, and will spark the economy. And it is programs like the e200 that help create a pipeline of strong small businesses that will lead this nation into recovery.
Congratulations to all the graduates of the e200 program. I wish you all the best of luck!