Today kicks off Small Business Week, a weeklong salute of small businesses and the people who pioneer them. Each year the federal Small Business Administration salutes small business through awards, events and celebrations.
“The purpose is to get out the message of the importance of small business to the economy, local, state and nationally,” said San Francisco insurance executive Scott Hauge, president of the advocacy group Small Business California. “For one week we can highlight it and help people with small businesses. It’s a chance to increase awareness around these important small businesses.”
This year, the SBA will honor five Bay Area small-business leaders in ceremonies between today and May 20.
All day Wednesday at the Sacramento Convention Center in Sacramento, the Government Technology Conference and a group of small-business organizations will have a day of matchmaking sessions and training seminars to increase contracting with government and big business. Gov. Schwarzenegger is expected to attend. For more information: www.govtech.net/gtc.west.
For a complete listing of events for National Small Business week in the Bay Area: www.acteva.com/ttghits.cfm?eva_id=24059&redirect=true.
Small Business Person of the Year
Business: Lixit Corp., Napa, which makes animal watering devices.
When did you start your business? Dr. Frank Atchley started the business in 1968. I came to work for him as a buyer in 1971.
What was the inspiration for your business? Dr. Atchely retired and the employees took over the business in 1994 through a qualified ESOP plan.
How many employees do you have? 60 to 80.
What is the secret to your success? Lixit is known for high quality, on time shipping, and great customer service. There is no secret to success, just hard work.
What are the two most vital leadership qualities you have learned? Lead with social responsibility and treat everyone with respect no matter what his or her station in life is.
What has been your biggest obstacle as a small-business owner? Our biggest obstacle in business is trying to compete with offshore production.
What keeps you going as a small-business owner? The joy of actually making something, providing jobs and a profit in the end.
How do you try to give back as a small-business owner? Lixit has always been a community operation. We give back through donations and participation in local organizations, serving on the board of directors for the local Chamber of Commerce and hiring local citizens and the disabled as a first choice when making personnel decisions.
What is your advice to other small-business owners? Each small business is unique. Long hard hours is what is generally synonymous with running all small businesses.
Media Advocate of the Year
Business: Publicity consultant
When did you start your business? 1982.
What was the inspiration for your business? I had been working for Catholic Social Service as community relations director. I needed a change, so I went to a friend who is a hynotherapist to try to determine what I should do next. My muse was a witch who gave me a broom to wipe away my fears. I started to get contracts from people I had worked with during my employment. That’s the genesis.
How many employees do you have? I’m a sole proprietor with no employees.
What is the secret to your success? A strong work ethic and the inspiration from many colleagues who are small-business owners.
What are the two most vital leadership qualities you have learned? Give someone a job and let them do it. Don’t micromanage and be appreciative when someone comes through for you.
What has been your biggest obstacle as a small-business owner? Finding new clients, marketing myself.
What keeps you going as a small-business owner? I like the work and I like the money.
How do you try to give back as a small-business owner? I have always done a lot of pro bono work. I am currently president of the Small Business Network, San Francisco, a board member of San Francisco Council of District Merchants Associations and steering committee member of the San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants Alliance, among others.
What is your advice to other small-business owners? Get involved with your community, join your professional organizations and give some of your time and money.
Minority Small Business Advocate of the Year
Business: Construction management.
When did you start? 1986.
What was your inspiration? My father is a retired general contractor and I worked for him for a couple of years so at some point in time it was logical that I start my own company.
Number ofemployees? 26.
The secret to your success? I think preparation by learning the business from the ground up. I have the right education and I had the right mentors. Also, paying strict attention to the business and watching everything.
Two vital leadership qualities? The ability to make a decision without waffling and the ability to communicate your decision to your employees.
Your biggest obstacle? The regulatory agencies that affect the construction industry. We have to pay so many fees and permits and respond to so many agencies just to build a contract, it’s a joke, and most owners now put that burden on the contractor. And right up there along with that is the high cost of doing business in California.
What keeps you going? Pride of ownership and the ability to chart our own future. Long ago I recognized that not everybody is cut out to own a business but if you are, it’s extremely gratifying.
How do you try to give back? I have mentored quite a few companies and I teach workshops and seminars in construction management. It’s acknowledging that I try to help other small minority contractors.
Advice to other small-business owners? We have seen way too many businesses start up in construction by people who have no construction background, because they think all they need are the managerial skills. The other thing is to keep it small to start with and try to get profitable as soon as possible by controlling your job costs and the overhead.
Women in Business Advocate of the Year
Business: La Cocina commercial kitchen
When did you launch this nonprofit? In 2001, The Women’s Foundation, our fiscal sponsor, made the project a reality by finding an activist who wanted to turn her Mission District property into a community kitchen that low-income women micro-entrepreneurs could use to launch or formalize their businesses. I was hired in 2004 as the first executive director.
What was your inspiration? A large number of low-income women graduating from their business planning classes wanted to start food businesses, or were even running informal businesses out of their homes, but were hampered by a lack of affordable commercial kitchen space.
Number of employees? 4.
The secret to your success? Our program is predicated on one-on-one technical assistance. The other secret to the success of our businesses and our project is our ability to provide industry-specific technical assistance. We have an amazing set of consultants and food and financial industry volunteers who have lent their skills to the project.
Two vital leadership qualities? Effective leadership requires striking a delicate balance between assuming ultimate responsibility and letting go of control.
Your biggest obstacle as a small nonprofit? Fundraising is an ongoing challenge in the nonprofit sector.
What keeps you going? Seeing people live out their dreams. I am constantly amazed by how fast our participants’ businesses are growing, and I feel privileged to be a witness to that process.
How do you try to give back? We have shared our expertise and the lessons we have learned with other groups that are starting, or considering starting, kitchen incubators in other areas.
What is your advice to others? Invest the time in a good needs assessment, hire staff early so the people implementing the project are also involved in planning it, and realize that course adjustments are a part of starting something new.
Financial Services Advocate of the Year
Business: Lenders for Community Development, lender
When did you start? I began work onthe project in 1992. We made our first microloan in 1995. We are a nonprofit that provides microloans and counseling to low-income small-business owners unable to obtain conventional financing. We are the largest microlenders in the Bay Area.
What was the inspiration for your business? My passion for providing low-income people with the tools they need to build financial assets and move themselves out of poverty, combined with the desire of local banks for a vehicle through which to invest in low-income communities and comply with the Community Reinvestment Act.
How many employees do you have? 19
What is the secret to your success? Perseverance and a fantastic staff.
What are the two most vital leadership qualities you have learned? 1. Empowerment of employees; 2. Integrity.
What has been your biggest obstacle as a non-profit financial services
provider? Getting the word out about our products to people who need them.
What keeps you going as a nonprofit financial services provider? Support from my board and staff.
How do you try to give back as a nonprofit financial services provider? Everything we do is about giving back. The working people of the Bay Area give so much to our community, and they deserve access to the resources they need to better their own lives and communities.
What is your advice to other small-business owners? Take advantage of opportunities for financial education, both personal and business. Work hard to build your personal credit.