Is it a cynical PR move by an embattled Wall Street firm or a well-conceived program to give entrepreneurs a boost? Whatever you think about the motives behind Goldman Sachs's $500 million small-business initiative, there's no disputing that it is a nice chunk of money. The program, called 10,000 Small Businesses, will contribute $200 million for business and management education through community colleges and universities. Goldman will invest the other $300 million in so-called community development financial institutions, which are mostly nonprofit organizations that provide financing to small businesses that otherwise would have difficulty obtaining credit. Goldman intends to spend the money over a five-year period.
But do Wall Street bankers and community development groups understand entrepreneurs well enough to spend the money effectively? Inc. staff writer Kasey Wehrum asked entrepreneurs, investors, and experts how they would invest the $500 million. Here are some of their responses:
Is Goldman going to spend this money on small businesses or start-ups? Start-ups and small businesses are different. A lot of people don't make this distinction very clearly. Start-ups are only temporarily small. The exciting thing about start-ups is that because they grow so fast, the money you put into them has a magnifying effect. With that money, you could fund 20,000 start-ups at $25,000 apiece. Can you imagine 20,000 new start-ups? That would change the world. It might be difficult to find 20,000 would-be start-up founders right now. So, I would probably give the startups $100,000 each. That would fund them much more effectively. And 5,000 start-ups could still change the world.
Pushing this initiative through the community development organizations is good for bringing the lowest level of people up in our society, but it is not going to restore our global competitiveness. If I had to pick one industry that might do that, it would be green technology. That's probably our biggest bet right now, but we seem to be falling behind China more and more every day. I'd like to think that Goldman could put its money toward something that could really make a huge difference. Considering that nobody in the U.S. can manufacture a Kindle these days, it would be really nice if we could get back some of that ability to do high-tech manufacturing of any kind.
I would use about $100 million for education to teach entrepreneurs how to turn ideas into fundable deals. Then I would put $400 million of capital into promising early-stage companies. I would use that to attract even more money from like-minded private investors on the sidelines, almost as a challenge grant. Essentially, the $400 million could be used to match another $400 million. The idea is to kick-start as many small, young companies as possible.
I'd like to see a focus on those transitional areas of the country where entire industries have either collapsed or have moved overseas.
Also, that $200 million for education programs seems somewhat duplicative. I think you could have looped in resources that are already out there, like the local chambers of commerce, the SCORE program, and other small-business development centers. That would free up more of the money and allow it to go directly into businesses.