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A Look at the 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative

By Sam Perkins, Babson Executive Education

In November 2009, Goldman Sachs launched the 10,000 Small Businesses initiative (10KSB), a $500 million, five-year commitment aimed at boosting job growth in the United States. The initiative was modeled on 10,000 Women, a Goldman Sachs global initiative that was started in early 2008 and whose performance was exceeding expectations in helping women business owners around the world create value. Both programs target entrepreneurial owners of small companies that were poised for growth, and would benefit from market-based business education and access to capital, a segment underserved by existing business-support programs.

Based on internal research by Goldman Sachs, and that of the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), providing such entrepreneurs with access to education, networks, and capital was likely to have a significant ROI: enabling them to expand their businesses, grow revenues, and provide new jobs.

As it had with 10,000 Women, Goldman Sachs established 10KSB with a group of pre-eminent partner organizations and a high-profile advisory board that included then Babson President Len Schlesinger, Warren Buffett, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO and chairman of Goldman Sachs, Michael Porter, Harvard professor and founder of ICIC, and Margaret Spellings, former U.S. Secretary of Education. The initiative was designed to offer a business education through community colleges in select cities to entrepreneurs (to be called Scholars) who met program criteria: owners of businesses that had been in operation for at least two years, had revenues of between $150,000 and $4 million and at least four employees. Scholars also would receive on-going support in developing their business networks.

The first program launched at LaGuardia Community College (New York) in April 2010, just after Babson was invited to join the 10KSB curriculum development effort. Babson Professor Patricia Greene, the Paul T. Babson Professor in Entrepreneurial Studies and former provost and dean of the Undergraduate School, led Babson’s early involvement, which started with observation of the program and rapidly evolved to assuming overall responsibility for the curricular efforts. Greene assembled a cadre of Babson faculty, each with extensive curriculum development and entrepreneurship teaching experience, and the foundational concepts quickly emerged: teaching based on peer-to-peer learning through experiential exercises with each scholar’s business serving as the growth project. The curriculum development also was informed by the American Association of Community Colleges and initial community college partners, specifically LaGuardia Community College in New York and Los Angeles City College and Long Beach City College in Southern California. The Babson team also decided to create all materials for the program in a manner in which the intellectual property stayed with the program, enabling the initiative to own the curriculum and make it available more broadly to the participating community colleges. In this way, the program not only contributed to the individual business growth of the scholars, it also enhanced the ability of the community colleges to teach entrepreneurship.

In true startup fashion, the Babson team developed the national curriculum as it was being rolled out at the second and third sites (LA and Long Beach, CA) in mid-2010—a process one faculty member described as “painting a moving train.” In addition to curriculum development, the core Babson team, which included Greene, Mike Fetters, Dennis Ceru, Richard Bliss, and Anne Donnellon, trained the community college faculty, co-taught the first cohorts at each site, and served an ongoing role as academic mentors. By mid-2013, 10KSB had launched nine education sites in the U.S. and four in the UK. Together, these sister programs have graduated cohorts totaling approximately 2,000 business owners, notably with a 99 percent graduation rate. In initial results from the U.S., nearly one-half of the businesses reported creating new jobs and nearly two-thirds reported increasing revenues within six months of completing the program. In the three years it has been involved, Babson has expanded its role in the initiative to include responsibility for measuring impact and managing an ever-growing alumni program. ​​

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Sam PerkinsSam Perkins is a Senior Researcher at Babson College, where he develops cases for Babson’s custom executive education programs. Over the past fifteen years, Mr. Perkins has written more than more than 150 case studies on topics ranging from entrepreneurial finance to corporate strategy in Fortune 100 companies.  Mr. Perkins received an A.B. from Princeton University and an MBA from Babson College.