Goldman Sachs Program Offers Continuing Education for Small Business Owners

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Small business owners can apply now for Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses initiative. The investment bank’s $500 million scholarship program, which provides coaching and education to small business owners, has already helped more than 2,000 entrepreneurs nationwide learn how to grow their businesses and create new jobs.

Owners who qualify for the scholarship are provided with 12 weeks of cost-free, in-person education and opportunities to access financial capital and business support services. To be eligible for the program, a business must have at least four employees, be in operation for at least two years, and have revenues between $150,000 and $4 million in the most recent fiscal year.

The program has been a boon to independent bookstore owner Darlene Krogol of Another Look Books in Taylor, Michigan, who said getting accepted to 10,000 Small Businesses has already been invaluable to her bookstore’s financial outlook.

“The program has really been life-changing and business-changing,” she said. “For those people whose stores have been open for a while, there really aren’t a lot of resources where you can address how to grow, how to orchestrate next steps and what those should be, or how to fill in what’s missing in your business education.”

Many small business owners learn how to basically operate their business along the way, as they grow from scratch. But Goldman Sachs’ free 11-session program teaches these business owners to capitalize on what they already know, and to innovate.

“They want you to stretch; they want you to think out of the box,” Krogol said. The tools provided — expert advice during class, peer networking, and free weekly appointments with a personalized business advisor — are there to spark new and profitable business ideas.

Krogol is now about halfway through the 12 weeks of classes, which feature guest speakers and role-playing games along with informative presentations and lots of homework. She attends classes at Wayne State University in Detroit, one of the 12 cities nationwide that host the program’s educational classes at local community colleges and business schools and in partnership with various nonprofits and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs).

Krogol said that it has been wonderful to get peer support from other small business owners who come from a variety of different industries. During the course of the program, they all have told her they believe in independent bookstores such as hers and value the service they provide to the community. But most helpful is the one-on-one business counseling with a personally assigned advisor, who meets with her once a week at her store for two to three hours at a time.

Krogol’s adviser, local business leader Herb Drayton, helps point her toward possibilities she can try given her particular business’s limitations. Already, Krogol said she has begun to think about how she can more directly market to the wider area surrounding Taylor, which is about 20 minutes from Detroit.

With Drayton’s help, she has decided to rent a warehouse at a cost-effective rate where she can keep new books that don’t currently fit in her small store; they will be stored there for future processing as her reach expands to this wider geographical market.  

The program also helps participants brush up on other areas of knowledge with which they may not have always felt comfortable. Krogol said with a laugh that she now knows more about accounting practices than she ever wanted to.

The 10,000 Small Businesses curriculum, which was designed by the esteemed business school Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, focuses on skills that can immediately be applied by business owners, including accounting, negotiating, marketing, and human resources management.

All participants graduate from the course with a written-out growth plan developed specifically for their business. Such a plan also gives business owners more credibility if they need to approach small business lenders for a loan, Krogol said.

A 2014 progress report developed by Babson and based on information collected from the first 1,300 small business owners to complete the education program showed a positive impact even within the first six months of graduation.

“Only six months after graduating from the program, 44.8 percent of 10,000 Small Businesses participants reported adding new jobs. Notably, this change occurred during a difficult economic period,” the report states.

The Goldman Sachs program is made possible by a $500 million investment the company made in 2009 with the aim to improve the overall U.S. economy by helping small businesses. Classes for the educational portion of the program are currently offered in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, and Salt Lake City.

While the program will continue to expand on a city-by-city basis, business owners who do not live within driving distance of a local class can participate in the program through 10,000 Small Businesses at Babson College, the National Cohort, a mix of online and in-person education sessions that use an alternative version of the Babson curriculum. 

“After 20 years, my business was definitely at a crossroads: the thinking was, do we go forward and if so, how do we take advantage of the way things are shaking out in the independent bookstore business?” Krogol said. “Before the program, I could never have been confident enough or knowledgeable enough to even think about how I could capture that momentum. I never would have thought of all these different creative opportunities I’ve had all along, much less been proactive enough to act on them.”