WASHINGTON -- The new administrator of the Small Business Administration came to the Pentagon today to meet with service members enrolled in her agency's "Boots to Business" program.
Maria Contreras-Sweet, who took office April 7, is the voice of American small businesses at home and abroad. She spoke to a new class of 17 airmen and three sailors who are transitioning out of the services.
The administrator told the service members enrolled in the program that she wants to ensure those who defend the country also get a chance to prosper.
She spoke of her time leading California's Business, Transportation and Housing Agency. When her agency was vetting contracts, she said, she always asked how much of the work was going to veteran-owned companies. "There's no point in getting people ready for business and then not giving them the opportunity to do the business," she said, "particularly with the government that they fought so hard to defend."
Contreras-Sweet recalled giving a speech to veterans in California. She walked into the auditorium and met vets who had lost limbs, yet who were still striving to contribute to the nation. "It really affected me, and this is why you are so important to me," she said. "You are really on the front lines."
The Boots to Business program is a way for service members to move into business. The SBA works with the Defense Department to ensure service members approach the program with open eyes.
The SBA helps veteran entrepreneurs with access to capital, helps with counseling and helps to ensure "you have access to your Uncle Sam," she told the class. Nike, FedEx, Proctor & Gamble and Chick-Fil-A, she noted, all are companies started by veterans.
The administrator said she wants her agency to be a good wingman to the veterans as they begin their businesses, and she promised to do all she could to help their businesses get off the ground and grow. "I want the SBA to have a long-term relationship with you," she said. "And I want you to tell me if something works or doesn't work. I wanted to hear from you directly about how the SBA can do more and how we can do better."
Many military skills can translate to civilian jobs, Contreras-Sweet said, and she wants military personnel to understand "that your service has given you unique qualifications to lead, and leadership is the holy grail of entrepreneurship."
Want to Know More About the Military?
Be sure to get the latest news about the U.S. military, as well as critical info about how to join and all the benefits of service. Subscribe to Military.com and receive customized updates delivered straight to your inbox.