By Sramana Mitra and guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
Sramana: Let me ask you a specific question along those lines as a follow-up about education. Education is an area where we’re seeing a lot of interest among entrepreneurs. It’s clear that education is a big problem that needs to be solved by a variety of people. Does the Department of Education fall into this world? Is there any interaction between the SBA and the Department of Education?
Sean: Beyond just SBA, across the administration, there are many people at different agencies who are focused on innovation, innovation policy, and how can we drive higher levels of innovation across the country? Specifically on education, there’s an initiative called Educate to Innovate.
The Department of Education was actively involved, but other agencies were as well. It was very specifically focusing on how can we increase STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education, particularly at the K–12 level but not limited to that.
Sramana: The question I’m asking is slightly more subtle, though. What I’m asking is, we have seen a lot of entrepreneurs who have educational solutions. They are largely entrepreneurs in the domain of educational technology and online education.
Sean: OK, I see. I understand. I’m happy to make an introduction for you to the person at the Department of Education who is responsible for innovation policy at large, and he’s very focused on these kinds of questions.
Sramana: Among the eleven agencies is the Department of Education going one of the options for our education entrepreneurs?
Sean: In SBIR? Education is there, but it’s relatively small. There is a much broader set of issues – now that I understand what you’re asking – and things going on outside. SBIR is a small piece of that. But I’m not the expert on that, Jim Shelton at the Department of Education is, and I’m happy to make the introduction.
Sramana: Just to set the context, the questions that we are asking are all from the prospective of, how do we help our entrepreneurs navigate the funding bottlenecks? As you pointed out, and I like that, not only you can address it from the balance sheet point of view but also from the P&L point of view. How can our entrepreneurs access some of the resources that you are trying to deploy?
Your challenges are to deploy your resources to the right people, and we could be a channel through which you could deploy your resources because we are working with the large number of entrepreneurs, and we are planning to work with an even larger number. And the reason we reached out to you is to explore how we might be able to work together.
Sean: Great question. I don’t have an easy answer to that right now.
Sramana: You felt, when you decided to move to this position at the SBA, that you could make a significant difference?
Sean: Yes. I have a passionate belief that entrepreneurship matters, and in the economic situation that we’re in, that the small businesses creating the jobs isn’t just a set of numbers, it’s the reality. It’s what I’ve experienced.
In addition to being an entrepreneur, I’ve been a management consultant to Fortune 50 companies. I’ve seen companies large and small and across the board, the truly innovative ones have always been the small entrepreneurial ones. I saw both the need and the opportunity to get involved in a way that had the possibility to help companies create jobs and grow. Instead of doing it one company at a time, I’m doing it on a larger scale.
Sramana: How did you find this opportunity, or how did it find you?
Sean: I had the opportunity to meet the administrator of the Small Business Administrator, [Karen G. Mills]. I found that we shared a vision of what needed to be done. She said, “Come join me.” I didn’t think long about it and just jumped right in. There are moments in time, as every entrepreneur knows. Sometimes you can plan, sometimes you see opportunities that make sense and you go with instinct and your gut, and that’s what I did.
Irina: Thank you, Sean. We are looking forward to working with you.