- By Gwen Moran
Since this Sunday kicks off National Small Business Week, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s celebration of entrepreneurs and their companies, I thought this would be a good time to tell you about a few little-known SBA programs that could help you launch or grow your business:
SBA Loan Programs for the Underserved
The SBA last year introduced two loan programs specifically designed for small businesses in underserved communities, including companies owned by minorities or women as well as ones in rural areas: the Small Loan Advantage and Community Advantage 7(a) Loan Initiatives.
Both programs offer a streamlined application process for SBA-guaranteed loans of up to $250,000 — which means less paperwork and, usually, quicker approvals. Electronically submitted loans can be approved in minutes; paper applications take five to 10 business days.
The interest rates on these loans vary, depending on the institution, but are subject to SBA maximums. For example, fixed-rate loans of $50,000 or more can’t exceed whatever the lender’s base rate is plus 2.75 percent.
You can find a list of lenders involved in these two programs by going to the Preferred Lenders part of the SBA site and selecting your local SBA district office.
SBA Help for Exporting
With a sluggish U.S. economy, one way to grow your business is by expanding into other countries. With that in mind, the SBA lately has beefed up its services to help owners export their products and services.
A good place to start planning your worldwide market domination is with the SBA’s excellent interactive Export Business Planner, which you can download for free.
Through 2013, you can take advantage of the agency’s pilot State Trade and Export Program, which provides advice on exporting, like how to design international marketing materials.
Finally, the SBA’s streamlined Export Express program offers exporters SBA-guaranteed loans and lines of credit of up to $500,000. You'll be approved or rejected in 36 hours or less.
To apply, your company must have been in business for at least 12 months, but not necessarily in exporting. Contact your nearest U.S. Export Assistance Center for details; you can find its location online at export.gov.