In Her New Role, Maria Contreras-Sweet Solves Small Business Administration Mysteries

By Mark Davis
The Kansas City Star.

Maria Contreras-Sweet founded a venture capital firm, began a small California bank and served as that state’s transportation secretary. Still, the U.S. Small Business Administration remained in part a mystery.

She vowed Tuesday in Kansas City to make sure that Americans who need the SBA know about its “vast network” of programs, resources and alliances.

“I wish that I had known about these tools as a state official. If I had known what I know now, I could have been much more effective,” she said after taking part in the city’s small-business week program at Burns & McDonnell’s headquarters.

Many economists look to small businesses, particularly new businesses, as a key in creating jobs. Contreras-Sweet, confirmed by Congress a month ago to head the agency, filled a vacancy that lasted for nearly a year.

She was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and came to the United States as a 5-year-old.

Her career has included stints with big business, as public affairs director and then an equity partner at Westinghouse’s 7-Up/RC Bottling Co.; nonprofit agencies, as a founding director of the California Endowment and founder of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality; and government, in California and as a member of the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission.

Technology and innovation figure prominently in her plans. She’s pushing the agency to use social media more, to automate its loan programs and handle the work online, and make the agency “as nimble as the small businesses we serve.”

A more inclusive SBA under Contreras-Sweet will reach out more to underserved pools of potential entrepreneurs among women, minorities, seniors and members of the military.

On Tuesday, Contreras-Sweet particularly praised the SBA’s Operation Boots to Business program and pointed to CrossFit Thunderstorm, a Maryland fitness company started by a veteran with help from the agency’s program.

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