04/05/2012 01:53 pm ET Updated Jun 05, 2012

The Power of Microbusiness to Drive Job Creation

Entrepreneurship -- no matter what size the business -- has an enormous impact on the lives and livelihoods in communities coast-to-coast. One business, one loan, or one job can change the trajectory of one family, one community or one city. Microbusinesses (a business with five or fewer employees) represent more than 80 percent of all businesses in the United States and they are everywhere.

We believe microbusinesses have the power to change the entire country.

In fact, if just one in three U.S. microbusinesses -- the smallest, local businesses that are intricately woven into the fabric of the American Dream -- hired a single worker, the United States could achieve full employment -- a boost that would be monumental to today's economy.

But not all microbusinesses stay small. They are the momentum businesses -- named because they demonstrate strong growth momentum creating jobs in communities around the country. Like Becky's Pet Care in Arlington, VA, who went from her own basement to 30 full-time employees and has surpassed a $1 million in revenue. Or Sharpened Image, who grew from less than $100K to $1 million in revenue thanks to a national not-for-profit provider. And then there's RoofCare, who launched with four people and grew to 28-strong in less than four years.
How are these entrepreneurs and many more like them achieving such success? Individual non-profits and their networks of community partners provide the confidence, capacity, connections and often the capital needed for businesses to start, thrive and grow.

Repeatedly, entrepreneurs describe the non-profit they worked with as a trusted partner. Whether it was creating credible cash flow projections and financial coaching or introducing a new channel opportunity or vendor, entrepreneurs we meet rely on the services of multiple non-profits to meet their varying needs.

Unfortunately, few community-based non-profits have the resources or capacity to promote themselves as well as they should. Many entrepreneurs told us that they found the non-profit support by chance -- or in an act of near desperation -- after having been rejected for a loan from a commercial bank. Moreover, non-profits that provide high-impact services and access to capital do not exist in every community. And even in communities where the most outstanding organizations operate, costs to serve are high, while resources are scarce and increasingly under strain.

Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) will honor entrepreneurs and the non-profits in communities around the country that contribute to their success with the first annual Power of One Awards for Excellence in Microbusiness! Supported by the Citi Foundation, the Power of One Awards is a new recognition program that celebrates microbusiness excellence and the spirit of innovation and collaboration in business. The program will recognize both individual entrepreneurs and the nonprofit community organizations that support them. More than $200,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded at a ceremony to be held on May 1, 2012, at AEO's 21st Annual National Microbusiness Conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The list of speakers coming together to focus on unleashing the power of microbusiness reads like the who's who of impact investing, including Melissa Bradley, CEO, Tides; Brian Trelstad, Chief Investment Officer, Acumen Fund; Lisa Hall, President & CEO, Calvert Foundation, Premal Shah, Co-Founder, Kiva; Donna Gambrell, Director of the CDFI Fund at the US Department of the Treasury and Marie Johns, Deputy Administrator, Small Business Administration, Laura Sparks, Citi Community Development Finance and others.

AEO is working to build the One in Three Alliance that will unite cross-sector actors, like those above, who are committed to making the one in three aspiration a reality for job creation and economic opportunity. Our intent is to change the way that capital and high impact services flow to underserved entrepreneurs. Working together, we can move the needle on job creation and forever unleash the power of microbusiness.

Subscribe to Must Reads.
The internet's best stories, and interviews with their authors.