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Celebrating Small Business Week

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I love it when all my hats fit at the same time. Last week's Small Business Week reception at the Chamber of Commerce building (gorgeous) in Washington, D.C. was a smash hit from the entrepreneurship perspective. Wearing the hats of Babson faculty member, Academic Director of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, and federally appointed member of the SBA's advisory board for the SBDC programs, this night just really worked.

From the SBA/SBDC perspective, it was a wonderful evening to convene and celebrate 53 small business owners from across the country. Each of these business owners was recognized as the Small Business Owner of the Year for their state, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico. Where paths (hats) start to cross is that the Small Business Owner of the Year for Illinois was Elizabeth Colón, founder of Metaphrasis, a language service company now employing 300 translators and 100 interpreters through which she offers services in 180 different language. Elizabeth is an alumna of 10,000 Small Businesses at our City Colleges of Chicago site at Harold Washington College.

The program for the evening began with an introduction of Maria Contreras-Sweet, the new Administrator of the SBA. Administrator Contreras-Sweet gave a vigorous welcome to the crowd, while setting a recurring theme about women in leadership. She connected extremely well with the audience while congratulating them on being such an important part of the U.S. economy.

Janet Yellen, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, also spoke on the role of small businesses. While most speakers quoted the common 2/3 of jobs during the last few years were created by small businesses, Yellen broke it down still further to show the true source of the impact, sharing that based on data from the labor department, since about 2010, ½ of the new jobs have been created by businesses with fewer than 250 employees and that, indeed and of note, most of them from firms under 50 employees.

The next speaker was John Schnatter, founder and CEO of Papa John's Pizza. First, John talked some about his business model, but mostly about the creation of value - through and for the people who work for him. He said he was fortunate to find something he loved to do at an early age (making pizzas at 15) and encouraged everyone in the room to be sure they were doing something they loved.

Second, he shared his philosophy about "Win, Win, Win," a part of his business approach that it really is about the people. Schnatter spoke passionately about a need for building a culture of achievement and opportunity, stressing the importance of taking care of the people who are the foundation of your business. He put forth that while it seems he is in the pizza business, he is really in the people business. And he stressed the need for metrics to be sure that you do have the right "scaffolding" or frameworks in place to support that cultural approach.

Third, Papa John claimed he loved mistakes - as long as they are well thought out. His approach is that you are not going to learn if you don't make mistakes, and gave several examples of things he had tried that had not worked as well. Schnatter actually combined several of this themes, particularly innovation and failure, when he said that "sometimes you have to get rid of something good to take a chance on something even better." He used this consideration to share that Papa John's was about to change their marketing campaign, something seen to currently be working very well, although maybe mostly by Peyton Manning fans.

I enjoyed hearing John Schnatter talk about his approach to the creation of value, emphasis on people, and learning through innovation and mistakes. His speech echoed some of the things we encourage at Babson. It's actually part of the foundation of the 10,000 Small Businesses academic platform as well. And it was all presented through the SBA. Good evening for multiple hats.