Keynote Talk

A Conversation with Maria Contreras-Sweet

Maria Contreras-Sweet, Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), shared her story as a corporate employee, a banker, an entrepreneur and now as a policy-influencer in President Barack Obama’s cabinet. Small businesses are creating two out of every three net new jobs in the U.S., and they have huge economic impact and potential. The SBA is working in a variety of ways – from financing to loan providers, to education and access to networks – to support small businesses starting and growing.

Key Points

    • Barack Obama noted that, “Entrepreneurship is the most powerful force the world has seen to lift people out of poverty.”
    • The SBA is the U.S.’s voice for entrepreneurs, as small businesses employ half of the country’s workforce. They provide counseling and training, networks, and also loans and encouragement to institutions that provide small loans. The SBA supports Women’s Business Centers around the country.

Maria Contreras-Sweet 2016 GBA Summit

  • In the U.S., the average income for a women-owned business that exports internationally is $14.5 million. If the business only works within the domestic market, the average annual income goes down to $117,000. The Federal Government is the largest buyer in the world, and they have committed 5 percent of their annual spend toward women-owned businesses. This year is the first year they have reached this goal.
  • The dollar value of loans to women is smaller than that of loans to men at financial institutions. However, on gender-blind online platforms, women are over-indexing men.
  • The Administrator encouraged other governments to play the same role as the SBA to provide guarantees to banks so they can take more risk and provide more financing. In addition, she noted the importance of promoting diverse boards in order to represent the market.


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Maria Contreras-Sweet 2016 GBA Summit


Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration

Interviewed by: JESSICA SCHNABEL
Global Product Head, Banking on Women, IFC


“Innovators, investors and institutions are critical to small businesses.”
— Maria Contreras-Sweet

“My immigrant grandmother said that she hoped I could use my privilege of growing up in America in order to one day work in an office, as a secretary. Well, I do work in an office, and I am a Secretary — in the Cabinet of the President of the United States.”
— Maria Contreras-Sweet