The Small Business Support Industry: How it Came to Be

SB Works takes a research-based approach to small business assistance. This includes understanding the evolution of our own industry and how that process has developed to help very small businesses, often called microenterprises, most effectively.

By and large, the modern microenterprise industry is a product of the past 30 years, growing out of a set of movements concerned with providing business development assistance to populations for whom these services had previously been severely limited or unattainable. While some observers have linked the growth of the industry to interest in emulating the rapidly growing microenterprise field in the developing world, in fact the origins of the U.S. field are much more diverse. Its domestic roots include: women’s economic development organizations, organizations interested in using self-employment strategies for the unemployed, community development corporations, and community action agencies.

Although many people associate business assistance with credit or finance, the industry was always as much about training and technical assistance as it was and is about access to credit. From its beginning in the 1980s, the field has grown dramatically. Starting with a small number of organizations, the industry now has microenterprise service providers across the country, delivering a range of business development and financial services. It has also developed an industry association with more than 400 member organizations, a growing number of state-level associations and financing intermediaries, and several research and policy organizations that focus on raising the visibility of microenterprise development in the U.S.

SB Works is part of this larger trend, focusing on increasing the capacity and reach of microenterprises through training and technical assistance. It stands ready to support individuals and their enterprises with the vast body of expertise and best practices not only locally but throughout the nationwide industry.