A fundamental education

A firsthand account of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program

Starting and running a business is an intense and ongoing learning experience. It does involve a bit of “flying the plane while building it” and a lot of time on Google, researching both basic and best practices. As a result, we all need ongoing schooling.

In mid-March, 37 New Hampshire small business owners began a 10-week journey to formalize thinking around running and growing their business through the Goldman Sachs Foundation’s 10,000 Small Businesses program (10kSB, for short). As a member of this inaugural class and founder of a New Hampshire small business, Cookson Communications, I will be sharing some lessons learned in a biweekly column over these 10 weeks.

First, let me provide some context on the program and the huge role small businesses play in our economy. Nationally, there are 29.6 million small businesses in the U.S. Of this, 5.7 million have more than one employee. The survival rate for small businesses presents a challenge, with 50 percent remaining in business after five years and about 33 percent in business after 10 years. Of course, this does not take into account businesses that were sold, merged or closed for non-financial reasons. Still, it is a big number.

It’s that 5.7 million figure that is the focus of the 10KSB program. This program focuses on helping 10,000 small business across the country grow and create new jobs through an intensive hybrid learning curriculum.

The coursework was developed by Babson College and is being taught across the country by community college faculty. The Community College System of New Hampshire is implementing the program locally. Through the Goldman Sachs Foundation, it is being provided free of charge to participants. Applicants must have more than one employee and revenues of over $100,000 a year. We also must commit to participating in 10 days of on-site meetings and roughly 10 hours of work per week, including webinars, team and one-on-one meetings — and yes — homework.

The 37 who were selected went through a competitive application process at the beginning of the year, and together we began our program with a two-day orientation. We are an eclectic group from all corners of the state and our businesses vary significantly in market and focus.

I won’t provide details on the participants for privacy purposes, since we are a small state and readers will quickly figure out who someone is if I mention the type of business and location.

Sixty-seven percent of the 8,200 business leaders who have already completed the 10KSB program reported increased revenues and 47 percent reported growing their staff within six months of graduating. As a result, there was general excitement about the output of the program, which will be a detailed plan that will focus on developing a single growth opportunity for each business. The class will go through modules to better understand core business principles and then tie them back into this growth model. As a group, we will analyze each other’s ideas, make suggestions and provide support.

The program challenged us from day one. We dived into  drafting our company history, developing a growth curve and describing a growth opportunity statement. Opportunity statements have five characteristics: to solve a customer pain or problem; provide a new product or service, or reach a new market; build on an existing competitive advantage; have potential to be profitable; and is a fit for the company owner.

Our two days of orientation included learning more about each other’s businesses and pain points, hearing from a program graduate and other successful New Hampshire entrepreneurs who have gone through rapid growth, and hearing from state officials who provide support services for small businesses.

We completed the first two days and left with a mixture of excitement, a feeling of being a bit overwhelmed by the tasks ahead and a commitment to taking a deep dive into the program. We also felt a bit humbled to be in a program like this and to be able to tap into so many resources the program offers.

Just two weeks in, our online discussion groups have over 200 posts and there is a high level of engagement. It’s exhilarating to go through this and refreshing to see that we all have done some things right. The day after our first webinar, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to work on a homework assignment. I can guarantee that I did not do that as an undergraduate or graduate student!

Matt Cookson is president and CEO of Cookson Communications in Manchester.

Categories: Business Advice