MIGHTY 25: Isabella Casillas Guzman leads the SBA in serving
When President Biden appointed Isabella Casillas Guzman to be the Secretary of the Small Business Administration, one of her first initiatives was to serve those who serve.
Guzman is a proud California native whose family fled the Mexican revolution and settled in Texas, making America their new home. It was in the 60s that they chose to move to California where they opened a small business of their own.
She attended the University of Pennsylvania where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Business. Before being appointed as a secretary of the SBA, she worked under the Obama-Biden administration as the Deputy Chief of Staff for the SBA.
According to her biography on the SBA website, the agency manages a $500 billion portfolio and deploys $40 billion in funding annually to America’s small business owners. As Administrator, she spearheaded key agency initiatives to deliver essential pandemic assistance to the most vulnerable small businesses and underserved communities. She has also implemented effective strategies that help small businesses and innovative startups gain unprecedented access to capital, contracting, professional networks, technical training, digital tools and disaster support. As a result, more than ever before, millions of America’s entrepreneurs have the resources they need to start, grow and build resilient businesses.
Guzman became the Secretary of the SBA in 2021 with a bipartisan vote. In an interview with Forbes Magazine later that year, she shared her “why” behind the passion she feels about leading the SBA.
“Over my career I have been dedicated to helping small businesses start and grow. I have partnered to start businesses myself and advised founders. I also served in leadership at the U.S. SBA during the Obama-Biden administration; and then as the Small Business Advocate for California, the fifth largest economy in the world,” she told the magazine. “I bring all those experiences with me to my position today, but most of all, I bring a passion and deep respect for small businesses and innovative startups and the impact they have on our communities, our nation, and the world. They define our Main Streets, deliver the products and services we depend on every day, and innovate to solve global problems.”
During the interview, Guzman explained the background for how she became so interested in business and creating opportunities for others.
“I grew up in a small business family. My father owned and operated multiple veterinary hospitals in California, and, as a kid, I loved being at his clinic, watching him interact with his clients and seeing how much he and all the other small business owners meant to the neighborhood,” she shared. “As I grew older and began working with him after school and on weekends, I started to understand how much work he put in to his business—how challenging it was to have his workday 100% focused on his clients and treating their animals, and then shifting hats during lunch and into the evening to keep up on the books, compliance, ordering, payroll, and workforce issues. I remember the large briefcase he would bring home full of paperwork.”
In January of 2023, the SBA and Guzman announced a sweeping plan to create more entrepreneurial opportunities for veterans. This included the first-ever Veteran Small Business Certificate program and a Vets First Verification Program. During the announcement, she shared the following remarks:
“As we celebrate National Veterans Small Business Week, I am proud that the SBA is designing its new Veteran Small Business Certification Program to be the gold standard in customer experience and support to ensure we grow our base of veteran federal contractors,” she said. “Adding this certification to SBA’s portfolio of capital, bonding, and contracting programs will enable us to better serve our veteran entrepreneurs and help them grow their businesses through federal procurement opportunities.”
Not only did Guzman and the SBA team create a new path for veterans, they included military spouses in the conversation by launching their Military Spouse Pathway to Business training program.
With veteran-owned businesses contributing nearly $1.3 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy, it is a win for all Americans and creates a space to be innovative. Something the military community is known for.