In Business and at GGU, Small is the New Big

By Susan Fornoff


In the San Francisco Bay Area, big companies abound and a new tech startup launches seemingly every day. But if you’re working for any of those, you’re in the minority.

Small businesses — including those owned by Golden Gate University’s alumni network of attorneys, financial planners, CPAs and entrepreneurs — have been creating more than half of all jobs in the United States since the 1970s. The number of small businesses in the United States has increased 49 percent since 1982. And since 1990, as corporate America eliminated 4 million jobs, small businesses added 8 million new jobs.

So this fall, GGU will pilot a special program for its own aspiring small-business owners. “Successful small companies are the unsung heroes, because small business is the driving force in the economic community,” says Paul Fouts, dean of the Ageno School of Business. “Any time we could have started this program would have been the right time. But now we’ve found a willing partner in Chevron to help us make that dream a reality.”

Chevron is, of course, one of the world’s biggest corporations, but it is a Bay Area company that views its own success as tied to the economic development of the communities it serves. It invests in job creation at every level, from small- and mid-size business development, to career training, to education. At GGU, Chevron has a 35-year history of making generous gifts and encouraging its employees to both take and teach classes. The chance to underwrite a small-business program at GGU is an exciting opportunity to align the missions of both Chevron and the university.

“Successful small companies are the unsung heroes, because small business is the driving force in the economic community.”
— Dean Paul Fouts,
Ageno School of Business

Chevron’s $300,000 gift will establish GGU’s Small Business Program.

“At Chevron, we are committed to boosting local economies, increasing incomes and improving livelihoods in the communities where we operate,” says Dale Walsh (BS 81, LHD 12), president, Chevron Americas Products, GGU alum and trustee. “One of the ways we do this is by supporting local businesses. We are proud to support the Small Business Program at Golden Gate University, and we applaud its efforts to support the growth and development of small businesses and entrepreneurs.”

The company’s latest GGU contribution, a $300,000 gift, has been designated to establish the Chevron Small Business Program starting this fall. Recent graduates of any GGU degree program will be invited to apply to the 10-week pilot session.

“We will admit people who want to start their own small business or practice,” Fouts says. “And that is different from people who want to be entrepreneurs with a big tech startup and chase that market. This is a more traditional business approach, serving students of psychology, law, tax, accounting, financial planning, or someone who is thinking about starting his or her own practice.”

GGU is not looking to serve people who are expecting huge immediate financial returns. Instead, the Small Business Program is aimed at helping people whose small business is the source of their livelihood.

“It’s their chance to be their own boss on a much more sustained level and a much lower growth trajectory,” says Fouts. “It’s where most of the actual employment in the United States is based, and yet it’s the most neglected space. It’s not glamorous; you’ve got no investment money pouring into it because there’s no investment money to be made — except for the people who put in their blood, sweat and tears and whatever they can cobble together to grow their business.”

The definition of “small” varies by industry, and the definition of “successful” varies by individual. Is it privately owned? Is it profitable? One sign of success, common to all three alumni profiled in these pages, is the passion their business inspires. Each one of the business owners lit up when talking about his venture.

Failure, however, is easily defined: According to Bloomberg, 80 percent of small businesses do not make it to the 18-month mark. They are gone.

“Small businesses fail at an alarming rate,” Fouts says, “largely because they are sort of left to their own devices.”

So the Chevron Small Business Program will guide applicants through 10 weeks of noncredit work designed to arm them with a business plan. The pilot session this fall will consist of a weekly meeting on campus along with one-on-one mentoring from an alumni partner assigned to each small business starter.

Fouts envisions that the mentoring will go beyond the program to guide participants through at least the challenging first year in business, when the newly accredited professional faces the most difficulty.

New lawyers in particular face a big challenge in today’s economy: If they don’t create their own jobs, there aren’t likely to be any jobs out there for them. With the demand for lawyers so low, those new to the field will need to create their own practices.

“We’re also getting requests from other students,” Fouts says. “They go through their program and get ready to graduate, but they don’t know how to build a business.”

The curriculum will be customized to fit the needs of the applicants, but Fouts emphasizes that this is not an incubator for the next tech startup.

The Chevron Small Business Program is a whole different business, a whole different financial structure, a whole different incentive.

“Small businesses fail at an alarming rate, largely because they are left to their own devices.”
Dean Paul Fouts,
Ageno School of Business

“It’s just a whole different universe,” says the business dean. “Startup people don’t really want to run their companies, they just want to get them to a point where they can turn them. But a small business is something that will grow, that will sustain the owner and the people that he hires.

“This is really the bedrock on which the economy is founded.”

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