As a small business owner of a bootstrap-funded company, I have experienced first-hand the struggles that come with managing cash flow, meeting payroll and engaging in banking discussions that simply leave me shaking my head.
Adding to my frustration are the daily headlines that tell me what the Small Business Administration can do for me, how its loans will accelerate my growth and spur the economy. And yet when I research how I can access these loans or call my bank, I find the qualification considerations are not so applicable to a startup.
So when I read about Solyndra’s $500 million loan failure, I don’t think about why it failed — I ask how did it obtain the loan in the first place? I can’t seem to get a $5,000 loan — let alone $500 million.
I’m told I need to show at minimum three years of top line revenue and profit growth of 20 to 30 percent. I have talked with SBA “mentors” — women-owned business advocates — and read more than I have time for to make sure I’m not missing something in the fine print.
This leaves me thinking, whom did Solyndra know? I understand company officials had the sexy solar product that fit in nicely with the Obama campaign promise of new energy. But still, $500 million with virtually no proof points of success?
I’ve read its term sheet (or at least the parts that were made public) and it included promises to deliver project plans, progress reports and that the proceeds of the loan “shall at no time exceed 73 [percent] of the eligible base project costs.”
Not only do I struggle to understand how Solyndra officials obtained the loan to begin with, I now wonder who was responsible from the Federal Financing Bank (FFB) to oversee the loan terms. I was hoping the FFB was my answer to accessing a pot of gold without the headaches of accountability, so I went to visit its Web site.
Unfortunately, I found little to no information available that was actually meaningful, valuable or helpful and some of the links were no longer valid. I did find this statement, “Today the FFB has statutory authority to purchase any obligation issued, sold, or guaranteed by a federal agency to ensure that fully guaranteed obligations are financed efficiently.”
I’m not exactly sure what this means but when I read, “fully guaranteed” and “financed efficiently,” I’m thinking the agency should have some say as to why the Solyndra investment failed.
At the end of the day, I’m a huge supporter of providing loans to small business and simply wish our government and specifically the SBA would make these loans fair and accessible to those who truly need it.
I’m cautiously optimistic that through failures such as Solyndra, our government process will improve.
Lisa Qualls is the chief executive and managing partner of Fresh ID, a creative services and branding firm in Kansas City, Mo.