May 26, 2011

Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith met on Wednesday, May 25 with 14 young entrepreneurs and small business owners in a roundtable discussion as part of the White House’s 100 Youth Strategies for Winning the Future.

See video of the roundtable at the bottom of this page

.“When I look around the room today, I see the future of Multnomah County’s economy,” said Commissioner Smith to the group of local business owners. “We should support creative young entrepreneurs like yourselves because your businesses create jobs and improve our community.”

According to the federal Small Business Administration, small businesses have created 64 percent of all new jobs nationwide in the past 15 years. And in Oregon, small businesses account for nearly 60 percent of private-sector jobs.

The young business owners’ discussion with the commissioner focused on the challenges the entrepreneurs faced in building and maintaining their companies. The forum featured a broad array of local businesses, from food carts and cargo bikes to smart phone apps and home design.

Roundtable participants shared similar experiences of obstacles to building their businesses. Many had trouble financing technical and accounting support and nearly all struggled to find capital to start or expand their businesses. All of the five entrepreneurs who said they had applied for bank loans reported being turned down.

FlavourSpot owner David Stokamer told the group national banks would not loan him money to expand his business from one waffle cart to three.

“To a banker in Iowa, a waffle cart didn’t make sense as a profitable business,” Stokamer said, adding that he eventually secured a loan from a local credit union that understood the viability of food carts in Portland.

After getting turned down for bank loans to start her home design store, JJ de Sousa put $7,000 on her credit card for her Digs Inside and Out business. Although de Sousa has repaid her credit card debt, she wants a bank loan to expand her 750-square-foot store on Northeast Alberta Street to include outdoor space for yard and patio design.

In spite of financing troubles, most of their businesses have weathered the recession and are experiencing growth. Many of the businesses have benefited from creative marketing that draws on the young entrepreneurs’ deep understanding of local culture and social media savvy. 

All but one of the businesses at the roundtable use social media to advertise their products or services. Grove, which produces bamboo cases for iPhones and iPads from a workshop in southeast Portland, has nearly 15,000 fans on Facebook and a very active blog.

Commissioner Smith’s gathering was one of many across the nation. The White House has called for 100 similar forums with young entrepreneurs nationwide this spring. This roundtable was the only one of its kind in Oregon so far. Video from the discussion will be sent to the White House.  

See video of the rountable:


Resources for small businesses: