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The man standing between your business and $20M

Bral Spight is focused on helping businesses shift out of low gear.

He’s executive director of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses education initiative in Chicago. The program, launched to stimulate economic growth and create jobs, has graduated more than 1,400 entrepreneurs in 14 cities — including 138 in Chicago — since it began in New York in 2010.

More than 60 percent of entrepreneurs who’ve completed the free program boosted their revenues six months after graduating, and nearly half have reported net new jobs, Spight says.

“We look for primary business owners who can commit and are really thinking about growth,” he says. “We help people take their growth aspirations and make them real.”

The program targets stagnant companies 2 years and older that have four or more employees and revenues between $150,000 and $4 million.

Besides heading the program here, Spight, 42, is CEO of UrbanPonics, a sustainable, pesticide-free hydroponic produce grower. He previously worked as a developer with Joseph Freed and Associates and ran his own firm, Sivic Real Estate, which focused on retail and mixed-use development projects in Chicago. He also formerly served as chief of staff with the Public Building Commission of Chicago and holds an MBA from the University of Michigan.

Spight sees common mistakes among stagnant businesses. “In some cases it could be as simple as not understanding leverage and debt and what it can and can’t do, when you should and shouldn’t be using it,” he says. “Human resources is a big one on how to hire, how to fire, how to evaluate talent, how to keep talent.

“The final one is not having metrics, measurements of success that tell you whether you’re winning or losing and using those as a way to tell when you’re in trouble and when you’re not.”

The program starts its next session in Chicago in September and is now accepting applications for its January session. It consists of 100 hours of instruction over 20 weeks at Harold Washington College in a range of business topics and access to $20 million in capital locally — part of $500 million provided for the program nationally.

“What we really pride ourselves on is helping business owners understand how you go from an idea you might have in the shower, how you evaluate it and put process behind it so that it’s a minimal risk opportunity that you can then leverage to grow your business,” Spight says.


For entrepreneurs looking to get unstuck from stagnation and drive growth, Bral Spight advises:

Do

Focus on human resources. “Until you can effectively manage others, you’re always going to be a participant in the business and that’s always going to cap how big you can grow,” he says.

Research lenders before you apply by arranging informational meetings and reading up on the lenders online. “Then you better understand how to make yourself bankable and the criteria required,” he says.

Don’t

Ignore innovation in your business model. “It can have just as much impact as innovation in your product or service,” he says.

Think you’re in this alone. “There are 28 million small business owners in the U.S. Start talking to some of them,” he says. Spight also suggests owners take advantage of free business assistance programs.

Photo by Health Sharp