The 10 small-business heroes of the coronavirus pandemic (so far)
Is “hero” too much praise? I don’t think so. These are ten people and organizations that have stepped up during this pandemic and made life a little easier for countless small-business owners around the country. If you’re running a small business, you probably owe them each a “thank you.”
Mark Cuban: Cuban is not a small-business owner, but he spends a great deal of his time on TV’s Shark Tank evaluating small-business owners, so he certainly understands our problems, even in the best of times. That understanding showed from the very outset of the pandemic when, as businesses in Dallas – the home of the basketball team he owns – were shuttered, he announced that any of his employees would be fully reimbursed for eating at local small restaurants. Since then, he’s appeared in Facebook Live discussions and numerous TV interviews championing the cause of small businesses, offering advice, wagging his finger at the banks that have been slow to process stimulus loan applications and generally using his celebrity to ensure that the plight of the country’s struggling small businesses stays in the spotlight.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) and Dr. Anthony Fauci: Cuomo’s press conferences have become, for many of my clients and colleagues, the go-to place to get reliable, factual, no-nonsense information delivered in a professional manner without sniping, arguing, grand-standing, name-calling and finger-pointing. Fauci’s briefings and interviews are equally measured and factual. Both conduct their press conferences like a business meeting, complete with PowerPoints and – at least in the case of Cuomo – data from McKinsey. Many business owners like me who never knew much about Cuomo of Fauci before the pandemic are now reserving time to watch them not just for the objective facts that they provide but also for how they deal with the enormous challenge of saving lives while avoiding economic ruin.
Kabbage: The online lending industry has received lots of well-deserved criticism over the past few years due to their high interest rates. But I have always defended the industry because the main players – such as Kabbage – provide much-needed short-term cash in a very fast way for business owners that know how to smartly (and quickly) deploy it. Now I have another reason to respect Kabbage. That’s because, while the banking industry has done just about all it could to resist loaning stimulus funds to desperate business owners, Kabbage was one of the first alternative platforms to sign up with the Treasury and get loans processed. They’ve since been joined by similar lenders including Lendio, PayPal, Square and Intuit. But Kabbage had the wherewithal to recognize the demand – and the opportunity – and get things going when we needed them the most.
John Krasinski: The former “The Office” star launched his web series Some Good News and provided a smile at the time when we needed him the most. And he hasn’t disappointed. His first episode was a great interview with former cast mate Steve Carrell along with hilarious clips from the show. But, in just his second episode, Krasinski and the original cast of Hamilton reminded everyone of the very best of the human condition with a stunning, online rendering of the opening theme song from the hit Broadway show. There has been a lot of sadness over the past few weeks. But those few minutes reminded us all of what’s good in the world.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell: Without question, our country’s top two economic leaders have both faced an enormous, sudden economic disaster — and have both risen to the task. Of course, the rollout of stimulus funds has been rocky, but did anyone expect that distributing $350 billion to hundreds of thousands of small businesses with only a few days’ notice was going to be easy? The good news is that momentum is gathering, the kinks are being worked out, and Mnuchin is living up to his promise of getting both stimulus and Paycheck Protection checks into the hands of the people who need them the most.
Powell deserves equal credit for immediately recognizing the challenges and unhesitatingly taking actions to ensure that the necessary liquidity needed by both our financial institutions and business community was available in order to keep the economy from falling off a cliff. The confidence generated by both men’s quick actions and calm behavior is, I believe, a significant factor behind the stock market’s recovery. Small-business owners would be facing a much worse economic environment if not for their leadership.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): When you get your Paycheck Protection money there’s one person you should thank, and that’s the senior senator from Florida. Rubio – the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship – was instrumental in crafting the program in a very short time and under much duress. And since then he’s been extremely active in fixing issues behind the scenes and on Twitter, where he’s been updating his followers on the actions being taken to resolve its inevitable problems and voicing concerns when some – like the banking community – did not exactly follow the rules as intended. Of all the 100 members of the U.S. Senate, Rubio is probably the number one champion of small business, and his recent actions are evidence of his commitment.
Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.): Over in the House, the Committee on Small Business chairman Velázquez has also been working hard. She has overseen the committee’s tireless advocating of issues small business are facing, from requesting the FDA to ease restrictions around hand sanitizer so small distillers can aid in their production to keeping a close eye on how the administration is getting funds to small businesses, to actively participating in congressional activities in support of the CARES Act and subsequent stimulus bills. Velasquez has been a long-time member of the committee and knows the problems we face, and her commitment to small business owners in the House rivals Rubio’s in the Senate.
Mark Zuckerberg: While many technology companies have offered “discounts” and “free” license plans that are – in many cases – no more than a ploy to get small businesses to sign up for their products now and pay for them later, Zuckerberg has truly put his money where his mouth is. Soon after the pandemic struck the country, Facebook announced a $100 million fund of cash and advertising credits that is being made available to 30,000 eligible small businesses. Following his lead, other organizations, from JPMorgan Chase to The Opportunity Fund, have created their own, similar funds, to aid small companies. But Facebook recognized the need and jumped in first. Say what you want about the controversial CEO, but you can’t argue with his actions.
I don’t know when the pandemic will end. But I do know this: There’s still months of struggles ahead for the millions of small businesses in this country. But our lives have been made a little bit easier thanks to these the heroes of the pandemic.
Gene Marks is founder of The Marks Group, a small-business consulting firm. He frequently appears on CNBC, Fox Business and MSNBC.