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National Small Business Week

How to Build an Institution, Not a Short-Term Business

Senior Entrepreneurship Writer at CNBC
6 min read

Not all businesses are created equal.

If you are looking to build a business that stands the test of time, then you need to be strategic, determined and patient, says Maria Contreras-Sweet, the newest head of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Prior to coming to the helm of the U.S. small-business organization, Contreras-Sweet held a bevy of executive roles and was an entrepreneur herself. She launched ProAmerica Bank in Los Angeles, the first Hispanic community bank to open in California in more than three decades.

For want-to-be business owners, “it is really important to be in an emerging field. You don’t want to be in a dinosaur industry that is going out,” Contreras-Sweet told at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce during National Small Business Week last month.

In California, Contreras-Sweet noticed that the Hispanic entrepreneurial community was growing faster than the businesses serving them. “They were very, very interested in having a bank that they could call their own. I didn’t see in Los Angeles law firms that were called ‘Martinez and Gonzales,’ I didn’t see big corporations that were called ‘Contreras,’ and yet, there in that town, 1 in 3 is Hispanic,” she told

In building ProAmerica, Contreras-Sweet said that it was critical to the bank’s survival that she build a strong human and physical infrastructure early on. A bank, in particular, needs to comply with countless regulations and so if she were to take a shortcut in the startup process, said Contreras-Sweet, that would have come back threefold down the road.

Building a strong, sustainable business “is an arduous process, but when you do that right, you are building an institution as opposed to a short term business,” she said.

Watch the video for more from Contreras-Sweet about starting a business that can support far-reaching growth.


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