Q&A with Pravina Raghavan, SBA New York District Director
As the U.S. Small Business Administration’s newest district director for New York City, Pravina Raghavan, 38, needs to hit the ground running. Big Apple entrepreneurs are struggling for capital and customers—and business starts fell 14% in the third quarter from the year-earlier period. As part of the federal stimulus package, the SBA dropped its application fees in February and increased its guarantee on many loans to 90%. The agency says those initiatives have supported $11.3 billion in lending since March, but with both provisions slated to end this year, many small businesses are waiting for Plan B.
Q: What do you think is the biggest problem facing small businesses today?
A: People should be using a lot more of the resources that are available to them. There’s a lot of money out there. The question is whether you’re looking for the right funding for your business, and sometimes it takes some creativity and ingenuity to figure that out. I also think communities need to get behind their businesses. We’re a big organization; it’s tough for us to go to every small business in every community.
Q: Are there any challenges unique to New York City?
A: We have diversity here that I think is a blessing but can sometimes be an obstacle. It’s a challenge when you have to go and help communities that don’t normally reach out to government, or don’t know what the SBA does because the government [in their native country] didn’t have that.
Q: What do you think the SBA is doing wrong?
A: Getting out what we do. People need to know that the SBA is out there and ready to help, and is a resource, not just some amorphous agency.
Q: What has the SBA done right?
A: The ability to increase the loan guarantee to 90% and cut fees is amazing. Those two elements have really helped banks open up. We’re incentivizing the banks and essentially asking them, ‘How can you turn away loans?’
Q: Are there any plans to extend the stimulus initiatives?
A: They are expected to end soon, but we’re hoping that with their success so far, those programs will continue. Right now we’re in a holding pattern until we get new goals and everybody reviews the success of the program. It may continue, it may not; we’re not sure yet.
Q: Your most recent job was at MTV as a vice president in marketing. Why the switch from MTV?
A: The rest of my background probably makes more sense. I’m a former mergers-and-acquisitions director for AT&T in Europe, a former technology investment banker, and for six years I owned my own small business that did advisory for small businesses in Europe. The one thing I figured I’d like to learn more about was marketing and sales, which is why I took the job with MTV.
Q: If you could start your own small business, what would it be?
A: I think I would go back to what I was doing, which was giving advisory services to technology businesses. I enjoyed that because I was helping businesses grow, which is really what I hope to do with the SBA, just on a much larger scale. Instead of helping one business, I can help thousands.
Q: What will you miss about your old job?
A: I’ll miss having access to events. I just watched the Video Music Awards and thought, ‘That was one well-run event. I kind of wish I was there.’
Q: Out of the 15 countries you’ve lived and worked in, which did you love the most?
A: The most interesting place I’ve ever worked has been Russia. The economy is definitely different than anything else I’ve ever approached. But the place I’ve most loved to live is New Jersey; I’m a Jersey girl.