Not so long ago, if you had a great idea for a business, some personal initiative, and the willingness to work hard, you could usually find accessible dollars and/or investing partners who could set you on your feet and on the path to success. These days, with the economy still lackluster on the heels of the financial meltdown of 2008 and uncertainty going forward (will we or won’t we plummet over the so-called financial cliff?), getting support for your home-based/garage-based business is tougher than ever. The government won’t give you money—seems they don’t want to invest unless your deemed “too big to fail”—and unless you’re a multimillion dollar concern, you’re just small fish to venture capitalists.

In fact, most start-up businesses can’t qualify for a small business loan without showing a history of profit and loss (heavy on the profit) for 2 or 3 years, which coincidently just happens to be that critical time when most small businesses either make it or break it. In other words, lenders do not want to see you come knocking unless they (and you) are reasonably certain your business is going to make it. They’re about as adverse to risk these days as you can get.

So who IS there to support your small, homegrown business? Who IS there looking out for the entrepreneur in this country and keeping him or her alive and well and innovating?

For the last year or so, I have been serving on SPRINGBOARD, a program that offers free hands-on mentoring by business veterans (like me) to up-and-coming innovators and entrepreneurs at various stages of their development. Springboard grew out of the University of California – San Diego’s CONNECT program, which was founded in 2005 and since has been recognized as a model for entrepreneurial learning, business creation, and development by the New York Times and Entrepreneur Magazine. CONNECT has gone on to found Wireless Life Sciences Alliance (2005), CleanTECH San Diego (2008), and San Diego Sport Innovators (2009), now headed by NBA great Bill Walton.

CONNECT, and specifically its lead program, Springboard, is an opportunity for me to give back to an area that’s near and dear. After all, my career and success has grown (and continues to grow) out of the ranks of the entrepreneur and small business innovation. There’s no business playground in which I’d rather be playing!

Through Springboard, innovative companies in Southern California gain feedback and insight on their business ideas from industry veterans—people who have been there and done it—as well as receive discounts to more than 60 entrepreneur education programs and access to major networking events attended by hundreds of industry leaders throughout the year.

What’s more, Springboard mentors can help start-ups get to a stage of business development where they become more attractive to Angel Investors (investors who work with businesses with revenues/valuations less than $1 million) . . . and that’s a most worthy goal. Angel investors always have their eyes and ears open, hoping to find that next big thing, that next “can’t miss” business idea, and Springboard gives many entrepreneurs a fighting chance to get noticed, a chance that they otherwise might not have. (For more on Springboard, visit the CONNECT Web site at

Just think of the jumpstart to our economy if just a fraction of all those “great ideas” that entrepreneurs and small business owners have actually were to become viable, thriving businesses. What might the economic outlook for California and the USA be then? Might consumer confidence soar? Might we all rest easy once again, confident that as long as we were willing to work hard and with integrity, there would be jobs for us?

Programs like Springboard, incubator Web sites such as those where small-time investors can donate $10, $20, $100 to an innovator (every bit adds up!), and Angel investors are working around the clock to change this country’s business climate by making capital more available to innovators.

Imagine if we could channel what just one failed Green Energy giant investment by the Federal Government cost us ($500 million) into small business loans/grants of $50,000 each. That amount of money would fund not one start-up business, but 10,000! And even if only 1% of those businesses made it, that’s 100 new, viable small businesses, employing you, your neighbors, and others. Now what if the success rate were 10%? That would be 1,000 new small businesses feeding the economy, generating revenue, and giving everyone a reason to hope.

Call me naïve, but I like those odds. What say you?

How can you help a small business colleague with an idea? How can you help an entrepreneur jumpstart his or her business? How can your business brethren help YOU?

Share your thoughts here.