Each year in May, the U.S. Small Business Administration hosts National Small Business Week, and the federal agency honors outstanding small business owners across the country as part of the event. Past winners of SBA Small Business Week Awards include the owners of Ben and Jerry’s, Chobani, Callaway Golf, Dogfish Head and Tom’s of Maine.
Mubarakah Ibrahim was named the 2019 Connecticut Home-Based Business of the Year. Ibrahim is the owner of Mmm Pies and Gourmet Dessert in New Haven, Connecticut where she sells homemade bean pies to local retailers, including a nearby Whole Foods. A bean pie is a traditional African-American dessert made from mashed navy beans, with a texture similar to sweet potato pie, Ibrahim said.
While the contest doesn’t come with a cash prize, it does mean major bragging rights for businesses that win in their state or at the national level. Continue reading to craft your winning nomination for your own SBA Small Business Week Award.
Ibrahim, a longtime health fitness trainer, started the business in 2016 shortly after making her first bean pie. One afternoon, Ibrahim had a craving for the treat she used to enjoy as a child in Brooklyn, New York, but realized there were no businesses in New Haven that sold bean pies. Ibrahim tweaked recipes she found online until satisfying her craving, sharing her bean pie journey with her social media followers.
“I found there was a demand for it,” she said.
Ibrahim now bakes pies in a rented commercial kitchen, but the business is officially based at her home address. She was nominated for the award by the Women’s Business Development Council in Connecticut; “it made me feel my efforts are paying off,” she said about her win.
What is National Small Business Week?
The SBA has recognized the efforts of entrepreneurs and small business owners for more than 50 years.
During National Small Business Week, the SBA hosts a free two-day virtual conference consisting of online workshops and networking. Business owners can participate in all webinars or choose topics that are of interest.
“National Small Business Week is not only an opportunity for us to recognize small business owners and those who champion the cause, but it’s also a learning opportunity,” SBA Georgia District Director Terri Denison said.
The SBA also hosts a hackathon in partnership with Visa. The event encourages entrepreneurs to spend a weekend brainstorming to solve business challenges. The theme of 2019’s hackathon was disaster relief.
To add a social media component, the SBA facilitates a Twitter chat about starting and growing small businesses. Anyone can join the conversation using the hashtag #SmallBusinessWeek.
National awards are given out at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., while SBA District Offices in each state host their own events to recognize local winners.
Next, we’ll discuss the various awards available to small business owners.
How to win an SBA Small Business Week Award
A number of national honors are awarded to business owners and supporters each year. These include:
- Small Business Person of the Year
- Small Business Exporter of the Year
- Phoenix Award for Small Business Disaster Recovery
- Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery – Public Official
- Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery – Volunteer
- Federal Procurement Award – Small Business Prime Contractor of the Year Award
- Federal Procurement Award – Small Business Subcontractor of the Year Award
- Federal Procurement Award – Dwight D. Eisenhower Award for Excellence
- 8(a) Business Development Program Graduate of the Year Award
- Small Business Development Center Excellence and Innovation Award
- Veterans Business Outreach Center Excellence in Service Award
- Women’s Business Center of the Year Excellence Award
- Jody C. Raskind Lender of the Year
- Small Business Investment Company of the Year
Each award has its own nomination form and requirements. For example, the 8(a) Business Development Program award is given to a business that has participated in the program designed for disadvantaged businesses. You can find the downloadable forms here.
The awards vary slightly at the state level, and some states may have more or fewer categories than others. In Connecticut, where Ibrahim won Home-Based Business of the Year, the available awards are:
- Small Business Person of the Year
- Minority-Owned Business of the Year
- Women-Owned Business of the Year
- Exporter of the Year
- Jeffrey Butland Family Owned Business
- Manufacturer of the Year
- Veteran Owned Business
- Home Based Business
- Women’s Business Center of the Year
In Georgia, the awards are similar, with the addition of awards like Rural-Owned Small Business of the Year, Young Entrepreneur of the Year and Second-Chance Hiring Champion. There are even some given to small business supporters, like Small Business Media Advocate and Women in Business Champion.
“That’s to recognize individuals who may or may not be business owners who support and advocate on behalf of small businesses,” Denison said.
Nominations typically open during late summer or fall, Denison said, although nomination forms for the 2020 awards are not yet available. Eligibility is not limited to businesses that have received financing or other support from the SBA — any business owner could be nominated.
Winners are selected based on the nomination packet that’s submitted, Denison said. In Georgia, a three-person committee reviews each nomination and chooses who best meets the criteria for each award, she said. Small business owners may nominate themselves, but most are nominated by others. A consulting firm, chamber of commerce member, lender or Small Business Development Center that the business owner has worked with are typical nominators, she said.
The Women’s Business Development Council in Connecticut was familiar with Ibrahim’s business because she previously attended WBDC workshops and sought help managing her operation.
“I needed help with the financials more than anything,” Ibrahim said. “I got a lot of benefit from consulting with them.”
Making an impression when working with business consultants, as Ibrahim did, could boost your chances of being nominated for an SBA award, Denison said. Your community impact or personal experience could also increase your odds of winning.
“If the owners have gone through difficulties on their entrepreneurial journey and have managed to overcome them and managed to be successful, that always makes for an interesting story,” Denison said.
Whether you’re nominating yourself or another business owner, the SBA provides these tips for submitting a winning nomination form:
1. Aim to win an award that best suits your business. Rather than going for Business Person of the Year, the SBA’s signature award, you could try your luck in more niche categories, like exporting or disaster recovery.
2. Make sure the entire nomination package is complete. All packages must include a completed background form for the nominee; the nomination form, including information about the business, like address and financial history; and a photo of the nominee. Certain awards may require additional information.
3. Brag about the business. The nomination package should highlight reasons why you’re among the best in your industry and how you plan to further your success.
4. Describe contributions to the community. Explain how you give back to your community, whether it’s through monetary donations or volunteered time.
Ibrahim was aware the WBDC nominated her for an SBA award because they asked her to provide some information for the nomination form, she said. After her local SBA District Office notified her that she won, representatives visited her commercial kitchen to see the business in person, Ibrahim said.
Each SBA District Office hosts its own awards ceremony. The Connecticut SBA District Office recognized Ibrahim and the other award winners during a luncheon in May, while in Georgia, the local SBA office also organizes an annual luncheon to honor award winners, Denison said.
Other national contests
You may want to consider entering your business into additional national contests or award programs, some of which offer prize money. Here are a few to check out:
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Awards: For community-focused businesses with fewer than 250 employees and less than $20 million in gross revenue; $25,000 prize available. The Chamber will name 2019 winners in October.
- FedEx Small Business Grant Contest: Eligible small business must have fewer than 99 employees and at least six months in operation; a grand prize of $50,000 plus $7,500 in FedEx services is available. FedEx will begin accepting applications in early 2020.
- EY Entrepreneur of the Year: Regional programs recognize top local entrepreneurs; national honorees are also named. Nominations for the 2020 Ernst & Young contest open in December.
- Grant programs: Federal and private grant programs offer no-strings-attached funding to qualifying businesses.
Benefits of winning an SBA award
Receiving a National Small Business Week Award from the SBA could increase your company’s visibility. For example, the Georgia SBA District Office sends out a press release each year announcing the winners, which could lead to additional media opportunities, according to Denison.
Attending the awards ceremony could also be a valuable networking opportunity, noted Denison. You could connect with other award winners, as well as members of your local business community. A number of SBA lenders usually attend the luncheon in Georgia, she added.
Ibrahim made useful connections through the SBA committee that selected her for the award. During the visit to her bakery, Ibrahim told the committee about her plans to ship bean pies to customers outside New Haven. However, she couldn’t find a shipping solution that made financial sense for her and for customers.
“They would literally have to pay for $500 worth of pie to make it affordable,” she said. “That’s my biggest dilemma now.”
The SBA committee referred Ibrahim to a company that could ship smaller orders of pies for a less expensive price, Ibrahim said, which wouldn’t have happened if not for the SBA award; she currently ships throughout the state of Connecticut.
“It did connect me with resources and put me on other people’s radar,” she said.
The Home-Based Business of the Year award didn’t come with a monetary prize, but Ibrahim said she felt validated receiving the honor. Although her business has many fans in her community, it’s often challenging to get her bean pies in stores.
“It can be very disappointing when you call and ask someone to carry your product and the answer is ‘no.’ Because the answer hasn’t always been ‘yes,’” she said. “Getting the award gave me the encouragement to keep going.”