The U.S. Small Business Administration helps entrepreneurs at every stage of their business cycle, from business education and training to financial assistance.
Long Island's businesses have a new champion at the SBA with the recent appointment of Robert Piechota as branch manager of its Long Island office in Hauppauge, serving Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Piechota, 63, who grew up in Mineola, has served as director of New York City College of Technology’s Small Business Development Center in Brooklyn for the past six years. He also previously ran his own consulting business and is a U.S. Army veteran and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“He is well respected within the SBDC network in New York state,” SBA New York district director Beth Goldberg said.
Piechota recently attended a meet-and-greet in Hauppauge with small-business owners and lenders, and Newsday had a chance to ask some questions.
How would you describe your new role?
Part of my charge is to expand the footprint of business on Long Island. My ultimate goal is to educate more aspiring entrepreneurs and existing businesses about SBA programs and resources.
What will you focus on?
My goal is not necessarily to do more [educational programs] but more targeted, impactful ones. I think my personal orientation is to get people to understand how to do business with the government. I want to get more specific and granular with our programs. For example, if we are going to do a veterans' program, I want to have specific workshops [broken out] in certain trades like information technology and security. I’d also like to create more frequent workshops for non-native English speakers. The SBDCs on Long Island [at Farmingdale State College and Stony Brook University] do a very good job in all programming. Not all of our programming must be done through the SBDC offices. We’ll have the capacity to conduct programs with SBA resources and other resource partners.
Also, there are 11 different federal agencies that will give money away to companies that promote innovation through the SBIR [Small Business Innovation Research] and STTR [Small Business Technology Transfer] programs … The SBA is charged with promoting those programs, but most people don’t know it exists. The money has to go someplace, and I want it to go to Long Island.
What are the biggest challenges Long Island businesses face?
I’m new in the role [on Long Island], but I imagine it’s the same as anywhere else…rising costs of doing business, health care costs going up, and access to capital can be a challenge.
Can you talk about your background and any challenges you have faced in your professional life?
I started in sales at Pfizer and migrated to leadership development and training. I left Pfizer and did leadership consulting working with small businesses from 2000 until 2002. Time management and access to capital were my biggest challenges. When you’re by yourself, you’re planning your next job and following up on your next job all within a 24-hour period. If I had more capital I could have hired someone else to do those day-to-day tasks. Due to military-related medical issues I took a break from entrepreneurship.
How did your military experience prepare you for this role?
I was a military police officer and a foreign area officer for the U.S. Army from 1979 to 1986. I learned soft skills and communication skills. In the military you could use your rank to lead soldiers. That’s great for the short term, but you’re not going to gain trust and loyalty. When you’re a platoon leader…you need to learn how to communicate with all different types of people. [Similarly] every business owner is different. The more you listen to people and try to understand what they need, the more you can deliver value that’s appropriate.
What was your experience at the Brooklyn SBDC?
I started there as a veteran advisor in 2011. People knew I came from the military and were a lot more forthcoming with me with their problems and challenges. I became director two years later. We routinely led all regions in the number of educational programs. We would average about 60 educational programs annually in Brooklyn. On Long Island, I want to be known as the prime mover in the number and quality of programs.
The SBA so far for fiscal year 2019 has guaranteed more than 550 loans, totaling over $154 million, to companies in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Source: U.S. Small Business Administration