WASHINGTON – Today the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship passed two important pieces of legislation for small business owners across the country, with a focus on strengthening business ownership opportunities for minorities and women. The legislation reauthorizes and improves the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) and New Market Venture Capital (NMVC) programs through 2010, and boosts key small business counseling and assistance programs. The bills, sponsored by Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee, will ensure more small businesses have access to these key programs.

“Right now, the government isn’t reaching small businesses in the comprehensive way that is needed in our economy,” said Kerry. “It’s our job to expand vital programs and create more economic opportunities in underserved communities by placing them within reach of minority and women entrepreneurs. By increasing venture capital investment in small businesses and ramping up our entrepreneurial development programs, which these two bills do, we are working in a bipartisan way to get all of America’s small businesses the resources they need to create jobs and succeed.”

The Small Business Venture Capital Act (S. 1662) will ensure the continued availability of venture capital for small firms through the SBIC and NMVC programs, promote venture capital investment in rural, urban and low-income areas, simplify the programs’ regulations, increase the amount of funds that can be invested in one business, and encourage new and existing investors to increase their involvement. Kerry helped create the NMVC program in 1999.

Last year, SBIC financing totaling more than $21 billion supported over 2,000 small businesses which employed 286,000 people. Nearly one-third of these businesses were less than two years old. The bill will increase NMVC licenses, bring the program in line with the New Markets Tax Credit, and provide authority for the program to leverage a total of $250 million in low-income community investments.

S. 1671, the entrepreneurial development bill, expands Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Women’s Business Centers (WBCs), and SCORE, among other programs. In particular, the bill creates the Minority Entrepreneurship Program, which Kerry championed last Congress, to target minority students in highly skilled fields such as engineering, manufacturing, science and technology, and guide them towards entrepreneurship as a career option.

The bill also promotes small business economic development in Indian Country by establishing new programs to support Native American entrepreneurship. In addition, the Kerry-Snowe bill will provide regulatory assistance and information about available health care options to small businesses.