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Monday, June 11, 2012

SBA Small Business Investment Company Program

Robert Jay Dilger
Senior Specialist in American National Government

The Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) Program is designed to enhance small business access to venture capital by stimulating and supplementing “the flow of private equity capital and long term loan funds which small business concerns need for the sound financing of their business operations and for their growth, expansion, and modernization, and which are not available in adequate supply.” Facilitating the flow of capital to small businesses to stimulate the national economy was, and remains, the SBIC program’s primary objective.

At the end of FY2011, there were 299 privately owned and managed SBICs licensed by the SBA participating in the SBIC program, providing financing to small businesses with private capital the SBIC has raised (called regulatory capital) and with funds the SBIC borrows at favorable rates (called leverage) because the SBA guarantees the debenture (loan obligation). SBICs pursue investments in a broad range of industries, geographic areas, and stages of investment. Some SBICs specialize in a particular field or industry, while others invest more generally. Most SBICs concentrate on a particular stage of investment (i.e., startup, expansion, or turnaround) and geographic area.

The SBA is authorized to provide up to $3 billion in leverage to SBICs annually. The SBIC program has invested or committed about $17.1 billion in small businesses, with the SBA’s share of capital at risk about $8.3 billion. In FY2011, the SBA guaranteed $1.8 billion in SBIC small business investments, and SBICs provided another $1.0 billion in investments from private capital, for a total of more than $2.8 billion in financing for 1,339 small businesses.

Some Members of Congress and small business advocates have argued that the SBIC program should be expanded as a means to stimulate economic activity, create jobs, and assist in the national economic recovery. For example, S. 2136, a bill to increase the maximum amount of leverage permitted under title III of the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, would increase the program’s authorization to $4 billion from $3 billion. Others worry about the potential risk an expanded SBIC program has for increasing the federal deficit. In their view, the best means to assist small business, promote economic growth, and create jobs is to reduce business taxes and exercise federal fiscal restraint.

Some Members and small business advocates have also proposed that the program target additional assistance to startup and early stage small businesses, which are generally viewed as relatively risky investments but also as having a relatively high potential for job creation. The SBA, in an effort to target additional assistance to newer businesses, recently established, as part of the Administration’s Startup America Initiative, a $1 billion early stage debenture SBIC initiative (up to $150 million in leverage in FY2012, and up to $200 million in leverage per fiscal year thereafter until the limit is reached). Early stage debenture SBICs are required to invest at least 50% of their investments in early stage small businesses, defined as small businesses that have never achieved positive cash flow from operations in any fiscal year.

This report describes the SBIC program’s structure and operations, including two recent SBA initiatives, one targeting early stage small businesses and one targeting underserved markets. It also examines legislative proposals to increase the leverage available to SBICs (e.g., H.R. 3219, the Small Business Investment Company Modernization Act of 2011) and to increase the SBIC program’s authorization amount to $4 billion.

Date of Report: May 29, 2012
Number of Pages: 40
Order Number: R41456
Price: $29.95

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