Small business leaders take Washington by storm at Inaugural Leadership Summit

What happens when you put more than 100 small business owners in a room together to discuss the biggest issues facing small businesses today? That’s what we found out during our inaugural Small Business Leadership Summit, a three-day event of education, collaboration and action that took place May 11-13 in our nation’s capitol.

The event provided a select group of talented small business owners, representing 25 states and an array of business industries, with the chance of a lifetime: actual interaction with policymakers and experts who can help institute the change small businesses need in order to thrive.

The goal was simple: to discuss topline issues impacting our nation’s small businesses. These issues included accessing capital and ensuring small businesses can obtain the credit they need to grow, adapting to new technologies, creating tax policies that spur growth while leveling the playing field for small businesses and critical workforces issues like healthcare, retirement saving, minimum wage and opportunity youth hiring.

During our full-day conference at the National Press Club, small business owners discussed those issues, and many more, during panels, Q&As with issue experts and breakout sessions. They shared personal anecdotes with each other about their own business struggles, like having difficulty acquiring capital or finding skilled workers, and they discussed solutions they’d like to see from lawmakers.

Between those breakout sessions were speeches from a group of Washington superstars. First, attendees heard from Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who discussed workforce issues, innovation and immigration reform. Next, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York discussed the importance of women entrepreneurship and educated our attendees on family medical leave policies. Finally, Maria Contreras-Sweet, head of the Small Business Administration, talked about alleviating the process of acquiring capital and creating more opportunities for entrepreneurs to obtain it.

That night, our attendees gathered at Google’s D.C. headquarters for a reception and an awards ceremony that honored some of the best and brightest of the bunch. The following day, Summit attendees headed to the White House where they met with senior members of the Obama Administration to discuss important policy issues impacting small businesses. Some of the officials on-hand included Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Jason Furman, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. It was an unparalleled opportunity for these small business owners to talk shop with high-ranking policymakers inside the walls of the White House.

Following policy presentations at the White House, small business owners participated in a technology training session with experts at Google. With that, our three-day Summit came to a close. Since then, our small business owners have been reflecting on their experiences and all they learned during the event.

“This year’s Summit allowed me a unique opportunity to discuss important issues facing my small business and other entrepreneurs today,” said Harland Henry, President of SunBiz Showcase Alliance in Tampa, Florida. “The Summit was not only invigorating, but informative and engaging. I met so many kindred spirits in the small business advocacy world that I no longer feel like a lonely fish swimming with the sharks. I am extremely proud to have been part of the entire Summit.”

Harland Henry wasn’t the only one who expressed sentiments like these – many of our small business owners took their voices and experiences to social media and created a storm of social conversation using the hashtag #SmallBizLeaders, which was used more than 600 times throughout the Summit and in the days leading up to it. Meanwhile, our own social media posts around the Summit received a whopping 1.5 million audience impressions.

But don’t just take our word for it; let the small business owners speak for themselves! The following Storify illustrates an inside look at our Leadership Summit from the perspective of the small business owners in attendance. Through the power of social media, they captured how awe-inspiring their experiences, and the Summit, truly was.