As part of the upcoming National Small Business Week 2022, set for May 1st-7th, the SBA’s Iowa District Office has announced the winners of its 2022 Iowa Small Business Champion of the Year Awards. Read below for more information, or scroll down to view this year's award recipients.
In recognition of the small business community’s contributions to the American economy and society, the President of the United States designates one week each year as National Small Business Week to honor the more than 31 million small businesses in America. Since its establishment in 1963, the highlight of this annual tradition is the presentation of awards which focus on the outstanding contributions of small business owners and champions at the state and national levels. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Iowa District Office has announced the following winners of its 2022 Iowa Small Business Champion of the Year awards.
Iowa SBA Women in Business Champion of the Year
Nancy Mwirotsi, Executive Director, Pursuit of Innovation (Pi515), Des Moines, IA
Nancy Mwirotsi is a leading advocate for underserved markets, including refugees, young women, and people of color, in central Iowa. An immigrant herself, Mwirotsi started the Pursuit of Innovation 515 (Pi515) in 2014 as a small afterschool program in the basement of a local church. The non-profit empowers students from different social and socioeconomic backgrounds to develop technology skills as a way out of poverty.
Mwirotsi previously helped many of the students’ mothers find employment after they arrived in Iowa as refugees. She quickly realized that the students needed purposeful programming while their mothers worked. She built key partnerships with local corporations and business organizations, enabling Pi515 to recruit volunteer mentors and raise the necessary funding to expand programming. The organization has grown from the church basement to co-working spaces and corporate training rooms. More than 100 Pi515 students have graduated from high school and pursued higher education opportunities since its founding. The program opens the door for the students to pursue a wide variety of career and entrepreneurial options, including futures in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
Mwirotsi was among the first community leaders to host a Girls Entrepreneurship Summit, teaching Pi515 students how to turn their interests into successful businesses. The six-week training program exposes high school girls to industry experts and leaders from the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers. Participants access a wide variety of tools and resources to develop business plans and later pitch their ideas to sponsors for potential investment.
Mwirotsi was nominated by Kate Howe of Pi515.
Iowa SBA Veterans Small Business Champion of the Year
Tom Harbison, Adel, IA
Throughout his 20-year career with the SBA, Tom Harbison opened the door for many Iowa veterans and military families to start, grow and expand their businesses. As a Vietnam-era veteran, he served as the agency’s veterans representative working closely with veterans’ organizations and other key stakeholders to connect veterans to training, counseling, financing, and government contracting resources.
After retiring as SBA’s Deputy District Director in 2010, Harbison joined SCORE, an SBA resource partner that offers training and counseling services through a network of volunteer small business mentors. He continued his advocacy by volunteering his time to present training modules for the SBA’s Boots to Business: Reboot entrepreneurship program for veterans, their spouses, and other members of the military community.
Harbison not only volunteers his financial and business development expertise to veteran-owned businesses across Iowa, but his own military experience also provides an understanding of the challenges many service members and their families face when transitioning from active duty. His ability to connect them to available small business resources to start, build and grow their small businesses makes him an excellent champion for veteran business owners in Iowa.
Harbison was nominated by Linda Haus of the Des Moines SCORE Chapter.
Iowa SBA Minority Small Business Champion of the Year
Curtis Baugh, Director of the Small Business Solutions Center at the DMACC Evelyn K. Davis Center, Des Moines, IA
Curtis Baugh Director of the Small Business Solutions Center at the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families at DMACC’s Urban Campus. A serial entrepreneur himself, he now dedicates himself to helping underserved markets start and grow their businesses.
During his four-year tenure at the Center, Baugh has worked with over 1,000 individual small businesses, representing primarily immigrant and diverse populations. He provides free, professional one-on-one coaching to small businesses and non-profit organizations, and coordinates training programs on a wide variety of topics. Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic, Baugh advised small businesses on identifying new revenue streams and staying afloat despite the shutdowns and economic disruptions. He also assisted clients in applying for federal, state, and local economic recovery grants and loans to make sure they had access to available funding sources.
Baugh also established and expanded key economic development partnerships to better support the Small Business Solutions Center’s clients. These collaborations include legal partnerships to provide legal support pro-bono, accounting education and resources, as well as traditional and alternative lending partners. Thanks to his advocacy, the SBA now regularly holds office hours at the Center, clients participate in the training program at the Business Growth Accelerator at Drake University, and lenders reach out to the Center to partner on events. Baugh has dedicated his career to helping small business owners, with a special focus on underserved markets and marginalized communities, succeed.
Baugh was nominated by Anna Pena, former Site Coordinator of the DMACC Evelyn K. Davis Center Financial Empowerment Center.
“I can’t think of three better people for the SBA to honor as outstanding advocates of small business,” said Jayne Armstrong, district director of SBA’s Iowa District Office. “Iowa small businesses are lucky to have Nancy Mwirotsi, Tom Harbison and Curtis Baugh championing their cause.”
For more information, visit sba.gov