Jason marz/Getty Images

Emerging tech is an SBA priority for both internal systems and external assistance

The Small Business Administration is leading the charge to democratize access to emerging technologies — particularly AI — across U.S. companies.

Leadership at the Small Business Administration is ready to modernize its agency operations with upgraded technology, with the help of both Congress and private sector partners to improve the digital infrastructure within small businesses in the U.S.

Speaking during a discussion with the Bipartisan Policy Center, Bailey DeVries, associate administrator for the Small Business Administration's Office of Investment and Innovation, shed light on her agency’s efforts to incorporate more emerging systems into its work.

“The technology innovation cycle only seems to speed up, which is exciting, but it also presents risks and considerations,” she said. “And with that, it requires the need to have good governance, good support with technology systems and to be able to procure technologies that we need to effectively meet the needs of small businesses, and also to not introduce security risks.”

DeVries credited much of the agency’s modernization success thus far — including investments in cybersecurity software to fortify network security — to current SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman. She said Guzman has been integral in helping the SBA secure adequate funding for agency operations and modernization efforts. 

“She was able to move swiftly and understood the needs of our technology modernization and improvements to ensure that we could effectively get funding out the door rapidly for PPP [Paycheck Protection Program loans] to make sure that small businesses did not go under and that we were able to save American jobs,” DeVries said. “So that was a massive investment in technology.”

Cybersecurity was described as a priority area within the SBA, both in terms of securing agency networks and helping small businesses with fewer resources improve their digital security posture. 

“The [cybersecurity] requirements are high, the complexity continues to grow, and so we have to be there, meet them where they are, understand their needs and help them gain access to tools,” DeVries said. 

One initiative DeVries referenced was a public-private partnership between SBA and large companies like Meta, Google and Microsoft to help support smaller companies in the adoption of artificial intelligence. In addition to supplying small companies with advanced technologies, the goal of the program is to ensure that they are adopted and leveraged safely and securely, especially as the agency pivots to improving customer experience.

“As they say, you're either leading change or responding to it,” she said. “So we have to think about ‘how do we lead responsibly?’ How do we lead where it's not just a few making all the decisions, but that we are thinking broadly about the needs of different stakeholders around ‘how do we remove biases?’ ‘How do we ensure that we are collecting truth and fact and using that to make informed decisions?’” 

SBA’s partnerships with other federal entities is also helping spur more connection between the public and private sectors. The agency signed an agreement with the Department of Defense back in March uniting their offices in the Small Business Investment Company Critical Technologies Initiative to advance early-stage tech research by securing the necessary capital. Within this program, AI systems are listed as one of the 14 critical technology areas of focus.

DeVries added that as AI technology systems develop, part of the SBA’s mission is to keep the technology democratized so that it does not evolve into a black box that only a minority of people understand and control.

“What we do not want to see is the technology in the hands of a few making decisions for all. We need to figure out how to democratize these tools broadly and responsibly to benefit communities and different industries,” she said. “I’m really optimistic about the way that the administration broadly is thinking about this and how we are engaging and focused on building trust and responsible development.”