New SBA regional director out to help entrepreneurs

Matt Varilek

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Matt Varilek knows from personal experience the importance of helping entrepreneurs turn businesses often started on dining room tables into successful ventures.

In addition to his experiences as an aide to two U.S. Senators from South Dakota and his training in economic development, Varilek said he assisted his wife when she joined in an effort to launch a consulting firm that now operates out of an office.

Along with creating jobs and strengthening the economy, entrepreneurial success offers other benefits. “I wanted my table back,” Varilek joked.

Taking a more serious tone, Varilek said he’s looking forward to a new and far broader role in helping entrepreneurs as the newly appointed director of a U.S. Small Business Administration region that includes Colorado. “I get to help people put their dreams together. Boy, you think about how important a job that is.”

Working out of Denver, Varilek will oversee SBA operations in Region VIII, a nearly 600,000 square mile swath of the West that includes Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Varilek succeeds Daniel Hannaher, a North Dakota businessman who served as regional director between 2009 and 2012.

Before joining the SBA, Varilek served as  economic development director in the office of U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, a Democrat from South Dakota. In that role, Varilek advised Johnson on issues related to entrepreneurship, small businesses and the economy. Varilek also served as an advisor to Tom Daschle, a former U.S. Senator from South Dakota.

In 2012, Varilek campaigned as a Democrat for South Dakota’s single at-large seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, but lost to Republican incumbent Kristi Noem.

Varilek worked in the private sector as director of policy and research for Natsource, a New York-based energy brokerage, and analyzed commodity markets.

He holds a master’s degree in environment and development from the University of Cambridge in England as well as a master’s degree in economic development from the University of Glasgow in Scotland. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Carleton College in Minnesota.

SBA Administrator Karen Mills said Varilek has supported small businesses throughout his public career. “I’m pleased that as Region VIII administrator, he will be able to draw on his strong roots in the region and his wealth of experience to provide small businesses locally with the tools and resources they need to grow and create jobs in their communities.”

Varilek said he considers himself “an addition to a team that’s already running very well.”

Varilek said he expects to spend a lot of his time traveling throughout the region and talking to small business owners. He said he’ll listen to and convey their concerns back to the SBA.

But he also plans to let them know about the various programs and resources the SBA offers, in particular those related to what he calls the three Cs: capital, contracting and counseling. SBA loan guarantees offer small businesses access to capital to start and expand operations. Other programs offer assistance in obtaining contracts and selling goods and services to the U.S. government. In addition, counseling is available through the network of Small Business Development Centers, including the center in Grand Junction.

Small businesses in the region have begun to recover and unemployment rates in the six states have dropped below the national jobless rate, Varilek said. But challenges remain, he added. “We’ve made a lot of progress since the Great Recession, but there’s still a long ways to go.”

The outlook, he said, is one of cautious optimism.

But Varilek knows from personal experience the importance of helping entrepreneurs turn businesses into successful ventures. “I’m thrilled that now I have a chance to join this team and help small business owners succeed.”