Inclusive economic growth through a stronger small business ecosystem.

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Steve Waters is a social entrepreneur and advocate for small businesses in distressed communities. An expert on small business ecosystem dynamics and open-source intelligence (OSINT), he is the Founder & CEO of SMB Intelligence, a mission-driven market intelligence firm based in NYC.
Through SMB Intelligence, Waters has worked to strengthen the small business ecosystem, by enabling government, nonprofit, investor and corporate clients to more effectively deliver growth solutions to small business owners, and identify where those solutions can have the largest economic and social impact.
As a thought leader Waters developed the Prime Growth Framework, a powerful new perspective on the small business sector that uses growth-based classification rather than traditional small business segmentation.
Prime Growth is currently in use by North America’s largest economic development agencies including Empire State Development, the California Governor’s Office and the DC Mayor’s Office, as well as Fortune 500 companies, innovative private equity and venture capital firms, and high-impact nonprofits. The framework has also been used to support research by economists at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and by students at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Waters is a member of the national Opportunity Zones Coalition led by Economic Innovation Group, and a member of the Fund for Our Economic Future. He also serves on the Advisory Council for Impacct Brooklyn, a community development organization founded in 1946, and is actively involved in supporting the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. He brings over two decades of deep experience in the small business ecosystem: as a business owner, as a B2B supplier, and now working with the organizations that support owners.



“Prime Growth is a growth-based classification standard created (by SMB Intelligence) to identify the small businesses currently most likely to experience substantial growth and create new jobs.”
– Harvard’s Data-Smart City Solutions




Jan. 12, 2019

Waters Joins the Advisory Council of Impacct Brooklyn

Founded in 1964, IMPACCT Brooklyn is a community development organization committed to helping residents build and sustain flourishing communities.

Dec. 27, 2018

Opportunity Zones Coalition Letter Submitted to US Treasury

SMB Intelligence was a signatory on the Opportunity Zones Coalition’s comment letter on the proposed regulations, submitted to the Treasury.

Nov. 5, 2018

Waters Featured in Harvard’s Data-Smart City Solutions

Waters and Prime Growth Classification are featured in an excellent article on geospatial data from the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Sept. 20, 2018

Federal Reserve Requests Access to the Prime Growth Briefing

SMB Intelligence agrees to provide access to the Prime Growth Briefing to economists at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors to support research into firm creation and Opportunity Zones.

Sept. 10, 2018

SMB Intelligence Admitted to the National Opportunity Zones Coalition

The Opportunity Zones Coalition is a group of organizations, led by Economic Innovation Group, working together with a broad array of public and private stakeholders to ensure the timely and effective implementation of the new Opportunity Zones policy.

Aug. 12, 2018

Waters Endorses the Small Business Borrower’s Bill of Rights

Waters endorses the Small Business Borrower’s Bill of Rights, an initiative of FIELD at the Aspen Institute to promote transparent and ethical lending practices.



Access Ventures
California Governor’s Office
CanWest Global
City of Vancouver
DC Mayor’s Office

Empire State Development
Fund For Our Economic Future
Jain Family Institute
Molson Coors

Pacific National Exhibition
Red Bull
Waste Management
WeWork Labs
Whistler Blackcomb


Guiding Principles

“Income inequality is the greatest challenge of our generation, destabilizing society, increasing political polarization and hindering economic growth1. Business can play a role reducing this inequality, and I believe that inclusive economic growth can be advanced by strengthening the small business ecosystem.
Small business is crucial to both the economic and social well-being of communities, providing half of private sector jobs2, retaining wealth in local communities at twice the rate of national chains3, helping to reduce the geographic4, gender5 and racial6 wealth gap, and providing local character that makes communities unique7.
The small business ecosystem is the network of organizations that provide the solutions businesses need to startup, survive and expand. When growth-motivated owners can access a strong ecosystem and utilize the right solutions, they are twice as likely to grow and create new jobs8.
Unfortunately there is often a disconnect in the ecosystem. It can be a struggle for growth-motivated owners to access the solutions they need at the right time9, particularly those in distressed communities10 and with underserved owners11. Solution providers are challenged to navigate a massive sector where the vast majority of small businesses do not experience substantial growth12 (or even want to)13, do not create new jobs14, and are not likely to be receptive to new solutions15.
It is a fraction of small businesses – new & high growth firms, that are responsible for almost three quarters of new job creation16, and are also the most likely to be receptive to new solutions17. I refer to these new & high growth small businesses as prime growth firms.
Through the Prime Growth Framework I provide government, nonprofits, investors and ethical suppliers with a powerful new perspective: the ability to identify prime growth firms, understand their current growth priorities, and determine which are in distressed / overlooked communities and have underserved owners.
By enabling solution providers to focus their efforts towards new & high growth firms, prioritize distressed communities and underserved owners, and deliver growth solutions that are relevant to current growth priorities, we can advance economic growth that benefits all segments of society.”
– Steve Waters



1. International Monetary Fund. “Causes and Consquences of Income Inequality: A Global Perspective”, June 2015. Available online

2. Small Business Administration. “Frequently Asked Questions About Small Business”, August 2017. Available online

3. Civic Economics. “Indie Impact Study Series”, 2012. Available online

4. Economic Innovation Group, “2017 Distressed Communities Index”. Available online.

5. Brookings Institute Hamilton Project, “Minority and Women Entrepreneurs: Building Capital, Networks, and Skills”, March 2015. Available online.

6. Klein, Joyce A. “Bridging the Divide: How Business Ownership Can Help Close the Racial Wealth Gap”, Aspen Institute, January 2017. Available online.

7. Tolbert II, Charles M. “Small, local and loyal: How firm attributes affect workers’ organizational commitment”, Baylor University, October 2014. Available online

8. Goldman Sachs. “Progress Report on Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses: Fourth Edition”, 2018. Available online

9. 81% of owners haven’t worked with local government-funded small business resources eg. chamber of commerce, SCORE, SBA etc.
Fifth Third Bank. “National Small Business Survey”, April 2016. Available online. It is difficult for wiling lenders to find qualified borrowers, and vice versa. Mills, Karen Gordon and Brayden McCarthy. “The State of Small Business Lending: Innovation and Technology and the Implications For Regulations”, Harvard Business School Working Paper 17-042, 2016. Available online. Only 25% of owners seek advice from community leaders, 12% from financial advisors and suppliers, and 8% from incubators / accelerators. UPS and Business Insider. “2016 State of Small Business”, 2016. Available online. While online lenders and CDFI’s have the highest credit approval rate and large banks have the lowest, owners are twice as likely to have applied to a large bank (48%) than an online lender (24%), and are ten times more likely to have applied to a large bank than to a CDFI (5%). Federal Reserve Bank. “2017 Small Business Credit Survey – Report on Employer Firms”, 2017. Available online.

10. Kugler, Maurice and Marios Michaelides, Neha Nanda, Cassandra Agbayani, “Entrepreneurship in Low-Income Areas”, page 1, IMPAQ International LLC for Small Business Administration, September 2017. Available online

11. Brookings Institute Hamilton Project, “Minority and Women Entrepreneurs: Building Capital, Networks, and Skills”, March 2015. Available online.

12. Approximately 80% of small businesses do not grow at all, even over a relatively long period. Most surviving small businesses do not grow by any substantial margin – most start small and stay small. Pugsley, Benjamin Wild and Erik Hurst. “What Do Small Businesses Do?”, Brookings Papers On Economic Activity, Fall 2011. Available online

13. Only 24% of owners report wanting their firm to be “as large as possible”, and more than 50% of owners cite lifestyle benefits such as “flexibility over schedule” or “be my own boss” as a primary reason for starting their firm. Pugsley, Benjamin Wild and Erik Hurst. “What Do Small Businesses Do?”, Brookings Papers On Economic Activity, Fall 2011. Available online. Only 33% of owners say their primary goal is to grow. The Hartford. “2015 Small Business Success Study”, 2015. Available online. 50% of owners started their business for non-financial reasons like wanting to be their own boss, tired of working for others, wanting to set their own hours, and the desire to pursue a passion. Only 12% of owners want to grow to staff larger than 50 people. Infusionsoft. “Defining and Achieving Small Business Success”, 2016. Available online. While 88% of owners report “increasing revenues” as their key business goal over the next three years, only 24% report wanting to add an establishment. Shopkeep. “2018 Shopkeep Small Business Pulse”, May 2018. Available online.

14. The overwhelming majority of small firms do not grow by adding employees from year to year or even over three year periods. Approximately 80% of small businesses do not grow at all, even over a relatively long period. Pugsley, Benjamin Wild and Erik Hurst. “What Do Small Businesses Do?”, Brookings Papers On Economic Activity, Fall 2011. Available online. Only 22% of small businesses are planning to hire additional employees in the next 12 months. Bank of America. “Small Business Owner Report”, Spring 2018. Available online. 22% of owners are planning to hire new employees in 2018. TD Bank. “2018 Small Business Survey”, May 2018. Available online. 71% of owners expect savings from the 2017 tax policy changes, however only 14% of those plan to use those savings to hire more employees. Bank of America. “Small Business Owner Report”, Spring 2018. Available online.

15. In a given year for a given category, only 7% of small business owners reported switching their solution provider, and 68% reported never switching. Haque, Naumi. “Small Business Owners Never Switch Suppliers”, CEB, October 28, 2012. Available online. Waters, Steve. “Why the Vast Majority of Small Businesses are Unreceptive to new Solutions”, SMB Intelligence, May 2018. Available online.

16. Startups and high growth firms account for about 70% of firm-level gross job creation in a typical year. Startups account for 20%, and high growth firms for 50%. Decker, Ryan and John Haltiwanger, Ron Jarmin, Javier Miranda. “The Role of Entrepreneurship in US Job Creation and Economic Dynamism”, Journal of Economic Perspectives Vol. 28 No. 3, Summer 2014. Available online.

17. Waters, Steve. “Identifying the Small Businesses Most Receptive to New Solutions”, SMB Intelligence, May 2018. Available online