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Task Force on the Future of SBA

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With the support of partners and stakeholders, the Bipartisan Policy Center has launched the Task Force on the Future of SBA. Small businesses and young companies are vital to the U.S. economy, employing half of the private sector workforce and playing key roles in communities everywhere. They suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many made it through the crisis thanks to the efforts of the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Those efforts by the SBA were unprecedented in size and scope—and by and large implemented effectively. Yet as with other areas of public policy, the COVID experience revealed areas where modernization and adaptation are needed. The SBA has not been officially reauthorized by Congress in two decades, meaning the agency has been continuously asked to shoulder new responsibilities within a legacy architecture.

The purpose of the Task Force is to work with the SBA, members of Congress and their staffs, small businesses and entrepreneurs, and stakeholders across the country to help the agency prepare for a new phase of its existence. Through wide ranging consultations, public dialogue, and private deliberation, members of the Task Force will work toward a set of bipartisan ideas that are actionable and oriented toward supporting the future of small business and entrepreneurship policy.

Read our work on small business
Read the press release

Our Resources

Task Force Co-Chairs

Ann Marie Mehlum

Senior Advisor, FS Vector

Ann Marie is a banking leader with more than 35 years of experience in commercial lending, community banking and federal agency administration.

She is a valued adviser on operating, strategic, and policy issues. As the founding CEO of Summit Bank in Oregon, she successfully steered the firm through the 2008 financial crisis and currently serves on its Board of Directors. As a banker, she was involved with state and national policy making. She served as President of the Oregon Bankers Association, as a member of the FDIC Community Advisory Council and the Treasury CDFI Advisory Board.

In her role as Associate Administrator of Capital Access at the US Small Business Administration, she oversaw SBA programs that provide access to capital for American small businesses and a portfolio that exceeded $100B. She increased access to capital by streamlining the agency’s guarantee process and attracting new lending partners. As a champion of underserved markets, she convened a national roundtable at the White House to address barriers to capital access that impede Black and Hispanic Americans from starting and growing their businesses. This effort resulted in the formation of the Partnership for Lending in Underserved Markets (PLUM), a two-year pilot program which engaged over 300 partners and participants in Baltimore and Los Angeles to advance initiatives for moving capital to underserved small businesses.

In addition to her C-Level corporate roles, she has held a number of board leadership positions at numerous non-profit and economic development organizations. In addition to serving on the Summit Bank Board, Ann Marie currently serves on the board of SmartBiz Loans, a financial/technology firm based in San Francisco, and Beau Delicious International, LLC, dba Cafe Yumm, a mission driven fast casual restaurant chain serving the Pacific Northwest.

In 2015, Ann Marie was inducted into the State of Oregon Bankers Hall of Fame for lifetime contributions to the banking industry. She holds a B.A from Pacific Lutheran University (magna cum laude), which named her Distinguished Alumna in 2016, and an MBA from UC Berkeley.


Pradeep Belur

Former Chief of Staff and Chief Operating Officer at the Small Business Administration (SBA)

Pradeep Belur runs a Cybersecurity Advisory firm based in Northern Virginia focused on helping CEOs incorporate a risk-based holistic approach to managing cyber risks. In his career, Pradeep has served as a trusted advisor to numerous C-level executives and brings very strong planning and execution capabilities. He possesses more than 25 years of experience in strategy, corporate development, technology and general management – with small and large businesses.

More recently, Pradeep served as the Chief of Staff and Chief Operating Officer at the Small Business Administration (SBA). At SBA, he was tasked with driving transformational change across the organization, leveraging the latest technologies and business practices to guide the optimization of the operating model while delivering the scalability required by the SBA of the future. Previously, Pradeep has served in senior executive/consulting roles at Cisco, Sprint, Microsoft, Blue Shield of California, Equinix and other companies. Pradeep holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in engineering. He earned his MBA in finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.


Task Force Members

Awesta Sarkash

Government Affairs Director, Small Business Majority

Awesta Sarkash directs Small Business Majority’s policy and government affairs efforts in our nation’s capital and the Mid-Atlantic region.

Prior to joining Small Business Majority, Awesta served as the Director of Advocacy and Communications at the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED), a nonprofit membership association that supports the community development sector in DC. She was responsible for facilitating the development and execution of CNHED’s budget and policy advocacy strategies across a broad range of community development issues, including workforce development, small business entrepreneurship and neighborhood-based commercial corridors. Prior to joining CNHED, Awesta served as the grassroots and advocacy manager for the American Land Title Association. She also served as assistant director for the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies’ Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute at American University and in Brussels for the European Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute.

Originally from Afghanistan, Awesta grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and received her Master’s in Political Science from American University in Washington, D.C. with a focus on American politics and advocacy.


Chris Pilkerton

Former Cabinet member, Head of the US Small Business Administration (SBA).

Chris Pilkerton is a former Cabinet member and head of the US Small Business Administration (SBA). He currently serves as the Chief Legal and Regulatory Strategy Officer for Accion Opportunity Fund, the nation’s largest non-profit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) concentrating on small busines support for underserved communities. He serves as an Executive-In-Residence at Johns Hopkins University’s Carey School of Business where he and conducts research and practical implementation of programs focused on small business and local economic impact issues.

Previously, Pilkerton served as a White House Senior Policy Advisor and former Acting Administrator of the SBA. He led the Jobs and Economy Pillar of the WH Domestic Policy Council and served as the Executive Director of its Opportunity Now initiative, a government-wide program to support economic empowerment for underserved communities working directly with mayors and governors on local economic initiatives and federal actions such as the Paycheck Protection Program. In his role as SBA Acting Administrator (2019-2020), he served as a member of the President’s Cabinet, advocating across government and the private sector on behalf of America’s 30 million small businesses, including radio and television media appearances (CNBC, Fox Business News). During his time at the SBA, he was also the agency’s General Counsel (2017-2020), overseeing legal operations across all of its financial programs. Prior to his time with the SBA, Pilkerton was a compliance director at JP Morgan Chase, advising both the business and corporate functions on matters related to enterprise compliance risk and regulatory change management. While there, Pilkerton was named one of the “Heroes of the Fortune 500” by Fortune Magazine, in recognition of his efforts in support of orphans in Liberia impacted by ebola.

Pilkerton began his legal career as an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, working as a trial lawyer in both the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor and the Office of Money Laundering and Tax Crimes. He later went on to become Senior Counsel at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, investigating numerous cases related to insider trading and accounting fraud. Pilkerton has since been a partner in two law firms, representing clients in various transactions and regulatory matters, as well as providing general counsel services to early-stage companies and clients in the financial services industry. He has served on the Board of Directors of NASDAQ Futures Exchange and was the Associate Director of the Law and Public Policy Program at the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, where he has also taught a course on enterprise risk management and financial controls.

Pilkerton was a Fulbright Teaching Scholar in Poland and holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. He earned his J.D. from the Catholic University of America, a bachelor’s degree from Fairfield University, and a certificate in data analytics from Cornell University’s College of Business. Pilkerton also serves as Vice-Flotilla Commander and Legal Officer in the US Coast Guard Auxiliary.


Christopher T. Ledesma

Senior Vice President and Strategic Planning Manager, SBA Lending Group

Christopher T. (Chris) Ledesma is a senior vice president at Wells Fargo, a national leader in SBA lending for the past decade. As strategic planning manager for the SBA Lending group, Chris is responsible for overseeing strategic planning, government relations, marketing, technology, and training for Wells Fargo’s SBA Lending division. Chris joined Wells Fargo in 1995 and has more than 25 years of experience in SBA lending, including leadership roles for some of the nation’s largest SBA lenders. Chris has served as a NAGGL board member twice, most recently from 2014 to 2019 with Wells Fargo. Chris works diligently to advocate for the SBA lending industry and small businesses in Washington, D.C. He helped establish and chair NAGGL’s Public Policy Committee where he led the industry on the issue of access to capital for minority business owners. He is a regular speaker at NAGGL on the topic and has participated in other forums, including with the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce and the National Urban League.

Chris resides in West Sacramento, California with his wife and two daughters, and is an active member of his community. He currently serves as a councilmember on the West Sacramento City Council, elected in 2010, where he has been a regional leader on economic development, finance, and transportation. He earned a bachelor’s degree in information communications from California State University, Chico.


Christopher R. Upperman

Manager & Governance Partnerships Team Lead

Mr. Christopher R. Upperman, is a Manager & team Lead in the Governance Organization at Facebook. He heads the Governance Partnerships Team, and contributes cross-functionally for the Strategy & Operations, Public Affairs and Governance pillars, with a focus on Governance structures and collaborative initiatives that tackle societal issues where the company has a unique opportunity to take action. The Governance Partnerships team delivers perspectives that help inform critical leadership decisions, bringing data-driven research to develop new hypotheses about societal issues and combining them with deep policy expertise to derive their implications for Facebook at-large. Most recently in the fall of 2020, Christopher officially served on the Biden Presidential Transition Team under the economic portfolio and focused on establishing the incoming SBA leadership and strategy.

Mr. Upperman is Board Member of Envolve Entrepreneurship (Envolve), and prior to his time at Facebook was the CEO of Envolve—a multinational NGO—that is committed to cultivating entrepreneurial ecosystems through the provision of financial assistance and business support services to diverse and underserved entrepreneurs. The organization is an advocate for SMBs and regularly engages with Members of Congress. Envolve facilitates an annual funding competition that grants startup and working capital among other business support. Under his leadership since 2017, the organization declared 57 grantees and deployed more than $4.8MM in funding through 2019.

Read his full bio.


Dafina Williams

Senior Vice President for Public Policy, Opportunity Finance Network

Dafina Williams is Senior Vice President for Public Policy at the Opportunity Finance Network, a national network of community development financial institutions (CDFIs). She leads the organization’s legislative and regulatory public policy efforts with a focus on federal appropriations lobbying, small business lending and affordable housing. Dafina is the Vice Chair of the Responsible Business Lending Coalition, an association of non-profit and for-profit organizations that promotes responsible small business lending practices. She also serves on the New Markets Tax Credit Advisory Board of Self-Help Ventures Fund, on the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations Community Development Council, and on the Community Advisory Board of the American Fintech Council. Dafina is a magna cum laude graduate of Temple University, where she received a BBA in Economics.


Chris Wheat

Co-President for the JPMorgan Chase Institute

Chris Wheat is the Co-President for the JPMorgan Chase Institute. Prior to joining JPMCI, he served as the Director of Analytics at a financial technology startup, where he led the development of advanced analytics algorithms. He previously was an Assistant Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and at the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at Rutgers Business School. As a faculty member, he taught and researched topics in strategy, entrepreneurship, global microfinance, economic sociology, and social network analysis.

Chris earned a B.S.E. in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University, an M.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University, an M.A. in Sociology from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from Harvard University.


Jessica Johnson-Cope

President, Johnson Security Bureau

I am a business executive who combines experience, communications, and common sense to address my clients’ safety and security challenges. I lead the amazing team at Johnson Security Bureau where for over 50 years our family has protected valuable people, places and property. Every day, highly respected organizations and corporations entrust their most valuable assets to me and my team.


Jody Milanese

Vice President of Government Affairs, National Small Business Association

Jody Milanese is the vice president of government affairs at NSBA. She oversees all advocacy activities of the organization, and has years of expertise in the small-business taxation arena. Jody also heads up all advocacy efforts for the international trade arm of NSBA, the Small Business Exporters Association.


Michele Vervlied

Senior Vice President and Director of SBA Lending, Customers Bank

Michele Vervlied is Senior Vice President and Director of SBA Lending for Customers Bank. Prior to this role, she held the position of Director of SBA Operations for Customers. She has been involved in SBA Lending for over 30 years and began her career at Meridian Bank, where she gained experience as an auditor, credit analyst, and asset- based lender. Prior to joining Customers Bank in September 2015, Vervlied worked for Wells Fargo National Bank and PNC Bank in their SBA Lending Group holding positions of underwriter, business development officer, and sales manager. She is a frequent guest speaker on topics related to small business and SBA lending and is a member of NAGGL’s Technical Issues Committee. She was the 2008 Philadelphia District and State of Pennsylvania’s Financial Services Champion of the Year.

Customers Bank, a subsidiary of Customers Bancorp, Inc., a bank holding company, is a full-service bank with $19.6 billion in assets as of June 30, 2021.


Robert Villarreal

Chief External Affairs Officer

Robert Villarreal is the Chief of External Affairs for the combined companies of CDC Small Business Finance and Capital Impact Partners. Mr. Villarreal is a staunch advocate of getting capital into the hands of all entrepreneurs, particularly those who’ve historically struggled to get affordable loans — including women, minorities and veterans. He has 20-plus years of economic development and non-profit experience, having served a variety of roles in his career. In his current role, his responsibilities include Marketing and Communications, developing grant and capital opportunities, forming strategic partnerships, and leading policy and government affairs. Mr. Villarreal previously led CDC Small Business Finance’s Community Lending Programs. Under his leadership the organization became the No. 1 SBA Community Advantage lender in the nation. Mr. Villarreal serves on several boards and advisory committees. He holds bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Anthropology from University of California, San Diego and a master’s in International Political Studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies.


Ryan Metcalf

Head of U.S. Public Policy and Social Impact for Funding Circle

Ryan is the Head of U.S. Public Policy and Social Impact for Funding Circle, the global online small business financing platform that has helped lend more than $18 billion to over 120,000 businesses. At Funding Circle, Ryan works to ensure government policies and regulations are in the best interests of American small businesses and that Funding Circle has a positive social impact on the communities in which it operates and serves. Previous to Funding Circle, Ryan worked on international trade agreements for the Obama Administration to create new opportunities and higher living standards for families, farmers, manufacturers, workers, consumers, and businesses. Ryan grew up working for his family’s traveling outdoor amusement business and is also a former small business owner himself whose passion is removing regulatory barriers for entrepreneurs and helping them achieve their aspirations.


Tom Pretty

Head, SBA Lending

Tom Pretty is the Head of SBA Lending at TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank®. In this role, he leads a team of Small Business Administration experts who originate and manage the Bank’s SBA portfolio, including SBA Express, 7(a) 504 and USDA loans. Under Tom’s leadership TD has become the #1 SBA lender on the east coast, in units and 504 lending, where the TD team has closed over 10,000 loans since starting in the position. Tom also led the PPP lending program at TD, where TD helped over 130,000 small businesses during the pandemic.

Prior to joining TD in November 2015, Tom worked with GE Capital for 20 years where he led successful teams and developed a track record of growth in SBA & commercial lending.

Tom holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado-Boulder, Leeds School of Business. Tom is Married with 3 active kids, loves watching & playing sports, particularly golf and skiing.


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