Growing America through Entrepreneurship (Project GATE) was an evaluation designed and implemented by the US Department of Labor (DOL) and the US Small Business Administration (SBA). GATE’s objective was to “help emerging entrepreneurs in rural and urban communities achieve the American dream of owning their own business.” The evaluation was designed to capture existing representative training providers and recipients. The treatment phase of the evaluation ran from September 2003 to July 2005 in seven sites that represented both urban and rural areas. Follow-up surveys were mailed 6, 18, and 60 months after random assignment.
Individuals entered the study by completing an application process for a standard offer of free training from 1 of 14 established providers. The application process started with an orientation meeting at 1 of 21 One-Stop Career Centers in the 7 sites. Anyone attending the orientation meeting could then apply by completing and mailing a form with questions on demographics, work and business experience, and the individual’s current business or new business idea. Applicants were informed that “GATE does not have space for everyone” and that a “lottery or random drawing will decide whether you will be able to enter the program.”
Program coordinators randomized applicants to treatment or control with equal probability. Program administrators for each training provider then offered treatment applicants a standard array of free training services, told control applicants that the GATE program did not have the capacity to offer them services, and did not offer control applicants referrals to any other services. Individuals in both treatment and control groups were notified that they would be mailed follow-up surveys. GATE is the largest-ever randomized evaluation of entrepreneurship training and assistance, with 4,197 individuals randomized at baseline.
GATE training providers were chosen with a goal of (not quantitatively determined) representativeness of the subsidized training market. Fourteen organizations from seven different sites participated in the GATE study, with a mix of SBA-funded Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) and nonprofit community-based organizations (CBOs) in both urban and rural locations. The 14 participating providers deliver services in and around Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Duluth, Minnesota; Virginia, Minnesota; Portland, Maine; Lewiston, Maine; and Bangor, Maine. Both types of organizations employ experienced business consultants to deliver one-on-one and group trainings.
99% percent of the treatment group actually received some training during the evaluation horizon, with 81% getting training within 6 months of entering the study. GATE training was customized for the individual from an array of services offered by the provider, as is typical in the subsidized market. Training began with a one-on-one assessment to produce a service plan that typically combined one-on-one services with selected group services. 64% percent of treatment group individuals then received one-on-one counseling/consulting that was customized to the individual’s experience, capabilities, circumstances, and opportunities. 77% percent of the treatment group received classroom/group training(s). These targeted a variety of general and specialized topics at different experience levels. Introductory workshops covered subjects such as legal structure, business plans, and marketing. Intermediate and advanced group trainings covered subjects including managing growth, obtaining financing, legal risks, and personnel issues. More specialized group trainings covered topics such as accounting, information technology, and web-based businesses.