SBA Nebraska’s April Hibbler: A Global Perspective and a Heart for Minority Small Business Owners
by Leo Adam Biga
Growing up an only child in Memphis, Tennessee, April Hibbler imagined herself engaged in international relations. Once armed with her MBA and a law degree she joined MBAs Without Borders to help businesses in Africa grow, scale, and become part of the international tourism and agriculture economy. After years of supporting entrepreneurs abroad to realize their potential, she now applies her expertise as a U.S. Small Business Administration Nebraska District Office Business Development Specialist. But her wanderlust is never far away.
“I was just born with this innate interest in being connected to the world” – and to be of service, said the lifelong volunteer. She served as a Red Cross candy striper as a teen, winning a volunteer of the year award and eventually serving on the organization’s National Youth Council. As an adult, she’s participated in disaster relief efforts. As a Habitat for Humanity volunteer since college, she’s contributed to home builds in socially and economically disadvantaged communities.
Though her parents divorced when she was young, she was close to both. Neither they nor anyone else close to her was surprised when she turned her childhood curiosity for travel into reality.
‘My family was very supportive of my goal of wanting to do business work internationally. My father said to make sure whatever I do that I stay plugged into the world. He didn’t want me to see myself as a local person but as a world citizen helping to solve some of the world’s problems.”
International economic development work assignments took her to Kenya and Nigeria. Professional and academic studies have led her to Costa Rica, Ghana, Brazil, and China. Her great economic development work with the entrepreneurs in Nigeria under MBAs Without Borders earned her The President’s Volunteer Service Award.
Though April is still passionate about international relations and business; she decided to shelve the international aspect to join SBA Nebraska where she can help a demographic, she feels a kinship with—small business owners, particularly minority small business owners.
“I not only get to help small business owners here, but I get to help them tie their businesses into the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world – the United States government. I love this role because I’m all about creating equity and economic empowerment.”
Other aspects of Nebraska drew Hibbler here as well. “It’s a good place to raise my son and it has a good reputation for business. There are a lot of small businesses here that seem to be receptive to opportunity and it’s easy to help them navigate the process. Additionally, this was a logical agency to work for given my MBA (in International Strategic Management from Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey) and my Bachelor of Business Administration in International Business and Finance from the University of Memphis.
“This job is 50 percent compliance and 50 percent outreach, so it’s a good combination with my law degree (she holds a Juris Doctor (JD) from Southern University Law Center and Master of Laws (LL.M.), in Global Antitrust Law and Economics from George Mason University School of Law) and business expertise. The only thing missing is the international aspect, but there are opportunities in that area, too, since the SBA does have an international trade office.”
She has found motivated small business owners here. “I do feel the small business owners will do the work; they’re just looking for the opportunity. I tell all the small business owners I am not here to play around, I’m here to make an impact. I’m very conscious of the fact people are watching. I want to be not only an example but a resource for them. I tell business owners, ‘I am here to support you and I’ll follow through on what I say, too, because my integrity means everything.’ I try to make myself available to any small business owner that wants to connect. Because I love helping people find their passion and encouraging them.”
It is about paying forward what she’s received. “I didn’t make it here on my own. People helped me and it’s my responsibility to help others. I take that very seriously.”
That is one of the messages she delivers to youth in her business, The Global College Pipeline Initiative (GCP). Hibbler formed GCP a nonprofit in 2017, https://globalcollegepipeline.net/, as an expression of her belief that “travel is the best form of education” and that school can be a catalyst for this experience.
The vision of GCP requires students to do foreign travel and complete college and career prep, social & emotional learning, financial literacy, and global perspectives curriculum in exchange for admission to GCP HBCU partner institutions.
“GCP will groom socially and economically disadvantaged high school kids to become global citizens through their participation in an internationally focused curriculum and travel,” she explained.
“That was the way I was able to do it,” she said. “Even coming from a working-class family, you can experience the world through educational endeavors. After my first year (of college) I started traveling every single summer to a different location. Financial aid and scholarships sometimes helped with that and so did my family. That’s how I began to make the dream come true.
“Then after college, I entered the US Peace Corps which took me to Kenya, then after completing the training the opportunity with MBAs Without Borders presented itself, which connected me to a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded project in Nigeria.
From early on in her career, leadership has been thrust upon her and she’s found herself up to the task.
“When working with MBAs Without Borders and other organizations, I received a work plan and expectations and I had to just go do it. I’ve always had a knack for creativity. In my current role, there’s flexibility which allows me in working with the leadership to be creative in spearheading the way I want to do marketing and outreach to communities I’m working with.”
Employing a collaborative leadership style, she said, “I don’t do micromanaging. I like to recruit and work with experts. I find out what we need to get done and I recruit the experts to get that done. I like to recruit the best, brainstorm, and complete the task.”
Hibbler believes her authenticity and charisma naturally draw people to her. “People quickly take to me and consider me to be very inspirational. I know how to motivate people. I know how to get people aligned with one vision. I try to keep focused on the mission.”
As part of SBA diversity efforts to get more minority business owners into government contracting, she’s collaborating with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and the City of Omaha for Feb. 16, 2023, Small Business Government Contracting Certification Outreach at 5 p.m. at UNO. Hibbler will conduct an 8(a) and HUBZone certification program training.
“I help small business owners get certified to do business with the federal government under our SBA socioeconomic government contracting certification programs. Because these programs are designed to create economic development and equity in socially and economically disadvantaged communities. If we can get these small business owners plugged into government agencies, then that’s real economic empowerment.”
Hibbler arrived in Omaha without the benefit of a meet and greet to get hooked into the community. “There have been influential African American women and men in Omaha that embraced me and helped me break into the small business community by helping me in understanding and navigating things and making introductions.”
Hibbler’s MO is consistent. “I use the same methods wherever I go. I always connect with the community anchors who already have the ear of the small business owners. I say, I’m here, how can I serve your member businesses – will you give me a platform to serve them?”
From the feedback she’s received, small business owners have been receptive to me based on the platform the community anchors have provided me to serve them.
“That’s where I feel I become an asset in this role because small business owners particularly, minority small business owners have been very receptive to me. They have wanted to access more resources with SBA, but I think they didn’t understand how SBA programs truly applied to them and what those programs could offer.
“As a Black American business owner, I have a deep understanding of the challenges small business owners face particularly minority small business owners. Plus, I come from a family of entrepreneurs. That’s all I know. So, when small business owners tell me their business was affected by COVID-19, I understand. Because I also had my business to run, and I had to reach out to the same kind of resources they did.
Small business owners can see that passion in me and that I really do understand what’s going on with them.”
Part of her job is referring some clients to SBA resources partners such as SCORE and the Nebraska Business Development Center. “I refer them to those resources, but I follow up to find out if they a completing the process. I want to make sure they are accomplishing the goals we discussed via the resource’s partners.”
Just as her hometown of Memphis is segregated, so is Omaha, each of their inner cities still reeling from the effects of disinvestment.
“Having had some experience growing up in the inner city I realize that this can bring about a sense of hopelessness and destitution,” she said. “I overcame some of those oppressions because I was very focused. Omaha is highly segregated but the difference I see here is that it seems the city and the state make some reinvestment in the inner city.
“With all my credentials and professional experience, my natural trajectory would have been to go and be a foreign diplomat. However, God directed me to this role to be a diplomat and an advocate for the small business community in Nebraska, where there was a need for a Business Development Specialist. I love the work!
“No matter where I end up one day, I intend to keep alive the relationships I’ve made here.”
If you need assistance from the SBA, please visit https://www.sba.gov/district/nebraska