Karen Mills

Senior Fellow

Karen Gordon Mills served in President Barack Obama's cabinet as the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration from 2009 until August 2013.  She is currently a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Business School and at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School focusing on U.S. Competitiveness, entrepreneurship and innovation.

As SBA Administrator and a Cabinet member, Mills served on the President’s National Economic Council and was a key member of the White House economic team.  At the SBA, she led a team of more than 3,000 employees and managed a loan guarantee portfolio of over $100 billion.  Mills is credited with turning around the Agency, streamlining loan programs, shortening turnaround times, and reducing paperwork. These efforts resulted in record-breaking years for SBA lending and investments in growth capital.  In addition, Mills helped small businesses create regional economic clusters, gain access to early stage capital, hire skilled workers, boost exports, and tap into government and commercial supply chains.  

Prior to the SBA, Mills held leadership positions in the private sector, including as a partner in several private equity firms, and served on the boards of Scotts Miracle-Gro and Arrow Electronics.  Most recently, she was president of MMP Group, which invested in businesses in consumer products, food, textiles, and industrial components.  In 2007, Maine Governor John Baldacci appointed Mills to chair Maine’s Council on Competitiveness and the Economy, where she focused on regional development initiatives, including a regional economic cluster with Maine’s boatbuilding industry.   

Mills earned an AB in economics from Harvard University and an MBA from Harvard Business School, where she was a Baker Scholar. Additionally, she is a past vice chair of the Harvard Overseers, and is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Harvard Corporation.

Working Papers

  1. The State of Small Business Lending: Credit Access During the Recovery and How Technology May Change the Game

    Karen G. Mills and Brayden McCarthy

    Small businesses are core to America's economic competitiveness. Not only do they employ half of the nation's private sector workforce—about 120 million people—but since 1995 they have created approximately two-thirds of the net new jobs in our country. Yet in recent years, small businesses have been slow to recover from a recession and credit crisis that hit them especially hard. This lag has prompted the question, "Is there a credit gap in small business lending?"
    This paper compiles and analyzes the current state of access to bank capital for small business from the best available sources. We explore both the cyclical impact of the recession on small business and access to credit, and several structural issues that impede the full recovery of bank credit markets for smaller loans.

    Keywords: Small Business; Financing and Loans; United States;


    Mills, Karen G., and Brayden McCarthy. "The State of Small Business Lending: Credit Access During the Recovery and How Technology May Change the Game." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-004, July 2014. View Details

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. The Grommet

    Lynda Applegate, Karen G. Mills, Lena Goldberg and Annelena Lobb

    The Grommet, an online product launch platform, was at the brink of scaling its business. The Grommet's daily launch and sale of innovative consumer products, using personal videos created by product makers, had led to its initial success. In 2014, the company launched The Grommet Wholesale, a similar platform targeting retailers. Was this the best way to capture more of the value the company created for makers?

    Keywords: entrepreneurship; product launch; retail; Online Technology; Entrepreneurship; Product Launch; Retail Industry;


    Applegate, Lynda, Karen G. Mills, Lena Goldberg, and Annelena Lobb. "The Grommet." Harvard Business School Case 815-070, November 2014. View Details
  2. The Grommet - Video Supplement

    Lynda M. Applegate, Karen Gordon Mills, Lena G. Goldberg and Annelena Lobb

    Keywords: entrepreneurship; e-commerce; product launch; retail; Online Technology; Entrepreneurship; Product Launch; Retail Industry;


    Applegate, Lynda M., Karen Gordon Mills, Lena G. Goldberg, and Annelena Lobb. "The Grommet - Video Supplement." Harvard Business School Video Supplement 815-703, November 2014. View Details