At South by Southwest, ZenBusiness hosted a talk on entrepreneurship with Billionaire Mark Cuban and U.S. Small Business Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, the highest-ranking Latina in a government office.

Austin-based ZenBusiness, a tech platform that makes it easy for anybody to start and run their own business, has helped form about 500,000 small businesses since its founding in 2015, said Michael Fanuele, ZenBusiness senior vice president, who moderated the discussion.

“Our purpose is unleashing the entrepreneur in everybody,” he said.

To start off, Fanuele asked SBA Administrator Guzman and Cuban about their first entrepreneurship experiences.

Guzman recounted how she grew up as the daughter of a small business owner.

“My dad bought his first veterinary hospital when I was one year old in East Los Angeles and grew it to chain of five veterinary hospitals,” Guzman said.

She spent time in his office and saw firsthand her dad’s passion for serving his customers.

“He worked harder than anybody I knew,” Guzman said.

Her dad also did community vaccination clinics and provided free services to his clients in need, Guzman said. Her dad ingrained in her “this grit and determination to really fulfill whatever it is that I was working on with such passion,” she said.

Guzman turned being seen as an underdog and being underestimated into an advantage. Her mother fought for her to be in gifted and talented programs at school. Her mother fought for her to have a seat at the table.

“It gave me a voice, confidence, and drive to feel that I can expect more,” Guzman said.

In middle school, Cuban was always the kid selling something. In college, he had side hustles, and after that, he joined Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh.

“I got in trouble because I saw an article in a magazine, and I clipped it and sent it to the CEO of the bank, and my boss and his boss and his boss did not like that, so you know, so I was the person that was always stepping out, so I knew at some point that I was going to have to work for myself it was just a question of when I would get there,” Cuban said.

Fanuele asked about the bar Cuban owned and ran at Indiana University.

Cuban ran parties at the Motley’s Pub, the hot bar on campus. When it got shut down, he bought it.

“We opened before I was even 21, but one day, they busted us too, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me because otherwise, I’d still be, not that there’s anything wrong, but I’d be running a bar in Bloomington, Indiana,” Cuban said.

After working at Mellon Bank, Cuban moved to Dallas and founded MicroSolutions, which he eventually sold to CompuServe for $6 million. He also co-founded AudioNet, an online streaming service, and sold it to Yahoo for $5.7 billion in stock. Cuban then bought the Dallas Mavericks National Basketball Association team. And since 2011, Cuban has been a “Shark” on ABC’s Shark Tank. And most recently, Cuban launched Cost Plus Drugs, an online pharmacy providing low-cost drugs.

Fanuele asked Cuban and Guzman to name some characteristics that define entrepreneurs.

“For so many entrepreneurs who are starting businesses today, it’s women and people of color. It’s this drive to try to achieve their version of an American dream of business ownership,” Guzman said. “That drive to create prosperity, to build wealth, to try to enter into spaces that they’ve not been able to before, I think that’s a unique thing about what the face of entrepreneurship looks like today.”

Other traits are grit, determination, flexibility, agility, ability to change, resilience, and vision, Guzman said.

Everyone can be an entrepreneur, Cuban said. “We’re all problem solvers.” The hard part is finding what you are innately good at, Cuban said.

 “Once you find something you could be good at, then it’s just a question of fear,” Cuban said.

Entrepreneurs have to cross that line and commit themselves to do it. But it takes a lot to act on it, Cuban said. Daymond John, CEO of FUBU and another Shark investor on Shark Tank, calls it the power of broke, Cuban said.

“One of the defining elements of an entrepreneur is you can’t be afraid to be broke because you will go broke at some point,” Cuban said.

Cuban recounted living with six guys in a 3-bedroom apartment and sleeping on the floor in his early days.

“You know it was nasty, I had my one towel I stole from motel 6,” Cuban said. “It was really disgusting, but it was the best thing ever because you know the power of broke; you got nothing to lose, and you go for it.”

And when your buddies are stepping over you to go to their job, and you’re starting this company, you realize that there’s only one direction to go, and that’s up, and that’s the power of being an entrepreneur, Cuban said.

“And we all have it, but taking that first step and finding the things we’re good at are the challenges,” Cuban said.

And the fear is warranted because half of all businesses fail in the first five years.

The SBA can provide tools and resources so that that fear can be reduced, Guzman said. She said that the SBA has more than 1,600 resource partners nationwide that focus on financial and capital readiness.

And beyond SBA loans, the federal government awards more than $4 billion yearly for research grants through, Guzman said.

“Our growth model is to get you funded and also connect you to the largest buyer in the world, which is the federal marketplace,” Guzman said. It’s a $500 billion marketplace, and at least 1/4 of that is spent with small businesses and innovative startups, she said.  

The government grants are non-dilutive cash which means you don’t have to pay it back, Cuban said.

“When you’re starting a business, sweat equity is the best equity,” Cuban said.