Focus on the Future. Making Connections, Area agencies offer many ways to help entrepreneurs tap into local resourcesNov 10, 2021 10:46AM ● By John C. Stevenson
An interconnected ecosystem that permeates the state’s 10 northwestern counties and beyond stands ready to help budding entrepreneurs connect with the wide array of resources they need to turn their good ideas into success stories.
The business ecosystem comprises private nonprofits, local, regional and statewide government agencies, area colleges, universities and technical schools, and a host of others, all working together to support both new and existing businesses in the region.
Some of the participants, like Piedmont Technical College, are well known. Others, such as Start:ME or the Women’s Business Center, might not be as familiar. But all share a common goal: to help entrepreneurs make the necessary connections to ensure every possibility of success.
Seasoned businesswoman helps others
Katrina Meeks knows what it takes to get a new business off the ground. The Greenville native has owned three businesses herself, including a shuttle service that provided ground transportation for Delta Airlines, and a staffing agency that topped $1 million in sales within its first three years.
Now, as the area manager and business consultant for the Spartanburg Area Small Business Development Center, Meeks works to help others find business success.
“I think the Upstate region of South Carolina offers a lot of resources to entrepreneurs and their startups, as well as during their growth stages,” Meeks said in a recent telephone interview. “At the SBDC, we provide assistance to a business no matter what stage they’re in. All the way from cradle to success, we’re here for our businesses in South Carolina.”
The Small Business Development Center has offices throughout the Palmetto State, Meeks said, and offers a wide range of helpful services. Among those, the SBDC can help businesses identify and compete for government contracts, provides specialized consulting for manufacturers, and offers a Technology Commercialization Program to help take entrepreneurs’ ideas from concept to production to market.
According to its website, over the past five years the S.C. SBDC has helped more than 31,400 Palmetto State entrepreneurs create or retain more than 8,900 jobs, participated in the startup of 900 ventures; and secured more than $167 million in government contracts.
The Spartanburg office also partners with both Clemson University and the federal Small Business Administration to provide additional resources, Meeks said. Indeed, she pointed to a wide range of resources with which entrepreneurs can connect to help drive their success.
“There are other offices and other resources in South Carolina, as well,” she explained. “South Carolina has a great Women’s Business Center, a wonderful Department of Commerce; there’s the Department of Agriculture for those in the agricultural world, the SC Manufacturing Extension Partnership for manufacturing. So there are a lot of resources available to anyone in South Carolina who is looking for help.
“We have some wonderful partners and some wonderful sponsors, and I am so thankful for them,” she added. “It’s a great ecosystem to grow a business here in South Carolina.”
Greenwood: An “exciting” place for business
Another innovative organization that works to help entrepreneurs can be found in Greenwood County. VisionGreenwood might not be familiar to everyone yet, but it is a “newly rebranded community partner” that evolved from the Foundation for a Greater Greenwood County Inc., according to Kay Self, executive director of VisionGreenwood. Self said the organization “has invested more than $2.9 million into the community by supporting initiatives that provide economic prosperity and enhance the growth and success of Greenwood.”
Among its offerings in support of entrepreneurs, VisionGreenwood has joined with two other groups, Uptown Greenwood and the Greenwood Area Small Business Center, to create the Greenwood chapter of The Brew program that gives entrepreneurs a chance to present their businesses – or business plans – with a group that can then ask questions and give feedback. The Brew program is also offered in Spartanburg, Greenville, Greer and Anderson, according to the VisionGreenwood website.
While Greenwood might not be as recognizable to entrepreneurs outside of South Carolina as the other “Green” city to the north – Greenville – the smaller city nonetheless provides a plethora of opportunities and support for those looking to found businesses.
Greenwood has become especially known for its links to the life sciences.
“Greenwood is home to world-class companies and research partnerships that are revolutionizing the life science industry on a global scale,” Self said. “The Greenwood Genetic Center, together with the Clemson University Center for Human Genetics, is among the greatest strengths and most unique assets in our community – and the state. VisionGreenwood proudly supports the ongoing development of the Greenwood Genetic Center Partnership Campus through laser-focused initiatives that help the S.C. life sciences industry continue to flourish.”
Barbara Heegan, president and CEO of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, said the city has a long history of businesses working cooperatively, which she opined can be critical to a startup’s success.
“I think we have a very pro-business climate for entrepreneurs,” she said, “in the sense that there are tremendous resources of successful businesses that are already well established; many family-owned, generational businesses here in Greenwood which give a strong foundation of the blocks for building a network of these wonderful business owners to share best practices and their experiences that help other entrepreneurs learn how to build their businesses.”
She also noted the chamber’s own 107-year history of working for businesses by “offering numerous seminars, connecting the businesses, celebrating the businesses’ successes, advocating for them.”
Resources are growing
As awareness of the Upstate and the rest of South Carolina grows nationally and globally, more programs are becoming available to help prospective entrepreneurs become connected to a wide range of resources.
One such recent addition is the CommunityWorks Women’s Business Center, which opened in September 2020. The SBA-funded agency was the first WBC to open in South Carolina, and has since been joined by WBC offices in North Charleston and Columbia.
Since it opened, the Greenville WBC has served 355 clients and has helped more than 50 business owners receive access to capital, according to Ana Parra, program director for the Upstate WBC.
Parra said the agency works to empower entrepreneurs, and doesn’t limit its services to women.
“We specifically target women, but we work with men as well,” Parra explained. “We are open to anyone, but in designing our programming we think of the challenges women face when it comes to launching a business, growing a business, and just what they might face in all phases of keeping their businesses sustainable.”
Entrepreneurs connect with the WBC through one-on-one training and counseling that helps the entrepreneur lay the foundation for success.
“We work with a business owner who may come to us needing help with a business plan and we work with them to develop that plan,” Parra said. “We work with people who have a business idea, and kind of coach them on how to build both a plan and a checklist of making that idea a reality and opening a business.”
WBC offers a variety of additional tools, including webinars and educational training, such as a recent 10-week class on microentrepreneur training that Parra said provided a primer on starting a business.
“Through these trainings and one-on-ones and coaching, we are trying to equip people with the tools they need that sometimes are not available to them,” she said. “The access is not there – specifically for women of color – and we are trying to equip them to not just open a business, but to successfully open a business and maintain a business.”
A local resource for funding
The Greenville WBC is a program of CommunityWorks, which offers additional resources to the WBC clients, including financial coaching and – critically – access to capital through various means such as small-business loans.
“Our goal here as it relates to entrepreneurs and small businesses is to one, help businesses get the financial acumen and the skills necessary to be a successful business owner,” said Tammie Hoy Hawkins, CEO of CommunityWorks. “And we’re also getting them prepared for that capital or the credit they need.”
Hoy Hawkins said CommunityWorks can provide loans as small as $5,000 to businesses that need just a small amount of startup capital, “all the way up to $250,000” for a business that needs capital for transformational growth.
“In many cases people come to us because they have gone to a traditional bank or they are trying to get that startup capital and they have not been successful, maybe with a traditional lender, and in many cases we work very closely with banks,” Hoy Hawkins said. “Banks refer them to us as a possible source to get that financing they might need.”
She added: “If we’re not able to do the financing – because of maybe the challenges around credit – then we have people on staff who are financial coaches to help people rebuild their credit or build credit, helping them on that journey to having successful businesses, and also to be successful borrowers.”