GREENSBORO — Across the nation, small business startups are booming, with the highest rates among women, especially women of color, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Against that backdrop, the agency recently announced Bennett College will be the location for a new U.S. Small Business Administration Women’s Business Center, the only one of its kind in Greensboro. Bennett is one of two historically black women’s colleges operating in the United States.
Bennett is partnering with the National Institute of Minority Economic Development Inc., which suggested and applied for the opportunity. The institute will operate the center, Bennett will host it on its campus, and the SBA will give money to help the launch.
The center is expected to help women in Greensboro and the surrounding areas with tasks like developing business plans, marketing, managing finances and accessing loans, grants and investments. It is one of five new proposed centers from across the country that won endorsement and funding from the SBA in late May.
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Laura Colson, Bennett’s vice president of academic affairs, said one of the college’s hopes is that the center will help entrepreneurs in the neighborhoods around Bennett College, and they will in turn bring further economic and social benefits to the community.
“What we do on our campus impacts our village,” she said.
The institute is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Durham, founded in 1986 by Bennett alumna Andrea Harris, who died in 2020. Among many other endeavors, it runs Women’s Business Centers in Durham, Richmond, and Charlotte.
John Ham, the director of the institute’s center for professional services in Charlotte, said that Bennett has a dynamic business department and his organization hopes to use campus instructors to provide some of the training for businesses. They also hope to have Bennett students attend trainings as well, since some are already developing their own business ideas and startups. As the businesses they help begin to grow, Ham said the center looks to ensure they connect with contracts and opportunities in the area.
Tentatively, they are looking to get staff on board by July with the potential to open in the fall. He expects they will eventually hire two or three staff members for the center. Ham said that in the past the SBA has provided something like $150,000 in startup money for a new center on a college campus, but the agency hasn’t specified the total amount for this project yet.
The institute will also provide funds for the project, Ham said. He said the organization has a long track record of raising money to pay for its Women’s Business Centers, in addition to what the SBA provides.
The SBA has Women’s Business Centers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, and in May, launched its 141st in Anchorage, Alaska. Ham said this will be the first on the campus of a women’s college.
Until the center at Bennett opens, the closest SBA Women’s Business Center is in Winston-Salem. That center, at Winston-Salem State University, opened just last summer, in August.
Joy Lough, the director and only staff member of WSSU’s center, said much of her days are spent in appointments offering one-on-one advice and assistance to entrepreneurs. Most are from Winston-Salem, she said, but she’s also had requests for assistance from Greensboro and some other cities.
“If you need the help, the goal is to get you the help that you need,” she said.
Today, women own nearly 40% of businesses in the U.S., according to the National Association of Women Business Owners, but continue to face obstacles to growth and profitability.
“When you look at small business loans and things of that nature, women and women of color are the ones who have struggled the most to receive those types of funds for their businesses,” Colson said.
Lough said there are some grants and assistance opportunities that are specifically for women, and women’s business centers have expertise in connecting their clients to those opportunities. She said she also has seen women benefit from talking through their business ideas with one another in a group she set up.
Lough said that, historically, many women have faced expectations of covering household duties, and even today, women often do a lot for their homes and families.
She looks to celebrate and encourage women who start their own businesses, contribute to the economy, and even grow their own empires, while also pursuing and enjoying other roles and relationships in life, such as a partner, parent or friend.
“It’s more of helping to empower women, to let them know they can do it, and to let them know that there is support for them,” she said.
Similarly, she said, the Small Business Administration women’s centers provide support to one another.
“We are one happy family,” she said, “and we are here to help each other and to help the businesses.”
Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.