Small businesses less than five years old have created nearly all net new jobs in North Carolina since 1980. A growing number of community economic development organizations hope to capitalize on that trend, offering programs to support the startup and growth of entrepreneurial ventures to create more jobs and economic opportunity in their communities.
Many of North Carolina’s entrepreneurial support services were highlighted this week at the N.C. Entrepreneurship Summit, an annual event hosted by the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center and N.C. Business Resource Alliance, which includes the Small Business Technology Development Center, Small Business Center Network, N.C. Department of Commerce, N.C. Entrepreneurship Center, NC REAL and Good Work. North Carolina’s Eastern Region and will host eastern North Carolina’s first Entrepreneurship Summit Oct. 2.
“The N.C. Entrepreneurship Summit is a policy-oriented event, the mission of which is to create the best state in the nation for entrepreneurs,” said Leslie Scott, director of the Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship at the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center. “We want to make the location of North Carolina be a good place for entrepreneurship.”
The summit, developed in 2006 by a partnership of organizations working to support small business growth, provides entrepreneurs and supporters of entrepreneurship with an opportunity to learn from and connect with other business owners from around North Carolina. The Rural Center is a strong supporter of entrepreneurship in rural counties since those areas have a harder time recruiting outside businesses. Most of the economic growth and job creation in rural communities comes from local small businesses that are expanding.
Scott said that there are three elements that a community has to have in order to support entrepreneurs: a culture that encourages entrepreneurship, access to capital and opportunities for connecting with other business owners.
“If you want to attract and keep entrepreneurs, you have to have a culture that says it’s cool and OK or desirable to be an entrepreneur,” said Scott. “We’re advising our rural partners to find out who their sparkplug entrepreneurs are. The companies that are poised to grow are going to be your job generators. If you help them solve the challenges they’re having, that’s probably where you’ll get your next few jobs. Do that a few at a time and you’ll create a better small business environment.”
- Initiative Capital, Raleigh
- Center for Economic Empowerment and Development (CEED), Fayetteville
CEED’s Women’s Business Center of Fayetteville provides technical assistance and support to women entrepreneurs who are looking to start or expand their small businesses. The center provides startup assistance and education and training in finance, management and marketing. It also offers one-on-one business counseling, business plan assistance and online resources.
- Center for Participatory Change, Asheville
The Center for Participatory Change supports and incubates worker-owned businesses that promote sustainable asset and wealth development for low-income communities. With the help of an Initiative Innovation Fund grant, CPC is providing supports for its current worker-owned businesses to grow, as well as providing startup assistance to a new worker-owned business. CPC focuses on leadership development and helping worker-owned businesses connect with each other for peer learning and support.
One of CPC’s worker-owners, Miriam Arias of Mangoes Mexican Gourmet Co-op, said that starting a new business is worth the risk.
“It’s better to give it a go than to have not tried at all,” said Arias. “It’s a valuable experience, and to ensure success you need to be open to new ideas and investigate tools that you don’t know how to use.”
- EmPOWERment Inc., Chapel Hill
EmPOWERment operates a small business incubator with space for 10 entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. Business owners can rent office space for up to three years at rates that are low for the area, and EmPOWERment provides electricity and Internet, copy and fax machines, and a conference room for meetings. Business owners can participate in EmPOWERment’s quarterly seminars on such topics as business planning, finances, marketing and customer service.
“Know what your mission is about, be patient with the businesses that are growing, be supportive, and don’t give up on yourself because running a business incubator is not an easy arena to be in,” said Delores Bailey, executive director of EmPOWERment. “But it’s always rewarding to put a business on the ground.”
Businesses currently in the incubator include a hair salon, an award-winning vacuum cleaner distribution service, an organic massage business, and an inventor of a tracking device for athletes.
- N.C. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Raleigh
The N.C. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce received an Innovation Fund grant from the Initiative to help launch the Emprendedores N.C. project in partnership with the Latino Credit Union to strengthen the Hispanic business community. The project will offer a series of classes to low-income Hispanic entrepreneurs at sites around the state on how to run a successful business. Once the entrepreneurs complete the trainings and submit a viable business plan, they will have access to micro-loans to help them launch their businesses.
Olive Hill received a 2012 Innovation Fund grant from the Initiative to develop a business incubator serving the western N.C. counties of Burke, Caldwell and Catawba. It will help create or expand businesses operated by low-income and traditionally disadvantaged individuals and generate jobs for the region.
The N.C. Community Development Initiative leads North Carolina’s collaborative community economic development effort, driving innovation, investment and action to create prosperous, sustainable communities. For more information, visit www.ncinitiative.org.