For Greensboro Women Building Businesses, New Center Will Offer Support | Education

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GREENSBORO — Across the country, small business startups are booming, with the highest rates among women, especially women of color, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

In this context, the agency recently announced Bennett College will host a new US 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 for 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 donate money to help with the launch.

The center is expected to help women in Greensboro and surrounding areas with tasks such as developing business plans, marketing, managing finances and accessing loans, grants and investments. It is one of five proposed new centers across the country that won SBA approval and funding in late May.

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Laura Colson, vice president of academic affairs at Bennett, said one of the college’s hopes is that the center will help entrepreneurs in the neighborhoods around Bennett College, and that they will in turn bring other economic benefits and social to the community.

“What we do on our campus impacts our village,” she said.

The institute is a Durham-based non-profit organization founded in 1986 by Bennett alumnus Andrea Harris, who died in 2020. Among many other initiatives, it runs women’s business centers in Durham, Richmond and Charlotte.

John Ham, director of the institute’s professional services center in Charlotte, said Bennett has a vibrant business department and his organization hopes to use on-campus instructors to deliver some of the business training. They also hope that Bennett students will also participate in trainings, as some are already developing their own business ideas and startups. As the businesses they help start to grow, Ham said the center is looking to ensure they connect with contracts and opportunities in the region.

Tentatively, they are looking to hire staff by July with the possibility of opening in the fall. He expects they will eventually hire two or three staff for the center. Ham said that in the past, the SBA has provided something like $150,000 in start-up funds for a new center on a college campus, but the agency has not yet specified the total amount for that project.

The institute will also provide funds for the project, Ham said. He said the organization has a long history of fundraising 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 it launched its 141st in Anchorage, Alaska. Ham said it would be the first on campus for a women’s college.

Until the Bennett Center opens, the nearest SBA Women’s Business Center is in Winston-Salem. This center, at Winston-Salem State University, opened its doors last summer, in August.

Joy Lough, director and sole staff member of the center at WSSU, said much of her days were spent in appointments offering one-on-one advice and assistance to entrepreneurs. Most come from Winston-Salem, she said, but she has also received requests for help from Greensboro and some other cities.

“If you need help, the goal is to get you the help you need,” she said.

Today, women own nearly 40% of businesses in the United States, According to the National Association of Women Entrepreneurs, 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 have been the ones who have struggled the most to receive these types of funds for their businesses,” Colson said.

Lough said there are grants and assistance opportunities specifically for women, and women’s business centers have the expertise to connect their clients to those opportunities. She said she has also seen women benefit from discussing their business ideas with each other in a group she created.

Lough said that historically many women were expected to cover household chores, and even today women often do a lot for their homes and families.

She seeks to celebrate and encourage women who start their own businesses, contribute to the economy, and even grow their own empires, while pursuing and enjoying other roles and relationships in life, such as a partner, parent, or a friend.

“It’s more about helping to empower women, letting them know they can do it, and letting them know there’s support out there for them,” she said.

Likewise, she said, the Small Business Administration’s women’s centers support each other.

“We’re a happy family,” she said, “and we’re here to help each other and to help businesses.”

Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.​

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