COLUMBIA — Benedict College will seek to help more women launch and sustain businesses through its newly opened Women's Business Center, celebrated as a crucial step in economic development.
It is only the second Women's Business Center that is affiliated with the U.S. Small Business Administration at a historically black college or university, and the first that has a mandate to help women succeed in business across an entire state.
"We will work hard to remove those barriers that have stopped them from pursuing their dreams," center director Cheryl Salley said Wednesday.
The center launches at a crucial time with the coronavirus pandemic hurting so many small businesses, especially in minority communities, said SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza.
"I am laser-focused on small business prosperity," Carranza said.
It took more than 18 months of work and a $420,000 federal grant under the CARES Act for pandemic relief to get the center off the ground, Benedict College President Roslyn Artis said. Artis is the first female president in the more than 150-year history of Benedict.
Women who own businesses can get help from the center on such issues as creating a business plan, improving marketing and coaching on tapping into loans or other capital, among others, she said.
Having a statewide mandate will allow the center to help business owners in smaller communities and rural areas, she said.
"Those communities need business development more even than some of our larger metropolitan areas like Greenville and Columbia," Artis said. "I think it's part of our mission to really outreach and support those who may not have the same access to resources that we do here."
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, a member of the Benedict board of trustees, called the center a major step forward to help small businesses. Having the center at Benedict will help make sure that all citizens have access to the resources necessary for business success, Benjamin said.
The business climate of 2020 has been particularly hard on minority-owned businesses, and assistance such as the center provides will be vital in rebuilding, Benjamin said.
Carranza tied the project specifically to the Trump administration's outreach to minority communities and relief efforts to help offset the damage of coronavirus shutdowns and reduced business activity.
About 70 percent of loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program went to businesses with 10 or fewer employees, Carranza said.
The coming months will bring chances for hard-hit small businesses to grow and expand, she said. "We see many great opportunities for up-and-coming entrepreneurs," she said.