The following are four ways I think the area’s entrepreneurial community can grow:
One of the most important ways a community can support entrepreneurship is through education and information. The Cape Fear region has excellent organizations, which offer expertise to help entrepreneurs take a good idea from rough concept to thriving enterprise. These organizations offer entrepreneurship and business best practices workshops and seminars as well as confidential one-on-one counseling at little or no charge. Here are some of these resources:
1. EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE BASE
SMALL BUSINESS CENTERS AT CAPE FEAR AND BRUNSWICK COMMUNITY COLLEGES – are resources for startup and developing businesses. Offer seminars and workshops on business topics/best practices and provide one-on-one confidential business counseling to students and the public. Co-workspace and a manufacturing incubator are available at BCC.
SMALL BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT CENTER (UNCW) – is a resource for growing and developing businesses. Provides management counseling and educational services including government contracting, procurement assistance and technology grant opportunities.
SENIOR CORE OF RETIRED EXECUTIVES (SCORE) - SCORE is the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors. The Cape Fear SCORE chapter has more than 40 volunteers providing business counseling and educational events throughout the region.
CENTER FOR INNOVATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP (UNCW) – works with emerging companies to accelerate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in southeastern North Carolina. Offers small business education events, state-of-the-art incubator space, counseling services and access to venture capital.
YWCA’S COASTAL WOMEN’S VENTURES – focused on creating and supporting small business opportunities for women entrepreneurs through business coaching, mentoring, small business education and connecting participants to loan capital.
TEKMOUNTAIN – is an incubator and business accelerator. Provides access to industry thought leaders, mentors, collaborative space, pivotal partnerships and established venture capital channels.
SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION (SBA) – offers many small business loan and assistance programs, special outreach efforts and initiatives to aid and inform small businesses.
2. COLLABORATE AS A NETWORK
The organizations listed above, as well as city and county officials, are now meeting to specifically discuss ways of aligning to fill any gaps in resource services provided to entrepreneurs in our area. Filling the gaps strengthens the resource network and builds a better environment for entrepreneurship and business growth. The long-term objective is to reach consensus on ways to make resources even more accessible. For example, making resources visible through a central website with a calendar and directory can help entrepreneurs identify the right resource at the right time to fit their individual needs.
As a community, we need to be always looking for opportunities to brag about and share the wonderful achievements and contributions of entrepreneurs in our community. They are often heroes e.g., (Bitty and Beau’s, Tru Colors, Half United and many others) and make our community and the world a better place. The Greater Wilmington Business Journal, through its Coastal Entrepreneur Awards, celebrates the achievements and positive impact of entrepreneurs in our community, which inspires others to take their innovative ideas to the next level.
3. CELEBRATING OUR ENTREPRENEURS
4. PROVIDING FORUMS FOR ENTREPRENEURS TO CONNECT
Entrepreneurship can be sparked and encouraged further through events, which bring together a diversity of entrepreneurs from multiple industry sectors to make connections, exchange ideas and form new alliances. The Cucalorus Connect Conference is a fantastic example of this form of collaboration. Connect brought in innovative entrepreneurs from around the world to join our community startups for connection, sharing and collaboration through a two-day schedule packed with captivating keynote speakers, engaging breakout sessions, and interactive programs like the 10x10 Challenge and Rocket Pitches.
What other innovative events can we bring to the community, which will connect our entrepreneurs to more opportunities and inspire them to think outside the box?
Jerry Coleman is the director of the Small Business Center at Cape Fear Community College.