Elizabeth City’s newest jobs creation partnership set sail literally and figuratively on Friday, Sept. 28, as two Coast Guard search-and-rescue boats took participants on a brief tour of the city’s harbor before dropping them off for a panel discussion and luncheon at The Center at Arts of the Albemarle.
The boat rides were part of the launch of SmartUp, an initiative designed to develop business incubators and foster jobs growth in three high-potential communities in North and South Carolina. The program is a project of NCGrowth, an affiliated center of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, and will be funded by a SunTrust Foundation grant of nearly $1 million.
SmartUp will work to support community businesses committed to local hiring, connect them to resources and strengthen existing entrepreneurial ecosystems.
With more than 79 businesses across North Carolina already helped by similar NCGrowth initiatives, the program’s Associate Director LaChaun Banks says that, in addition to creating jobs within businesses already in the community, SmartUp will focus on helping businesses source locally as well. “It’s a whole-community strategy,” said Banks. “By keeping things as local as possible, we can ensure that success trickles down.”
The Sept. 28 event brought together members of NCGrowth, the SunTrust Foundation and local government, education and business organizations to discuss the needs of the entrepreneurial community in Elizabeth City.
Panelist Ginger O’Neal, director of the College of the Albemarle’s Small Business Center, said the primary challenge for many small businesses is a lack of access to working capital. O’Neal said that many startups have trouble meeting the guidelines and collateral requirements necessary to fund their venture.
In addition to funding difficulties, several panelists cited a lack of mentors as a deterrent to would-be entrepreneurs. But, cautioned Michael Twiddy, program specialist with the Elizabeth City State University Small Business Technology & Development Center, the mentorship role is changing. “Historically, entrepreneurs have needed capital and technical advice,” he said. “Maybe the new generation of entrepreneurs needs something different.”
“Something different” is one of the factors that attracted the SunTrust Foundation to the partnership with SmartUp, said foundation President Stan Little. “We have a ‘bottom-up’ approach to philanthropy,” said Little. “We go to people who know what the community needs, and that’s where we put the money.”
Businesses interested in applying for SmartUp assistance can visit smartup.unc.edu