By: Jessica O’Connor
SCORE SC Lowcountry hosted an orientation workshop for minority small business owners in Walterboro on Saturday, August 6, 2022.
The SC Lowcountry chapter is part of a nationwide organization that has over 10,000 volunteers nationwide.. A non-profit and resource partner of the Small Business Administration (SBA), SCORE offers free, confidential business mentoring services and educational resources to small business owners across the country by way of 250 chapters. The local chapter has been in existence since 1989 and serves Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, and Colleton County.
In 2021, SCORE SC Lowcountry recognized that many local minority businesses were unable to obtain PPP loans and other grants during the pandemic due to being unfamiliar with the in’s and out’s of the application process. In an effort to help those who had been overlooked by the larger programs, SCORE SC Lowcountry’s Minority Small Business Award Program was born. Michelle Gaston, chair of the Minority Outreach Committee and a certified business mentor, oversees the program.
In its first year, the Minority Small Business Award Program extended awards to 11 minority small business owners across the four counties covered by the chapter. These awards, funded primarily by Wells Fargo and Truist, were up to $2500 each. The total amount awarded was $27,500.
These 11 business owners were chosen from a pool of 80 applicants. Of those, 24 applications were reviewed by an advisory committee made up of 5 local leaders who then selected the final recipients. The advisory committee was made up of: Anthony Brockington (Small and Minority Business Program Manager, SC Commission of Minority Affairs), Brianne Buckner (Teacher, Colleton High School), Sheree Darien (Executive Director/Founder of Second Chance Outreach), Dr. Roy Hollingsworth (Hampton County Council Member), and Eric Turpin (Executive Director of the Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association.
Certified SCORE Business Mentor and chair of the Partnership Committee for SCORE SC Lowcountry, Karen Casey,works closely with Gaston on the Minority Outreach Committee and noted that during the selection process the panelists realized there was one common pain point for many applicants.
“There’s a huge disconnect from a business literacy standpoint,” Casey explained. Many of the applications received were rejected simply because the business owners could not provide the requested information, such as business plans and financial statements.
To address this issue, all prospective applicants for the Minority Small Business Award Program will be required to attend one of SCORE SC Lowcountry’s orientation workshops. These workshops will walk attendees through the application process and help them understand what the advisory committee is looking for when choosing who will receive awards. If needed, business owners will also leave the workshops with a simple business plan format and information on topics such as the importance of profit and loss sheets.
Walter Simmons, owner of Exterior Perfection LLC, attended this weekend’s workshop in hopes of applying for one of this year’s Minority Small Business Award Program awards. The program will again be extending awards of up to $2500 to qualifying businesses within Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, and Colleton counties. This year SCORE SC Lowcountry has $40,000 to use for these awards, and after a rough bout with COVID, Simmons hopes to become one of the recipients.
Simmons emphasized that the workshop provided a wealth of knowledge to attendees, going above and beyond simply walking through the application process. “When I got there, it was very helpful and very insightful,” Simmons says. “Sometimes you can do things based on your own understanding and knowledge, and sometimes it’s not necessarily right or not what people are looking for.”
He cited that attendees were also given information on the various resources that SCORE offers, such as their free mentoring program. Although Simmons has utilized SCORE’S resources in the past, he felt that the workshop prepared him to dive into the award application process as well as provided him with valuable business insight.
SCORE Lowcountry SC hopes that they will have the opportunity to award more deserving minority small business owners this year. “We hope that this will give them the momentum and help pay for some of the expenses that could take their business to the next level,” says Casey.
She says that the previous year’s recipients used their award money for things such as website updates, equipment upgrades, and securing new locations for their businesses. “The awards are only $2500 (and I say ‘only’ $2500), but to these people they mean so much,” Casey emphatically expressed. “Did it make an impact? Did we help the community? Did it do what we hoped it would do? We’ve got to say yes, based on the 11 award recipients. The challenge we have now is how do we get people to know about this program.”
SCORE SC Lowcountry will host 11 more orientation workshops for those interested in applying for one of this year’s Minority Small Business Award Program awards. For more information, visit https://sc lowcountry.score.org/Minority-Small-Business-Program.
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