Inside the state-funded effort giving North Carolina an edge over the entrepreneurial competition

It started with an old tin percolator.

Calvine Frazier was 8 years old and visiting her grandparents’ farm. Her mother and her grandmother would sit at a table, drinking a mysterious beverage. Frazier didn’t know what it was, but she knew it must be good because it filled the room with conversation and laughter.

So, she poured some into a cup and snuck a taste. It was the best thing she’d ever tasted: coffee. Years later, that experience inspired Frazier to start a business.

But that business – her own coffee shop – needed percolating too, which led Frazier to the Small Business Center at Central Piedmont Community College.

Founded in the early 1980s, the SBC is one of 58 centers housed at community colleges across North Carolina. Providing seminars, counseling and more, the network is set up so anyone looking to start a business in the state can access resources within a 30-minute drive.

Because Frazier’s business meant so much to her, she wanted to make sure it was set up correctly. So, she explored the SBC’s free resources, which helped her structure her company.

“Once you start talking to the counselors, they give you the most upbeat encouragement,” Frazier said. “It’s already in you. They just bring it out.”

With that guidance and a lot of hard work, Calvine’s Coffee has taken on a life of its own since its launch in 2015. Today, the business has two locations and a coffee cart, with a third location planned for 2020. Frazier said she expects to use additional counseling to help with the expansion.

Small Business Center at CPCC

And Frazier is not alone. Last fiscal year, the SBC provided more than 490 hours of counseling to 267 clients, and more than 2,700 participants attended the center’s seminars and courses

Those clients cross the entire spectrum of small business ownership, from novices looking for input on an idea to owners of existing businesses looking to scale. The services offered at the SBC are largely free, with some tuition-based courses, and they include one-on-one counseling, as well as seminars and workshops. It’s a resource center of sorts, allowing small business owners to get help with different challenges at different stages of their ventures. 

Partnership with Innovate Charlotte

SBC has become one of our valued partners at INCLT. While our work focuses on founders who’ve gotten some validation of their idea and a yearlong mentorship experience, they are providing a constant source of information and support for small businesses, from the idea exploration stage through growth and scaling challenges and through a variety of offerings. And when one of us encounters a venture that would be a better fit for the other organization, we refer them along, for the benefit of all involved.


Small Business Center at CPCC Innovate Charlotte VMS
Target ventures Small businesses in Mecklenburg County Main street & tech / high-growth in the Greater Charlotte Area
Stage of the business Any stage, including existing businesses We work with companies that have some traction and are past idea only stage
Fee Free (Some tuition-based courses) Free
Main focus Overall business troubleshooting with counseling, seminars and workshops Mentoring, helping founder grow as a leader
Founder experience Novice to advanced  Usually some or significant business experience
Commitment No commitment At least 1 year

Renee Hode

The SBC’s work with business owners starts with an understanding of where they are in the entrepreneurial process, said Renee Hode, executive director of the Small Business Center at CPCC.

“A lot of people just come into the center because they’re thinking about an idea and they don’t know how to get started,” said Hode, who was recently named Small Business Center Network State Director of the Year.

“What we’ll do is set them up with counseling because it’s best to work one-on-one to understand where they want to be personally and professionally. Business ownership isn’t for everyone, so we want to assess their professional and financial goals.”

From there, the SBC can assist with just about any obstacle the business is facing. The staff has specialists in accounting, digital marketing and government contracting, among other areas. Clients can also receive legal advice, a must-have for every fledgling enterprise.

Overall, North Carolina is unique in this endeavor. While the federal government funds its own small business programs such as SCORE, the SBC network is state-funded and helps create and retain 3,800 jobs in the state every year.

“North Carolina takes it a step further,” Hode said. “Our legislators have recognized that small business is the engine of growth.”

The center promotes that growth with workshops and seminars on a wide range of topics, some of which are free. Clients can learn the fundamentals of business or more targeted subjects like marketing on social media. There’s even a course on how to start a food truck.

“Whatever element you’re going to come across in your journey of getting started or growing, we’re going to have some type of training that we can put you through that is focused on those particular areas,” Hode said.

Outside of informational resources, the center also gives clients a way to get plugged into the business community at large, as well as to other resources.

“It’s not only about the training or the coaching that we might provide,” Hode said. “It could be opening a door to the next connection that you need for something else. We all have an extensive array of partners that we work with, and sometimes, it’s just opening that next door by coming in and building a relationship with any one of these entities.”

Together, the collaborative approach at the SBC has helped Charlotte develop an ecosystem of business development resources, Hode said.

“When someone’s looking to start or operate a business, whether it’s a novel idea or concept or it’s something that’s a repeatable type of entity, they should take advantage of all the resources in the community to help support them,” Hode said.

That collaboration is core to Charlotte’s growing ecosystem of support for entrepreneurs — a community of partners committed to working together to provide entrepreneurs and business owners with the tools they need, when they need it. 

Local health-tech software development company RMCSoft is a vital part of that effort, supporting our work to shed light on the work of our organization and others in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

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