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Benedict College has SC’s first federally-backed Women’s Business Center at an HBCU

Pictured above: (L-R)  Edward McDowell, Mayor Pro-Tem, City of Columbia; Cheryl Salley, Director, Benedict College Womens Business Center; Jovita Carranza, Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration;Pamela Evette, Lieutenant Governor, SC Office of the Governor; Roslyn Clark Artis, President  and CEO of Benedict College; and Mr. Ashley Bell, Regional Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration Region IV  

Photo Credit: Rose Fuller

Women who want to start or grow a business will get a hand up at the new Women’s Business Center at Benedict College.

Benedict College formally opened its new Women’s Business Center with a ceremony on Wednesday. The historically Black college inaugurated the new center at the Tyrone A. Burroughs School of Business and Entrepreneurship on Read Street, across from Benedict’s Charles W. Johnson Stadium.

The new women’s business center is meant to provide entrepreneurs with greater access to the training and technical assistance services they need to sustain and grow their businesses. The center will also receive support from the U.S. Small Business Administration to create and retain jobs, especially when it comes to the recovery and reopening from the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am proud as a peacock to say we are only the second HBC, but surely the best, to have a women’s business center on campus,” said Benedict President Roslyn Artis, using an abbreviation for historically Black college.

In some ways, opening a center for women entrepreneurs is a logical addition for Benedict. The college was founded by Bathsheba Benedict in 1870, and today its student body is half female. Artis is the college’s first woman president.

Ashley Bell, the regional U.S. small business administrator, praised Artis’s role in founding the business center.

“Anywhere there’s a table, Dr. Artis will sit at it if decisions are being made about people she cares about,” Bell said. “But she also has the vision to say sometimes the table needs to move to my house. This center is a new table.”

The Small Business Administration sponsors a national network of more than 100 women’s business centers that offer one-on-one counseling, training, networking, workshops, technical assistance and mentoring to women entrepreneurs.

Columbia City Councilman Ed McDowell said Benedict has been “the tip of the spear” for 150 years in advancing the needs of its community. He said the college would need the combined resources of those gathered for the center’s opening, including federal and state government officials, in order to achieve its entrepreneurial mission.

“I’m a former preacher, and I may sound like I’m giving a sermon, so at the end of this I will be passing around a collection plate for Benedict College,” McDowell said. “Will somebody say ‘amen’?”

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said such a center is needed at HBCUs because the coronavirus shutdown has been especially hard on minority-owned businesses, with 440,000 shutting their doors nationwide in the past six months. He touted the city’s efforts to inject $3 million into local businesses, “so that the backbone of the American economy is able to weather through this storm.”

Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette praised Gov. Henry McMaster’s move to send $2.4 million in emergency relief to the state’s HBCUs during the pandemic. She drew on her own business background to highlight the importance of the center’s mission.

“I know the difficulty of being a woman business owner,” she said. “Women remain the primary caregivers at home. That means we’re working a double shift, ladies.”

She said that burden has only been enhanced by the closure of so many schools due to the pandemic, leaving women to manage their children’s education along with their balance sheets.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, recalled how his mother worked to keep two beauty shops afloat, only to discover after her death that she had taken out two small business loans to support them.

“At that time, African Americans in South Carolina had only two small business loans, and my mother had both of them,” Clyburn said.

U.S. Small Business Administrator Jovita Carranza said the new center was one of seven the Trump Administration is establishing this year, part of the $48 million set aside for women’s business centers in the federal CARES Act. Carranza also highlighted that Benedict is one of 29 HBCUs to receive a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program under the CARES Act.

“We see many opportunities for up and coming women entrepreneurs as their businesses and employees battle back from the damage done to this country by the invisible enemy, COVID-19,” she said.


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