Daugherty: UNC system’s SBTDC has major impact on small businesses across North Carolina
SBTDC, By the Numbers
- $218.1 million in contracts from federal, state and local agencies, and prime contractors;
- $109.5 million in capital obtained by clients;
- 58,199 hours of counseling;
- 4,429 distinct clients who have worked with the SBTDC;
- 517 graduate and undergraduate students who have participated in internship programs as a source of real-world experience;
- 27,409 hours contributed by students for SBTDC clients.
The SBTDC is the University of North Carolina system’s business advisory service, with offices located on each of its 16 university campuses. This allows the SBTDC to serve the entire state, so would-be entrepreneurs as well as existing companies can seek out its help in establishing, expanding or improving their businesses.
“We are, in essence, an extension service,” said Scott Daugherty, state director of the SBTDC. “We’re focused on providing business counseling, management education and related services to small and midsized companies all across North Carolina. It’s very intense, one-on-one counseling with business owners or people planning to go into business.”
Since 1984, the SBTDC has helped more than 135,000 North Carolina businesses obtain market research, evaluate financial performance, access new capital, improve management and employee performance, and make better decisions in order to achieve goals.
The SBTDC was created specifically to serve as the state’s participant in the national Small Business Development Center Program administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration. This then-new federal program was modeled after the Agricultural Extension Program – intended to engage universities in education, applied research and business counseling to help North Carolina businesses improve operations and be more successful.
For 2016, the SBTDC had helped North Carolina business clients secure $218.1 million in contracts from local, state and federal agencies, as well as $109.5 million in capital. In the process, it has helped create more than 2,100 new jobs for the state.
“Based on long-term data, our client-base significantly outperforms other small business activity in North Carolina, by a wide margin,” Daugherty said. “The sales increases are much higher, the employment growth is greater, and that actually holds true even in downturns in the economy.”
Fostering students in the workforce
Not only is the center making a positive impact on state businesses, but it’s also benefiting hundreds of North Carolina college students. The SBTDC works with businesses located near UNC campuses to set up internships and practicums, providing participating students with valuable hands-on work experience.
“The SBTDC's long-standing commitment to engaging with students gives them the opportunity to apply classroom learning real-world business settings,” UNC President Margaret Spellings said. “This clearly benefits students who are preparing for future careers. It’s also a way in which the University can help the women and men who are growing businesses and jobs in North Carolina make better decisions as they manage and grow their businesses.”
Last summer, the SBTDC helped place UNC Wilmington senior Alexis Schimelfenig of Raleigh in an internship with Tri-Tech Forensics. The company was so pleased with her performance that it retained her on a part-time basis once she returned to UNCW to continue to work on its social media.
“This was really important for me, to grow my skills and learn how to communicate with management,” said Schimelfenig, a business administration major scheduled to graduate in December. “This was a really great opportunity, and I’m really thankful for it.”
Emma Davis, the marketing manager for Tri-Tech Forensics, said Schimelfenig started her internship by pitching potential social media strategies, then researching them. After analyzing approaches used by Tri-Tech and its competitors, she built a social media template that Tri-Tech still utilizes.
“We saw a huge increase in our social media interaction,” Davis said. “She was very professional, very knowledgeable – a real go-getter. She came in right away and made it successful.”
SBTDC Director Daugherty said more than 500 students were engaged with state businesses last year.
“These are substantive engagements,” he said, noting that it’s mostly business students who are placed with companies to work on financial issues. “I believe it was 20,000 hours of consultancy time with the students last year.”
When rubber meets the road
Steele Rubber Products is a family-owned business that began in 1955 in Michigan before moving to Denver, NC, in 1975. The company, which makes rubber parts for antique vehicles and street rods, employs more than 60 workers.
Company president Matt Agosta said he is always looking for ways to keep his business healthy, especially as he plans to move into semi-retirement and hand the reins to his daughter, Joanna Schere, a UNC-Chapel Hill MBA graduate.
Three years ago, Agosta was offered a free consultation with SBTDC through the Hickory Chamber of Commerce and decided to listen to what they had to offer.
“We decided to do our next strategy retreat with the SBTDC, and they did a really nice job,” Agosta said. “It was a little different than what we were used to. Then we used them for the next two strategy retreats, and we keep on modifying things to make sure it gets to where we want to go.”
Kevin McConnaghy, the SBTDC’s state program director for strategy and growth services, matched the company with a UNC-Chapel Hill law student who worked as an extern to help with legal matters, as well as Wake Forest University business students.
“They were in a niche market, and looking to break out of that market,” McConnaghy said. “We’re taking it a step at a time. They’ve made tremendous progress and are breaking out of the market. We were able to look at their portfolio and the types of investments they made, and saved them some money and improved their outcomes.”
Agosta said the SBTDC’s impact was significant.
“They were able to see things we didn’t see ourselves,” he said. “They had done a lot of research to see what our placement within the industry was, and our competitors, where they sat. They were able to get a lot of data for us. That was nice, to have this depth of data. We were able to see how we measured up with our competitors, what we were doing well, and how we were doing on the web. We found out that we were miles ahead of our competitors; that was affirmation for us.”
Agosta said about one-third of his management team is also considering retirement in the next five years, and he is working on a plan to manage the transition.
“We’re trying to work on plans the way we want it done – not to have it forced on us,” he said.
One big advantage of working with SBTDC, Agosta said, is that it doesn’t cost as much as working with private consulting firms.
“That’s not the reason I work with them, because it was cheaper, but I saw I was getting a lot more value with them,” he said. “It’s been very positive, and they also have a lot of depth.”
‘X’ marks the spot
Ann Taylor, a UNC-Chapel Hill assistant professor of bioengineering, needed help establishing a North Carolina-based office for Xona Microfluidics, the biotech company she had co-founded with her husband.
Xona, which creates experimental tools for neuroscience, is still based in California, where Taylor created her first device at the University of California at Irvine.
Taylor invented a neuron microfluidic device that measures axons, the neuron appendages that transmit impulses away from the cell body. Researchers can use the device to help study and treat various neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s.
Taylor said Xona received a fairly sizeable small business grant in 2011 from the National Institute of Mental Health, and she wanted to set up a secondary manufacturing/research-and-development site in North Carolina.
“What the SBTDC has really helped with is putting together the commercialization plan for that proposal, getting some data for the market size, and the strategy for how we should go about marketing and advertising for that kind of thing – stuff that, as scientists and non-business people – we really needed help with,” she said. “They’ve also helped us with some of the financials – are we healthy as a company? We’re really organically grown, with absolutely no debt.”
Written by Phillip Ramati