SCORE SC Lowcountry program supports minority-owned businesses

How to make a difference in the Lowcountry

By Karen Casey 

Did you know that Hardeeville in Jasper County and Bluffton in Beaufort County are the top two fastest growing cities in South Carolina in 2022, per the American Community Survey by the US Census Bureau? 

Our community is ethnically diverse and with its continued growth, businesses need capital. According to the National Small Business Association, 41 percent of small businesses say a lack of capital is hurting their ability to grow. For America’s Main Street businesses, having access to capital means the difference between hiring and layoffs.

The pandemic exacerbated the needs of small businesses. While the various SBA programs, (Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Fund), provided assistance, some minority owned businesses were bypassed by these programs. Other business owners were uncertain or unclear on how to apply for the SBA programs and some just did not know they were available. Beyond business owners trying to survive, the pandemic led to job losses and many people turned to starting their own business. Many of those businesses struggled. 

How did SCORE SC Lowcountry help minority-owned businesses? 

SCORE SC Lowcountry recognized that serving the entire community is critically important to its chapter. SCORE SC Lowcountry is a nonprofit that provides free, confidential business mentoring to clients that want to start or grow a small business in Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, or Colleton counties in South Carolina. 

SCORE SC Lowcountry saw the need to assist minority-owned businesses in its community and created the Minority Small Business Award Program. The SCORE Chapter created a committee of experienced SCORE mentors to develop this program. Michelle Gaston, a new member of the SCORE Chapter in 2021 and recently awarded the Rookie of the Year award for the chapter, jumped in and agreed to be the chair of this committee.

The committee networked with local community leaders and organizations to understand the needs of minority-owned businesses. Based on this feedback, the committee created the outline of this program and requested grants to fund these awards. Wells Fargo and Truist became the primary sponsors of the program. The committee asked local community leaders to participate as an advisory committee that would review and score all the applications and decide who should receive awards. Five local leaders volunteered for this very challenging role. They include:

Anthony Brockington, small and minority business program manager, South Carolina Commission of Minority Affairs

Brianne Buckner, teacher, Colleton High School – Colleton County

Sheree Darien, executive director and founder of nonprofit, Second Chance Outreach – Jasper County

Dr. Roy Hollingsworth, Hampton County Council member 

Eric Turpin, executive director of the Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association (Beaufort County)

This program was focused on the four counties SCORE SC Lowcountry serves – Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton and Colleton. Primary eligibility was applications from businesses that are owned 51 percent by Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Asian business owners and are starting or have a small business (fewer than 25 employees) in one of the four counties. The awards were up to $2,500 each.

What’s next?

SCORE SC Lowcountry performed a followup review and developed lessons learned at the end of this program. From the feedback, it was determined there is a need for business literacy training for small business owners. Business owners needed assistance in many areas including marketing, understanding financial statements and other topics. The SCORE Chapter is getting ready to launch the 2022 program and Wells Fargo has recommitted funds and the chapter is looking for additional grants to help expand this program as well as industry leaders who will be part of an expanded advisory committee and volunteers who can assist in mentoring and administrative roles within the chapter. 

Impact on the community

The best way to measure the impact on the community is the feedback from the people who were involved and the recipients of the awards.

“I am overjoyed to be one of the fund recipients. This grant will be vital to the growth of my business. I can’t thank SCORE enough for recognizing the needs and hardships of small minority businesses and using their platform and knowledge to allow us to stretch and expand is unimaginable ways.”  — Sonya G., award recipient

“It was gratifying to be a part of the SCORE Minority Small Business Program Advisory Committee. The program itself provided assistance to underrepresented entrepreneurs seeking supplemental funding to grow their businesses. I feel that our efforts in supporting these businesses help create jobs, support families, and overall strengthens the community.” — Dr. Roy Hollingsworth, Hampton County Council member, advisory committee

“The expansion into Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper counties, the prescreening and mentoring efforts of countless SCORE SC Lowcountry volunteers, and the administrative efforts undertaken to make the program successful are a testimony to the dedication of our volunteers and their desire to help our minority communities.” — Michelle Gaston, SCORE mentor and chair of the Minority Small Business Award Program. SCORE Team

Karen A. Casey (CPA, CFP) is a certified SCORE business mentor and is chair of the Partnership Committee. 

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