Haywood Community College’s Small Business Center may be one of the county’s best kept secrets. The Center offers many services to the public free of charge. Some of these services include: confidential counseling, seminars and access to resource libraries. Located in HCC’s Library, the center houses a large in-house resource library of print and audio materials and on-line Small Business Resource Library. The Small Business Center provides budding entrepreneurs with the knowledge and resources needed to make informed decisions concerning their business ventures.

HCC’s Small Business Center is part of the Small Business Center Network, which is comprised of 58 Small Business Centers throughout North Carolina. The network supports the development of new businesses and the growth of existing businesses by being a community-based provider of training, counseling, and resource information.

While many people may not be aware of HCC’s Small Business Center, those do who know about it take advantage of the great offerings. During 2010-2011, the center held 34 seminars and served 565 people. And there’s a topic for everyone from the basics of How to Start a Business and How to Write a Business Plan to Marketing, Recordkeeping and Taxes, and Financing Your Business; to unique seminars such as:  Selling on eBay, Starting a Business with QuickBooks, Marketing for the Craftsperson, and First Time Landlord. Even though the workshops are free, they are also high quality with presenters who are dynamic speakers possessing business expertise in their respective topic area.

Nancy Rathbone, who opened Sign World WNC in Canton with her husband, says she attended every seminar she could that was offered by the Center. “And I still do,” she explains. “The Center offers the whole gamut of services. And it’s not just for people starting business but people already in business. You’ve got to hone your skills and that is what the Small Business Center is all about. If people are not utilizing what is in our own backdoor, they are at a loss. These workshops are great to send your employees to. It’s a way to grow your business and such a good networking opportunity.”

HCC’s Small Business Center is directed by Sharron Donnahoe. She is instrumental in helping people in the community learn how to start their own business, secure funds to start their business, and explore the possibilities of entrepreneurship. Recently, she was named Downtown Waynesville’s Main Street Champion for 2011. She has been actively involved in Downtown Waynesville for more than 20 years, serves on many boards, is a downtown ambassador, and frequently volunteers at special events. She has been director of HCC’s Small Business Center for 18 years.

When George Rios and Adrian Ferdnandez opened their restaurant, Los Amigos, in Waynesville six years ago, Donnahoe worked with them one-on-one over a three-month period. “She helped us stay focused on what we wanted to accomplish. We met with Sharron several times as we revised our business plan,” said Ferdnandez. “Finally, with Sharron’s help we had a business plan that would work for us,” they said.

For the second year in a row, Donnahoe has worked with HCC curriculum students to secure wins of the Sequoyah Fund Community College Business Plan Competition. The Sequoyah Fund encourages and rewards students financially who aspire to start businesses in the seven westernmost counties of North Carolina (Haywood, Jackson, Swain, Macon, Clay, Cherokee, Graham) and the Qualla Boundary. A $10,000 award is given for the winning business plan. For the first year of the competition, Donnahoe coached HCC Professional Crafts Wood student David Nestler, to a first place finish with his business, Tree of Life Woodworks, LLC. For 2010-2011, HCC Welding student Dustin Cornelison won for his business, Sustainabillies.

Nestler says he is now doing something he loves every day. “I owe every bit of success with my business to HCC’s Small Business Center and to Sharron. She was a great help to me and is an excellent asset to HCC. Money from the Sequoyah Fund Competition helped me start my business without having to take out a loan. When I finished school, it was not the best business climate to start out on my own. Winning the competition gave me a certain level of comfort. I would not have opened a business as soon without winning.” 

Donnahoe was also part of the county’s Certified Entrepreneurial Community team, playing a part in making Haywood County the nation’s first certified entrepreneurial community. A Certified Entrepreneurial Community (CEC®) is an economic development strategy—a program that helps communities become entrepreneur ready. That means the overall business climate, policies, regulations, and opportunities to learn and grow are simple to find and available. It also means there's a positive, enthusiastic attitude that permeates the culture.

According to Jessica DeMarco, chef/owner of Copper Pot and Wooden Spoon, “The great support in this county gives you the confidence to move ahead with your dreams.” Copper Pot and Wooden Spoon is a local business making high quality artisan foods such as jams and pickles.

Another service offered by the Center is matching small business owners with government business opportunities. The SBC is periodically alerted of government job opportunities for local businesses through the North Carolina Military Business Center (NCMBC). NCMBC is a collaborative effort between North Carolina business and industry and the North Carolina Community College System.

"It's an asset for the Small Business Center to know about these federal contracting opportunities," said Sharron Donnahoe, Director of the SBC at HCC. "We can be a connector and do the best we can to let these businesses know about these opportunities."

Donnahoe helped HCC Forest Management graduate Frank Varvoutis gain a contract to work for the Great Smoky Mountains national Park. "Winning this contract is great exposure and income for a small business owner," Varvoutis explains.

HCC’s Small Business Center recently formed a partnership with the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center to make loans of up to $25,000 available for the startup or expansion of rural businesses. The center’s N.C. Microenterprise Loan Program encourages self-employment and small business development by combining loans with business planning and technical assistance. It often works with individuals who have sound business ideas but may not qualify for traditional bank loans. HCC’s Small Business Center will assist prospective borrowers in completing loan applications and provide other technical assistance.

Visit HCC’s Small Business Center online at sbc.haywood.edu for more information on resources that are available and for upcoming seminars. To speak with Donnahoe about how the Small Business Center can help you, please call 627-4512.