Photo by Jessy Duque. Pictured is Brannen Cunningham, owner of local business Sparksmith. According to Cunningham, Haywood County boasts a great climate for small businesses.

When Brannen Cunningham turned 16 and got his license, he had already laid claim to the vintage Mustang his dad owned. After a few weeks of driving experience in the family station wagon, he decided it was time to change rides. Growing up with a garage full of vehicles and a mechanically inclined mind, led Cunningham to start a business working with automobiles.

The business, Sparksmith, provides hand built custom headlights and components with the idea of helping people see and be seen. The Veteran owned business does everything from replacing bulbs to reworking custom lights from the ground up.

The idea came to Cunningham when he set out to replace what he calls terrible headlights in a 1999 Mazda he owned. After an extensive search, he finally found a company that sold a retrofit set. Sparksmith was formed to change this experience for others on the same mission.

Before starting his own business, Cunningham attended North Carolina State University where he got a degree in mechanical engineering. He also spent five years in the Navy. After spending three years as an engineer, he got his fill of a desk job and used the GI Bill to go to auto tech school.

Cunningham started Sparksmith in 2013 in Sneads Ferry, NC while his wife was stationed at Camp Lejeune.  Deciding to move back to Haywood County in 2016 meant also relocating the business.

It didn’t take long for Cunningham to see that Haywood County boasts a great climate for small businesses. “There’s a growing economy here for a lot more than just tourism,” he explains. “It’s a really healthy environment and a great community for small business.”

Cunningham says that starting a business requires a leap of faith to dive into the unknown “I learn as I go. I have a good network of people that I can talk to.”

One of those people is Katy Gould, Haywood Community College Small Business Center director. “Katy has been a huge help. She has provided me with resource ideas and opportunities that I didn’t know were there.”

The HCC Small Business Center provides free confidential counseling services, seminars and resource referrals for new and existing small businesses. Seminars are offered in person and online, as well as one day summits for specialized businesses. 

Sparksmith was recently selected for two mentorship programs. Through the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce, Cunningham’s business was one of two Haywood County businesses selected to participate in the Elevate NC program. According to Cunningham, the program provides valuable insight. “I tell them where I’m headed and they give me feedback.”

Additionally, Sparksmith is participating in the capstone project, through the Western Carolina University College of Business. “Students actually come into my business and see where it’s been and where it can go. I’m very curious to see what the academic side from WCU sees versus the seasoned professionals through the Elevate NC program.”

The bulk of Sparksmith’s business is online sales but Cunningham hopes that more people will come into his shop since he moved into a garage in Waynesville located at 182 Richland Street, Suite 8.

Visit SBC.Haywood.edu or call 828.627.4512 for additional information or to register today. Thinking about starting a business in Haywood County or growing an existing business? Take advantage of the programs, services, and resources provided by the Small Business Center. The NC Community College’s Small Business Center Network facilitates an economic impact in 90 percent of all NC counties each year and ranks number one in the U.S. for total business seminars and participants. In addition, the network helps start an average of over 700 businesses every year and works to create and retain 3,800 jobs annually for North Carolina. Visit ncsbc.net for more information.