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Columbia College opens Women’s Business Center

Business Services
Travis Boland
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Columbia College is looking to strengthen its relationship with the local community and spur women's entrepreneurship statewide with the opening of the Women’s Business Center of South Carolina.

At a ribbon cutting Thursday, Carol Moore, president of the college, said she was excited to continue the school’s partnership with the city and its role in the restoration of North Main Street.

“We have been a part of this community for 164 years, and we want to be good citizens,” Moore said. “This center will help us share our knowledge and resources with the community. We want this center to help women become entrepreneurs and connect and work together to help the city grow and develop.”

Henri Baskins, executive vice president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce (from left), Women's Business Center of South Carolina co-founders Katherine Swartz-Hilton and Kasie Whitener, and Columbia College president Carol Moore celebrate Thursday's ribbon cutting. (Photo/Travis Boland)Kasie Whitener, one of the co-founders of the center, said the goal of the center is to encourage women to develop and expand businesses through coaching, counseling and mentoring. She hopes to increase the number of women-owned businesses generating $1 million.

“With a million-dollar business, you have tax significance and political significance,” Whitener said. “The more million-dollar women-owned businesses, the better off our state will be.”

Project co-founder Katherine Swartz-Hilton said South Carolina has been one of the top states in the country in women-launched businesses.

“In 2017, South Carolina ranked fourth with 160,000 women business owners, but where many struggle is the growth factor,” Swartz-Hilton said. “For women who are ready, we want to be here to identify hurdles in their way and help them bust through.”

The center’s construction took about six months after Whitener and Swartz-Hilton put out an initial bid to the U.S. Small Business Administration to bring a Women’s Business Center to Columbia College. The SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership oversees the WBC program, a national network of more than 100 educational centers designed to assist women in starting and growing small businesses.  

The S.C. center also received $100,000 in seed investments from both Google and the S.C. Department of Commerce. Whitener said there are plans to apply for federal funding soon.

“This is meant to be a statewide initiative, and our goal is to unite the state with regional committees and create centers of operation that share best practices and help each other,” Whitener said.

Swartz-Hilton said the center will have weekly workshops, and a statewide listening tour is planned to better understand the needs of women entrepreneurs in South Carolina.

Swartz-Hilton said the center will focus on education and coaching to help women network and build a customer base. Women can also tap the firsthand knowledge of those who have started companies and learn about the challenges they faced.

One of the center’s mentors is Shennice Cleckley, owner of My Dessert Bar.

“I started as a brick-and-mortar, but now I’m completely online,” Cleckley said. “Nobody taught me how to become a better business owner. I tried looking for help with groups around Columbia.”

Cleckley wants to use her skills to help women get their businesses off the ground. She plans one-on-one coaching and workshops.

“The biggest thing I see is women not honing in on who the client is,” Cleckley said. “I will also help with translating to their specific industry and deciding the best business model.”

Cleckley wishes such a resource was available to her when she started her business.

“It would have been a money saver,” Cleckley said. “It’s nice to have someone else who can show you real-world experiences and the options you have to better fit your business into your life.”

Reach Travis Boland at colanews@scbiznews.com.

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