North Carolina Small Business Centers and Directors Recognized for Excellence, Innovation, and Impact

North Carolina Small Business Centers and Directors Recognized for Excellence, Innovation, and Impact

Friday, January 20, 2023 - 11:32am

RALEIGH – The North Carolina Community College System Small Business Center Network (SBCN) announced the winners of the Centers of Excellence Awards during its Professional Development Conference on November 17, 2022.

The annual statewide awards honor small business centers and center directors for Innovation, Service/Collaboration and Programs/Seminars; Business Success Story, Most Impact and Overcoming Challenges; as well as State Director of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Center directors are also recognized for years of service and professional credentialing.

“In the last two years, North Carolina has experienced a record amount of entrepreneurial activity adding hundreds of startups to the over 964,000 existing small businesses. For over 38 years, the Small Business Centers’ primary objective has been to help individuals start and continually operate a business. Small Business Centers provide entrepreneurial assistance necessary to make a dream a reality. Each of the 58 community colleges across our state offer outreach and confidential counseling across all markets. The resulting assistance creates jobs, providing a significant amount of economic impact. Due to a demonstrated commitment to excellence and community contributions, the System Office is pleased to recognize the 2022 ‘Best of the Best’ Directors that have established a proven track record of exemplary service and dedication,” said Dr. Bill Carver, Interim President of the North Carolina Community College System.

The small business centers, located at all 58 community colleges, contribute to North Carolina’s economic development, starting an average of 650 small businesses and creating or retaining more than 5,000 jobs each year.

State Director of the Year: Jerry Coleman, Cape Fear Community College and Martha Larson, Forsyth Technical Community College

The Director of the Year is recognized for going above and beyond in providing significant support, time and service to small businesses in the center’s service area as well as in support of the Small Business Center Network mission at the state level.

Jerry Coleman serves as Small Business Center Director at Cape Fear Community College. He also servers as Regional Director for the Southeast Region, providing leadership, coaching and mentoring to the nine Small Business Center Directors in the region. His leadership helps each of the of the SBCs lead successful centers and he has been especially supportive during a time of unprecedented change as SBCs navigated a very different landscape during the onset and height of the pandemic. Coleman set the bar for the entire network through his efforts to support businesses with enhanced counseling services with CARES Act funds, providing over 108 businesses with specialized counseling services to help sustain, grow, or start their enterprises. Coleman is also noted for his leadership is two other key areas for the network, including the oversight of the network’s financial analysis tool, and its new statewide webinars with key collaborative partners. Coleman is noted for going “above and beyond” to support his peers and is always willing to step up to offer guidance and support for the overall needs of the SBCN and its clients. His efforts led the network to reach successful outcomes in 2022 fiscal year. 

Martha Larson is the SBC Director at Forsyth Technical Community College and Regional Director for the Piedmont/Triad region, providing leadership to the seven Small Business Center Directors in the region. Martha is recognized for providing extensive support to three colleges that were in transition, helping with search committees to hire new directors, helping onboard new directors once hired, and supporting the completion of annual reports and counseling activities while the positions were vacant. She provided this additional support all while making a career transition of her own, from Davidson-Davie Community College to Forsyth Technical Community College. Martha also serves as co-chair of the Professional Development Committee for the SBCN and has made significant contributions to the planning and execution of the network’s fall and spring conferences. Martha’s efforts started as a result of her willingness to step up and offer her support – she never had to be asked to be a leader, she just delivered on her own leadership principles by giving support without having to be asked.

Rookie of the Year: Brandy Bell, Carteret Community College

Directors who have been in their position for two years or less are eligible to receive the Rookie of the Year award. Brandy Bell is innovative, energetic and outcomes oriented in her efforts to build new programs and lead the training, counseling and resource and referral services of the Carteret CC Small Business Center. Over the last two years, Bell was able to accomplish a number of noteworthy marks, including: hosting 201 seminars with over 2,357 participants; increasing clients and counseling hours; helping generate significant economic impact, including 34 businesses started and 262 jobs created and retained; creating more than eight new and innovative events to support businesses in the college’s service area; received the Innovation Award for Services and Collaboration during her first year as SBC Director; was the first director to test a new virtual program review process, setting a high bar for other centers; took on the role of Chair of the Professional Development Committee in a year filled with transitions and has successfully chaired three professional development conferences in her short tenure. Bell is deeply engaged in her service area, serving on a number of local committees and boards. She has completed requirements for Levels 1 and 2 in the SBCN Credentialing Program.

Innovation Award – Programs and Seminars: April Priester, Coastal Carolina Community College

April Priester, SBC Director at Coastal Carolina Community College, is recognized for a special program called Pitch It! Onslow that incorporated targeted training and business counseling to help prospective business owners create and refine their business plans and pitch them to a panel of “Business Bulldog” judges and the public for the opportunity to win start-up prize money to launch a new business venture. The program used REAL Entrepreneurship as a 24- hour training curriculum, LivePlan business plan software, and three subject matter experts to provide business counseling over a six-month period to prepare participants for their opportunity to pitch their new businesses. The program was offered in collaboration with Marine Federal Credit Union (MFCU), the Jacksonville-Onslow Chamber of Commerce, and Coastal Carolina CC Small Business Center, with prize money and training scholarships provided by MFCU and in-kind contributions provided by the Jacksonville-Onslow Chamber and RP Studios. Coastal’s Public Information Office recorded the pitches and MFCU shared them via social media for the public to vote on the best pitch. The program helped create six new businesses and eight new jobs in Onslow County.

Innovation Award – Services and Collaboration: Pamela Young-Jacobs, Southeastern Community College 

Pamela Young-Jacobs, Small Business Center Director at Southeastern Community College, is recognized for developing nine new initiatives to support the small business community in the Southeastern service area of Columbus County. Through research and outreach, Young-Jacobs was able to identify specific projects unique to the needs of local small business owners that had not previously been available. A particularly impactful project involved the creation of a DBE Certification program that successfully resulted in seven businesses who were able to complete the process and apply for certification. In addition, 50 contractors were able to increase their bidding opportunities. Other new initiatives included a Youth Entrepreneurship program, the availability of Spanish Interpretation, a B2B program called Level Up which encourages businesses to do business with each other, a business spotlight project that provides additional social media marketing for local small businesses and training and counseling services to support agricultural businesses. Each initiative was created in a single operating year, increasing the number of small businesses reached by 77 percent and leading to exponential increases in the number of businesses started and the number of jobs created and retained. The success of these initiatives has generated a lot of excitement and energy for small business owners in one of the poorest communities in the state.

Business Success Story – Most Impact: Jerry Coleman, Cape Fear Community College

Jerry Coleman provided counseling and training assistance to Ashleigh Leuck, owner of Breakthrough Autism, a behavioral healthcare practice that provides individualized treatment plans for its clients. The owner started the business after COVID-19 left her without a job and her clients without an Applied Behavior Analysis provider. She determined to open her own practice, sought the services of the Cape Fear SBC, and relied on the counsel of Director Coleman, who guided her to set key benchmarks and use strategic tactics to help bootstrap her business and recruit staff. She now has twenty employees, was able to secure a line of credit and has increased sales, far exceeding her initial goals. She also achieved Behavior Health Center of Excellence Accreditation, demonstrating the high standard of care provided by the practice. Leuck stated that the Director’s guidance empowered her to create a thriving business, has been fundamental to her success and that “Cape Fear Community College Small Business Center has my highest endorsement.”

Business Success Story – Overcoming Challenges: Carmela Tomlinson, Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute

Carmela Tomlinson, SBC Director at Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute, was recognized for her support to the Happy Valley Filling Station. The owners bought the property for the business to keep it from getting scooped up by a big box competitor and decided to open a gathering spot where neighbors could come together and enjoy good food and beverages. They began the journey to create the best pizza and beer possible all sourced from local ingredients and Happy Valley Filling Station was born – it’s a brewery, it’s a pizzeria, it’s a brewzeria! The restaurant serves pizza made with sourdough crust sourced from a local grain mill and toppings also sourced locally. The beer is also made in-house in small batches from local grains and specialty ingredients from area farmers. Live music, games, crafts and cornhole tournaments bring people out to enjoy the establishment. But, the path to smooth operations got bumpy when one of the partners the owners brought in was unable to perform all the required duties and the owners had to step in to keep the business operating, while working through the partnership issues and legal details. Essentially, they had to replace all the staff and practically start over. Throughout it all, the Small Business Center was there to provide helpful guidance and support and will continue to assist the business to ensure operational improvements that will help it remain a community favorite and successful business.

Credentialing and Service Awards

Credentialing awards are presented to small-business center directors who have achieved the required training milestones in Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 of the credentialing program. The following small-business center directors were recognized with credentialing awards.

Level 1 credentialing awards were presented to Dr. Jeff Wilke, Craven CC; Holly Staples, College of The Albemarle; Jonathan Collins, Durham Technical CC; Laura Evans Brown, Edgecombe CC; Ashley Swanger, Haywood CC; Gregory Cain, Mitchell CC; Emily Tucker, Montgomery CC; Derrick Armstead, Nash CC; Pamela Young-Jacobs, Southeastern CC; Marne Harris, Southwestern CC; and Lance Collins, Tri-County CC.

Level 2 credentialing awards were presented to Laura Evans Brown, Edgecombe CC; Ashley Swanger, Haywood CC; Derrick Armstead, Nash CC; Scott Keen, Piedmont CC; Gregory Cain, Mitchell CC; Quinton Louris, Randolph CC; Megan Smit, Rowan-Cabarrus CC; and Pamela Young-Jacobs, Southeastern CC.

Level 3 credentialing awards were presented to Jerry Coleman, Cape Fear CC; Scott Keen, Piedmont CC; and Pamela Young-Jacobs, Southeastern CC.

Service awards recognize the number of years a center director has served the Small Business Center Network. Recognition for 15 years of service was presented to Greg Hannibal, Lenoir CC. Recognition awards for 10 years of service were presented to Duane Adams, Asheville-Buncombe Technical CC; Todd Lyden, Bladen CC; Martha Larson, Forsyth Technical CC; and Faye Bishop, Isothermal CC. Five-year service awards were presented to April Priester, Coastal Carolina CC; Kent Hill, Fayetteville Technical CC; Butch Farah, Richmond CC; and Bart Rice, Sampson CC.


six headshots of award recipients
Top Row (l to r): Jerry Coleman, Pamela Young Jacobs, April Priester; Bottom Row (l to r): Carmela Tomlinson, Martha Larson, Brandy Bell