Small business centers and directors receive awards

Small business centers and directors receive awards

Wednesday, December 16, 2020 - 2:14pm

RALEIGH, N.C. - The North Carolina Community College System Small Business Center Network recently announced the winners of its Centers of Excellence Awards.

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. The awards were presented in November at a virtual conference.

“Small Business Centers are leading the way in support of small businesses, especially during the upheaval caused by the pandemic. Their efforts are part of a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem that through strategic collaboration leverages every possible resource to help sustain our state’s economy and build measurable impact across North Carolina. That’s why we’re pleased to recognize the accomplishments of these outstanding center directors and the success of their programs,” said Bill Carver, interim president of the NC Community College System. “They help entrepreneurs achieve their dreams of starting businesses, and those businesses create jobs and have a significant economic impact in their local communities.”

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.


Director of the Year

Cherith Roberson, Wake Technical Community College

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

Cherith Roberson serves as director for Wake Technical Community College’s Small Business Center. She also serves as the Regional Director for the North Central Region, providing leadership, coaching and mentoring to the directors in the region’s nine Small Business Centers. She has provided the kind of pivotal leadership most needed during 2020 when COVID-19 created a global health crisis that resulted in an economic crisis.

With a heart for service and a keen eye for support to small businesses that would make a difference, Roberson helped strategize the COVID-19 response for the local college and statewide network. She was proactive in creating and channeling information that would help small businesses survive, and she led the effort to put together a COVID-19 website, rich with resources to support businesses. When the centers received CARES Act funds to provide enhanced counseling services to small businesses, Roberson developed a local strategy to deploy those additional counseling services and shared best practices with her colleagues to help them be successful. She supported statewide and regional webinars for both fellow SBC directors as well as for clients of the entire network. Roberson is a strong collaborator, an amazing leader, and is known for being results-oriented.

Rookie of the Year

Mark Harden, Surry Community College

Directors who have been in their position for two years or fewer are eligible to receive the Rookie of the Year award.

Mark Harden is recognized for his efforts to significantly increase the annual performance metrics for Surry CC’s Small Business Center, including the start-up of 39 businesses in his first 21 months as director. While Harden was working to improve the overall performance outcomes of the center, he was also engaged in providing superior service, as evidenced through the outstanding service ratings for both the quality of seminars and the counseling provided to local entrepreneurs.

Innovation Award – Programs and Seminars

Sheri Jones, Vance-Granville Community College

The Small Business Center of Vance-Granville Community College, through the leadership of Director Sheri Jones, collaborated with the Warren County Economic Development Commission and a local small business, Tabletop Media Group, LLC, to create and offer an eight-part online webinar series entitled "Doing Business Remotely- Tools for the New Normal." As the pandemic struck our nation, many small business owners and employees found themselves working remotely for the first time, necessitating the use of new online tools. When the North Carolina stay-at-home order went into effect on March 30, this program was developed expeditiously to get the information to the college’s four-county service area within a week of the order. The lessons learned in these sessions empowered small businesses to communicate effectively with customers and employees, and gave them tools for survival during an unprecedented economic crisis.

Innovation Award – Services and Collaboration

Scott Keen, Piedmont Community College

When exploring business creation and ownership with potential entrepreneurs, certain common challenges present themselves quickly. Two of those challenges may be represented by the simple questions: "How do I know what to do?" and "How do I find the cash to do it?"

The Small Business Center at Piedmont Community College developed an innovative new program, coupled with a groundbreaking partnership, to address these urgent questions. The BOOST program, "Building Opportunities On Saving and Training," provides targeted entrepreneurship training and access to capital through a matching funds grant program, instilling both financial knowledge and discipline for those starting or growing their businesses, with a focus on developing owner’s equity. The college collaborated with Wells Fargo and Z. Smith Reynolds for financial support of the program, and with the Carolina Small Business Development Fund for groundbreaking research and data analysis. The data analysis is designed to inform policy makers at the regional and state levels to help build and strengthen comprehensive entrepreneurial ecosystems for all small businesses in the state, but also in the often-overlooked rural areas of North Carolina. This innovative collaboration leads to business starts, job creation and retention, and synergistic systems that undergird the entrepreneurial economy.

Business Success Story – Most Impact

Pitt Community College

The Small Business Center at Pitt Community College provided guidance to Richard Williams, owner of Luna Pizza Café. The business was doing well when the pandemic struck, but the mandatory state shutdown of restaurants threatened its future viability. Debbie Hathaway, small business counselor, working under the leadership of Director Jim Ensor, stepped in to help brainstorm options for the business to remain viable while also providing assistance in successfully applying for a Paycheck Protection Program Loan. With the help of the Small Business Center, the business was able to implement creative approaches to increasing revenues, including take home pizza kits, sponsoring contests on Facebook, cutting overhead through creative scheduling and staffing, and even expanding the business. The restaurant was featured in Forbes magazine for sustaining and growing the business during the pandemic.  A leader and believer in the power of teamwork, Williams also pulled other local restaurants together to brainstorm and support each other during this time. As a result of assistance provided by the Small Business Center, the business was able to create five jobs and retain 22 jobs. They also surpassed their pre-COVID sales through their innovative response to the pandemic. Because of the successful response to COVID, the owner also has plans to open a second location. 

Small Business Success Story – Overcoming Challenges

Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College


Randolph Community College

Jill Sparks and the Small Business Center team at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College are recognized for their work with CarolAnn Bauer, who invented the first and only specialty underwear for plus-size women who suffer from intertrigo, and is the owner of Dry Apron, LLC, the company that manufactures the garments. As a client of the Small Business Center, Bauer took advantage of the center's seminars and Resource Library, and entered the A-B Tech Business Incubation program. She received help from the center to create her pitch to win seed funding to perfect the design, beta-test it, and contract with a small company to make the garments. Bauer navigated a number of challenges to achieve her dream. She is a senior citizen who grew up in a poor neighborhood, overcame health problems, was on disability for several years and navigated both full- and part-time jobs to find time and resources to build her business. She believes that everyone has something to give, regardless of their challenges, and encourages others to pursue their dreams of business ownership.

Randolph Community College and Small Business Counselor Dr. Jonathan Thill are recognized for working with Jaylin Brower, owner of Peak Performance by Jaylin, a business that specializes in helping individuals achieve their health and fitness goals. Born into a blended family with six other children and never knowing his father, Brower overcame numerous challenges as an often-homeless youth. Years later, as a college football player, struggling to maintain his grades, work full time, and be a stellar athlete, he continued to be placed into poverty-stricken circumstances, which led him to sell marijuana in an act of financial desperation. Booted out of college and sent back to Ramseur, he bounced from job to job when employers learned of his felony charge. He found his calling helping young athletes avoid the challenges that plagued him as a young adult and began the entrepreneurial journey that has led to his current business pursuits. He credits the center with helping him to gain the critical information needed to successfully build his business from start to finish, including creating his business plan, scaling the business, tracking key performance indicators, homing in on his target market and innovating through constant review of his business model. He is now operating a business that gives him the opportunity to change the trajectory of lives for generations to come.

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 directors were recognized with credentialing awards.

  • Level 1 credentialing awards were presented to Scott Keen, Piedmont CC; and Sheri Jones, Vance-Granville CC.
  • Level 2 credentialing awards were presented to Katelyn Edmondson, Edgecome CC; and Frank Silver, McDowell Technical CC.
  • A Level 3 credentialing award was presented to Terri Brown, Central Carolina CC.

Service awards recognize the number of years a center director has served the Small Business Center Network.

  • A 20-year service award was presented to Ginger O’Neal, College of The Albemarle.
  • Awards for 15 years of service were presented to Renee Hode, Central Piedmont CC; Pat Killette, Johnston CC; and Bob Moore, Robeson CC.
  • A 10-year service award was presented to Suzanne Wallace, Western Piedmont CC.
  • Five-year service awards were presented to Terri Brown, Central Carolina CC; Steve Padgett, Cleveland CC; and Allen Cook, Mayland CC.