Black women entrepreneurs can bring their businesses to life with help from incubator program
When Courtney James decided to leave corporate America to start her business in 2019, she chose the Enterprise Center incubator at Winston-Salem State University as her first address. By doing so, she had access to affordable office space, workshops, mentoring, marketing support and a computer tech center. Two years later she enjoyed the benefits of an expansion of that business development program when the university’s S.G. Atkins Community Development Corp. was awarded a grant by the Small Business Administration to establish the sixth Women’s Business Center in North Carolina and the second at a historically Black university in the state. Aside from additional classes for incubator occupants, the expansion promoted access to SBA grant and loan programs, an advisory committee of mentors and resources addressing barriers to economic mobility. The timing couldn’t have been better for James, the founder of Support Systems of Forsyth County Transportation LLC, a five-year-old business that works to remove the barriers to success that the lack of transportation presents. Support Systems provides transportation for people needing access to employment and education opportunities and Medicaid/Medicare-related needs.
Courtney James founded Support Systems of Forsyth County Transportation LLC, a business that works to remove the barriers to success that the lack of transportation presents. “The Women’s Business Center opened and the next thing you know, the pandemic is in full swing,” James said. “Because people couldn’t go out, that reduced the need for our services. It gave us time to step back and sharpen the saw and take some time off from hitting the streets. Having access to a center that catered specifically to women allowed us to make sure we had everything in order from a financial perspective, including access to grants from the government. It positioned me to get over $100,000 in funding during a time where it was needed the most in order to keep going.” The funding allowed James to increase her fleet from two vehicles to 10, giving her the opportunity to serve more customers as pandemic restrictions eased.
Making a match The Women’s Business Center came to life because of the work of Carol Davis, executive director of the university’s S.G. Atkins Community Development Corporation. She did the research and co-wrote the grant application. In a competitive process, the SBA Office of Women’s Business Ownership narrowed the finalists to the 20 it believed could start strong centers and raise the fund-matching requirement. Because the Enterprise Center had been serving businesses for 10 years, it was able to show it had the experience to serve more entrepreneurs. The match requirement was from a $75,000 grant from financial services company Wells Fargo. With hundreds of locations and more than 34,000 employees across North Carolina, Wells Fargo is committed to supporting communities in the state in the areas of housing, small business, financial health and a low-carbon future. In 2021, Wells Fargo provided more than $12.3 million in grants to organizations across the state, making it one of the top corporate philanthropists. The bank is particularly focused on assisting small business owners and entrepreneurs, and giving back through employee volunteerism/nonprofit board service. “The matching funds were so important and Wells Fargo believed in our work,” Davis said. “To make projects like this possible, which will impact Black women entrepreneurs in such a positive way, requires partnerships with financial institutions like this that have made a commitment to underserved communities.”
“We are focused on helping entrepreneurs like Courtney and her small business get back to growing again,” said Ben Bruce, Wells Fargo’s Small Business leader for the Atlantic region. “Having access to trusted experts can be a critical turning point for small business owners facing financial hardships and other business challenges. Wells Fargo is proud to support the Enterprise Center incubator and Winston-Salem State University as they work to reimagine technical assistance for entrepreneurs and offer a mix of resources and support systems that can help diverse small business owners grow stronger and more resilient.”
Stronger communities Today, the Women’s Business Center supports 48 Black-owned businesses and a few nonprofits. When it comes to Black-owned, woman-owned businesses like Support Systems of Forsyth County, the support is particularly impactful, Davis said. That’s because there’s much work to be done to lessen the wage gap for women of color and increase access to capital for a historically underbanked demographic. “It’s vital to have this resource in the community because we believe talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not,” Davis said. “We wanted to make sure we created the opportunity for women like Courtney – who are talented, have great ideas and a lot of energy – to succeed and make a good living for their families. And because her business is a social enterprise that helps others, there’s the added bonus that it makes our community healthier and stronger.” To learn more about how Wells Fargo is supporting the communities it serves, visit Wells Fargo Stories.