English is her major at Shaw University, but entrepreneurship is Jennifer Samuels’ plan for using that degree in the real world.
The college junior from New York plans to open a youth center focused on teaching reading and writing comprehension through African American literature. But to make it happen, she knows she needs to learn the business side of her venture—from legal documentation to trademarking to creating a business plan.
Before this week, Samuels didn’t have a place to get that regular guidance.
But now, she can walk two blocks from campus to a new Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center at the edge of downtown and southeast Raleigh to participate in daily workshops, mentoring sessions, lunch and learns by experienced entrepreneurs and a speakers series with nationally known business experts. Eventually, she could apply for a loan to get her center up and running.
“We have events on and off (at Shaw) but to have a consistent place to come and get information is great,” says Samuels.
The Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center, opened Thursday at the corner of Blount and Cabarrus streets in downtown Raleigh, is a partnership between the Carolina Small Business Development Fund and Shaw University.
It’s an effort by the CSBDF to expand its “dream catching” mission—to help small businesses, a majority minority-owned, become sustainable and grow. For Shaw, the center helps to ensure every student learns how to think like an entrepreneur during college and to take advantage of experiential learning opportunities.
“We want them to understand that they can use the skill sets while on campus to think entrepreneurially and contribute to the bottom line by the time we send them to you,” Shaw President Tashni-Ann Dubroy told a crowd gathered Thursday to celebrate the center’s grand opening (view her short speech here).
The center fills a couple gaps in the community. It gives Shaw a place to send students with ideas as it preps to launch a more formal curriculum around entrepreneurship.
In Raleigh, it fills a gap left by the Raleigh Business and Technology Center, a city-supported incubator that shut down in 2013 after a scandal involving the center leaders. Efforts to reopen the incubator have been futile so far. A year ago, the city of Raleigh rejected several proposals from the community.
One was a partnership involving Shaw University and the Carolina Small Business Development Fund (under its former name The Support Center), as well as established tech hubs HQ Raleigh and American Underground.
In some ways, this effort is a way of moving that project forward without involvement from the city. Executive director of the new center is Talib Graves-Manns, a local entrepreneur who previously served as a CODE2040 entrepreneur-in-residence at American Underground (ExitEvent’s parent company). He’s well connected nationally through San Francisco-based CODE2040, his organization Black Wall Street Homecoming and various entrepreneurial endeavors, and has many programs and workshops in various planning stages.
CSBDF already has some programming (like business plan and financial services assistance) for small businesses and entrepreneurs, as well as a loan program that provides up to $250,000 loans at attractive terms. Since that program began in 2010, CSBDF has provided 475 loans totaling nearly $34 million. That equates to more than 1,000 jobs created or retained across the state over six years.
The only thing missing from the new space are subsidized offices for startup teams and small businesses to rent. The Raleigh Business & Technology Center spanned 8,500 square feet (though space appears to still be available for rent there, even without leadership in place). The new I&E Center is 2,000 square feet on two floors, and includes coworking desks and a pair of private offices for teams to meet.
CSBDF President and CEO Lenwood Long has seen his organization through several iterations since he aided in its start in 1991. As it adds new programs, services and now spaces, what stays constant is a theme of dream catching, for small business owners in the Southeast Raleigh community and now for students like Samuels.
Here’s how Long defines dream catching at CSBDF:
“Dream catching means you have a dream of being in business but there tends to be something in the way of that, whether it be business planning or capital. We have been a blender, blending the business service component with capital. So you have a dream about a business you didn’t think would be realized and you found out about CSBDF, and we’re able to help you realize your dream.”
The I&E center is now open daily at 444 S. Blount Street, Suite 115. More information can be found here.