Columbia College Inaugurates the Women’s Business Center of South Carolina
May 18, 2018 09:26AM
● By Kathleen Maris
Columbia College has established the Women’s Business Center of South Carolina, a hub for catalyzing, wayfinding, and growing women’s entrepreneurship. This was made possible by seed investments from Google and the South Carolina Department of Commerce Office of Innovation. South Carolina ranks 4th in the nation for women starting businesses and is home to more than 160,000 existing woman-owned businesses.
“We know women are capable of starting enterprises,” said Dr. Kasie Whitener, co-founder of the Women’s Business Center. “We looked around and couldn’t see where they were being offered statewide-level community, networking, and educational resources that would help them grow those enterprises.”
The Women’s Business Center will be headquartered at Columbia College, a nonprofit liberal arts college with a strong history of educating women, and will reach deep into the state through road shows, residencies, and partnership-driven programming. The steering team includes women business owners, nonprofit executives, academics, and fellow resource providers. The Center’s work will be overseen by Katherine Swartz-Hilton, executive director at the McNair Center for Entrepreneurism & Community Engagement at Columbia College, and Whitener, project manager at the McNair Center.
“Since her founding in 1854, Columbia College has been on the cusp of foresight and innovation,” said Columbia College President Dr. Carol Moore. “Our experience working with women and student entrepreneurs since 2014 in our McNair Center for Entrepreneurism and Community Engagement makes this the ideal location for the Women’s Business Center of South Carolina. There is no organization in South Carolina working statewide focused on educating, serving, and connecting women business owners, and the College is uniquely experienced and positioned to take on this charge.”
The vision for the center is a statewide congregation of women entrepreneurs united through community and common purpose to add jobs, increase revenue, and achieve economic independence.
“This has to be a collaborative effort,” said Swartz-Hilton. “We need to cover the entire state to be legitimate, and we cannot do that without a strong network of volunteers and members who believe in what we’re trying to do. Building the network of partners to support the Women’s Business Center concept has been the most rewarding part of the process so far. From Clemson to Charleston and Rock Hill to Greenwood, we’ve earned support from every business, community, government, and higher education professional to which we’ve spoken.”
The founders envision a collaborative of regional committees working to create and deliver programming for women business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs across the state. Among the Women’s Business Center’s earliest endeavors will be to map existing resources for women entrepreneurs in the state and to conduct listening sessions in all regions to discern what exactly women business owners want from the Center. The Women’s Business Center will present regular Friday learning sessions.
“We want to start connecting right away,” said Swartz-Hilton. “So we built some early programming which we expect to iterate over the summer.”
Friday sessions will rotate through a cycle of coffee meet-ups, online events, luncheons, and happy hours. The weekly program meets the Grow with Google goal of engaging women and growing their digital literacy, and the use of tools to engage as many women as possible in the Columbia metro area while also offering opportunities for women in the Upstate, Lowcountry, PeeDee, and Rock Hill regions to be engaged online.