Business & Economy Georgia Impact Society & Culture

UGA sets the standard for small business programs

Athens, Ga. – When other states are looking for best practices in small business development, they’re looking more often at the University of Georgia.

In recent years, programs developed by UGA’s Small Business Development Center have become a model for other universities. At a recent Digital Marketing Boot Camp, the audience included counselors from the University of Alabama SBDC.

“We try to rip off and duplicate as much as we can,” said Alabama SBDC Director Bill Cummins. “We exchange ideas, our best practices and sometimes our mistakes. The Southeast directors get together twice a year. We always spend an hour or two talking about innovation, new practices. The nice part about this business is we’re not competitors. We’re all in the same boat so to speak.”

UGA’s SBDC first began getting out-of-state attention in 2013 when the University of Florida copied a veterinary and pharmacy school externship developed by SBDC Senior Public Service Associate Jeff Sanford. Auburn followed a year later. The program, which provides students an opportunity to learn business practices while working alongside professional pharmacists and veterinarians, will be emulated at Washington State University and North Carolina State University over the next two years.

“The (SBDC) program was kind of founded here nationally and has been around a long time,” SBDC Director Allan Adams said. “We’ve done innovative things and other SBDCs have asked for our help. We’ve taken from other SBDCs.

“We’re sort of high profile in SBDC stuff nationally. We’re very visible to that group. People look to us. We’re very inclined to share.”

Several months ago, staff from the UGA SBDC traveled to Miami to train staff in marketing skills as part of the Florida SBDC’s annual statewide professional development program.

The UGA SBDC has shared GrowSmart, an SBDC program that helps existing business expand, and StartSmart, which helps entrepreneurs launch small businesses, with other states, including Kansas and Texas.

The Digital Marketing Boot Camp is a daylong class supported by a grant from the Georgia Technology Authority. It focuses on major social media platforms like Facebook and Google, as well as smaller ones like Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn. In addition to welcoming people from other states to classes at one of UGA’s 17 SBDC offices, UGA instructors have taught the program in San Antonio and Austin.

Cummins wants to bring the program to Alabama next summer.

“I think it’s great for us to be able to help build the reputation of the Georgia SBDC,” said UGA SBDC Program Director Bernie Meineke. “We’re considered throughout the country as a very strong program and I think this is further evidence of that. Our first goal is to make great programs for Georgia businesses, but anytime we can showcase our people and help businesses in other areas, we’re obviously very glad to do that.”

Small Business Development Center by the numbers:
• Last year worked with 4,300 small business owners and prospective entrepreneurs.
• Helped launch more than 330 new businesses and obtain $78 million in startup capital.
• Established businesses saw sales growth of 16.8 percent and employment growth of 13.5 percent in a still sluggish economy.
• SBDC assistance led to the creation of 2,261 new jobs.