Heather McWhorter on helping regional businesses launch and grow
While success has different meanings to different people, many would classify starting a business and watching it flourish while enjoying the day-to-day operations as a huge success. HEATHER MCWHORTER helps those with lofty aspirations achieve those goals of success through the Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC).
“I have committed my career to support entrepreneurs, innovators, and job creators,” McWhorter says. “In my career to date, I have created and supported a variety of nonprofit and university-based business and sustainability programs.”
While helping small businesses in the region is her career, McWhorter’s educational degrees are in engineering which provided many of the skills needed as a business counselor.
“At its core, engineering curriculum teaches students how to learn, solve problems, and work effectively,” she says. “The ability to learn new topics quickly and empower clients to solve problems helped me to be a good counselor when I started with another state’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) 21 years ago. The learning continues to this day, which is one of the many reasons that I love working with the SBTDC.”
McWhorter serves as the regional center director of the southeast region of the SBTDC that is based at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
“In my role, I oversee the center operations, work directly with businesses and support our team of professional business counselors,” says McWhorter. “I ensure top-notch, impactful assistance and effective marketing and networking that results in a diverse client base. The beauty of working at the SBTDC is that we help individuals (entrepreneurs and small business owners), which ends up helping our community by making it a more interesting place to live and by creating and saving jobs.”
McWhorter adds that in the state, 44% of jobs are at small businesses.
“Entrepreneurs and small business owners are optimists, resilient, creative and so much more. They are wonderful people to be able to help,” she says.
The best part? The services do not put a financial strain on those seeking to start these new businesses. The organization is a UNC business extension program funded by the Small Business Administration, the state, and other partners so assistance is provided at no cost to entrepreneurs and small businesses.
“In 2020, UNCW SBTDC helped more than 700 businesses in southeast NC with unbiased, confidential, no-cost services,” McWhorter says. “We help manufacturers, restaurants, technology companies, retail shops, consultants – every type of for-profit small business.”
The organizations’ counseling services include access to capital, business planning, market and competitive analysis, strategic positioning, human resources, government procurement, international trade, and technology development and commercialization.
“We use tools and research to help business owners make educated decisions about the best path forward with their business.”
As is the case with every business these days, COVID required adjustments to be made for the SBTDC to be able to continue to benefit small business owners.
“Across the nation, COVID has resulted in a surge in both small businesses in distress and new businesses being created,” McWhorter says. “The UNCW SBTDC is uniquely positioned to help established businesses whether they are surviving, sustaining or scaling – or just getting started.”
SBTDC experienced an increased need for business assistance because of COVID, McWhorter says.
“We expanded our team at UNCW SBTDC in 2020 with two business resiliency counselors,” she says. “They provide services similar to other business counselors, but also focus on COVID-19 related needs such as disaster funding, stabilizing operations, and safely welcoming back customers.”
The SBTDC has a free, virtual program called “Taking the Leap” which helps people go from an idea to starting a business in four weeks.
Additionally, the SBTDC is very proud of the diverse group of business owners it has been able to help.
“Entrepreneurship is an equalizer, so empowering people with good ideas to start businesses is something that I am particularly passionate about,” McWhorter says. “Thirty-five percent of the new businesses that we helped create in 2020 are minority-owned businesses and 60% are woman-owned businesses.”
To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.
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