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WNC Business

A greenhouse for local business development

Jun 22, 2023 01:59PM ● By Ben Smith

When Debra Saalfied, founder of Hendersonville-based business Sit Step Sing, contacted our Small Business Center at Blue Ridge Community College in 2020, the pandemic had halted her in-person chair fitness classes. Debra used our free business counseling program to help her adapt and make her business resilient during those unprecedented times. 

"The Small Business Center seems like a ‘big brother’ in the business community," says Debra. “Their ongoing assistance keeps me focused on making my small business successful."

Over the past five fiscal years, the Small Business Center at Blue Ridge Community College has directly contributed to 84 business starts in Henderson and Transylvania counties by way of business counseling and training sessions. Some clients are solo entrepreneurs or single-member LLCs, while others have 25 employees or more. Our sole mission is to guide entrepreneurs through the steps of considering, planning, developing, opening and growing a small business.

We are part of a network of 58 small business centers across the state – one located on every North Carolina community college campus. Established 38 years ago, the Small Business Center Network provides services at a low or no cost to the local community. 

When we do the numbers, the impact of Blue Ridge’s SBC really adds up. Over the last five years, we've held over 610 unique, live training events with over 8,545 individual entrepreneurs, small business owners, and nonprofit executive directors and board members in attendance. We provided direct business counsel to 657 individual entrepreneurs and small business owners, for a total of 2,341 one-on-one counseling hours with clients in the same time span. Furthermore, through the provision of the above services, we've supported employers as they've created 651 new jobs and retained 654 jobs at risk of being lost. This center has made a tangible difference in our local economy.

The SBC provides a personal approach, supporting clients at their own pace. We help community members build their businesses, create a marketing plan, learn the ins and outs of finance and applicable tax laws, support nonprofits in locating grant opportunities, and much more. Ultimately, we want our clients to realize their dreams of owning their own businesses or making their current businesses more profitable.

During these free, confidential counseling sessions, our advisors act as coaches and serve as sounding boards for ideas, as well as help clients find answers to business questions. When Debra at Sit Step Sing contacted us, we matched her up with finance and marketing experts, as well as an information technology professional. 

The center's training events and webinars are another way for Henderson and Transylvania county entrepreneurs to benefit from the power of having the Small Business Center in their community. That's where Debra learned more about the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce's annual Business Plan Contest. She had attended the center's free "How to Develop a Business Plan" and "How to Develop a Success Plan" seminars and ultimately won the chamber's 2021 contest, receiving a package of free services from providers across a range of industries. 

Networking with the community and knowing how to meet the right people is vital for a new or growing business. We help our clients make meaningful connections, such as with county government agencies and local municipalities regarding permits, licenses, and local ordinances. And, as in Debra’s experience, we connect clients with the local chambers of commerce for engaging in networking events. 

The SBC also has a business resource library on our Henderson County Campus. Full of periodicals, DVDs, books, and computers, our library provides access to advanced business planning software, nonprofit grant databases, market research tools, graphic and design software, and much more, giving clients the resources they need to do market research, develop a business plan, and launch their business. 

While our clients do not have to be enrolled in any program or course at Blue Ridge Community College to be eligible for our free services, it's part of our model to partner across the campus to avail our clients of other opportunities. This includes the Mission Acceleration Business Accelerator program, a comprehensive innovation program designed to assist for-profit, not-for-profit and family-owned businesses. Also, we can help business owners explore the College's academic programs in business, accounting and entrepreneurship. Many of our clients have taken full advantage of short-term training courses in technology, leadership and other topics related to the nature of their business. 

Whether helping a start-up launch or taking an existing business to the next level, we are proud to support our community’s entrepreneurial ventures, creating new jobs and elevating our local economy.

To find out more about the Small Business Center at Blue Ridge Community College, contact Ben Smith at [email protected] or 828-694-1658, or visit

Source: Blue Ridge Community College