GREENSBORO, N.C. — A community is only as strong as the businesses that support it. The Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship, a nonprofit in Greensboro, has been helping businesses grow for more than 30 years. That work has been especially beneficial for minority-owned businesses.
Matthew Harris started Relief Heating and Air on the side while he worked for the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem. He says getting laid off in 2015 ended up being a blessing.
“With the pressure building up, here comes the layoff. I said I guess this is just in time because now I have the time to do the work. We had work that was coming and needed to be done. I just wasn’t sure where I was going to get the time from. The layoff gave me the time and I just went full speed ahead,” Harris said.
For the last three years, this family-run operation has rented space at the Nussbaum Center.
“We average about 15,000 people walking through our doors on an annual basis, in a typical year,” said Lisa Hazlett, the Nussbaum Center’s director of communications. “Those entrepreneurs are coming through looking for anything from help writing a business plan, looking for capital for their business, looking for office space they can afford.”
Hazlett says they work with businesses that have been around for three to five years and want to go to the next level.
“So probably the number-one support service that we provide here is emotional support. Walking our business owners through those important decisions they need to make, letting them understand that the indecision and fear they’re facing is normal for every business owner.”
She explained the biggest challenge for businesses in the Piedmont Triad is access to capital. So much goes to Raleigh and Charlotte, but not here. For minority and women-owned businesses, or MWBEs, the challenge is even greater.
“A lot of times, MWBE businesses can’t qualify for money through traditional avenues for myriad reasons: they have outstanding student loans, they maybe don’t have friends and family they can borrow from, they don’t have access to 401Ks, or they’re young,” she said.
MWBEs represent about half of the businesses that have gone through the Nussbaum Center since it was founded more than 30 years ago. This year has been unique.
“Figuring out how to continue to do business the way they’ve always done business, which during 2020 may not necessarily be the right answer,” Hazlett said.
For Harris and Relief Heating and Air, that meant shifting from a reliance on word of mouth for new customers to advertising for the first time. And it worked.
“We’ve had new customers, white and Black, especially even white customers who are calling to verify that we were a Black business so they could support us,” he said. “This year we had an awesome year.”
“We are creating wealth and we are creating jobs. Not the three of us that work for the Nussbaum Center, but the 70 businesses that we have in residence with us are creating high paying jobs,” Hazlett added.
In 2019, businesses housed at the Nussbaum Center generated $21 million in revenue, paid average salaries of $52,000, and created 10-percent of all the new jobs in Guilford County. They partner with Piedmont Business Capital to help bridge the gap in access to capital. But the resources are limited.
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