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Small business program receives accreditation

Students graduating from the College of Business and Administration (COBA) won’t have to look far to get their business ideas off the ground.

The USF Small Business Development Center (SBDC), a counseling service for small business owners and entrepreneurs, received full accreditation from national accrediting agency the Association of Small Business Development Centers, becoming the first in the state to do so.

The USF SBDC, which has been open since 1980 under the umbrella of the Florida SBDC network, uses resources from federal, state and local governments to partner with educators and aid small businesses in their development, said SBDC representative Cassie Henderson.

According to its website, the USF chapter has “helped more than 168,000 small business owners and entrepreneurs in west- central Florida create and retain close to 45,000 jobs and win government contract awards worth over $1 billion” since its inception – an effort the accreditation may help to continue.

“(The accreditation) basically allows us to, one, continue to receive funding through the (Small Business Association) because we are only partially funded through COBA and, two, become the only business consultation service that offers consultations by certified business analysts,” Henderson said. “The accreditation actually means that our counselors are certified to instruct small business owners or entrepreneurs.” However, students can benefit from its services as well, she said. The SBDC currently
employs two USF student interns and offers scholarships on its website geared toward students.

“A lot of the time, we’ll encourage students to attend our conferences,” Henderson said. “We recently had a medical health care conference where a lot of the students that attended were … medical students who want to set up their own practice after they graduate. They’ll come to that class because it provides them with the insight they need to operate a practice in the real world.”

All classes are free, and all counselors undergo specific training and have their master’s degree in business administration, Henderson said.

“We get part of our funding through the SBA and the other through USF. It’s a matching grant, so whatever the SBA gives us, USF will match it,” she said. “That’s why our accreditation was so important because it allows us to continue offering all of our services for free.”

Even though the program now has accreditation under its belt, the personal service clients receive will remain the same, Henderson said. The only changes will be several additional classes that will become available within a couple of weeks.

“Now we offer monthly classes on everything from how to start a business to business taxes,” she said. “Now we’re offering a few more classes like government contracting for businesses or students in general who want to learn how to work with the government. We are also bringing in a business disaster class to help small businesses learn how to maintain operations during the midst of a disaster.”

During hard economic times, where the current unemployment rate is 11.2 percent in Florida, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the USF group has helped to create businesses varying from Plant City law firms to local floral shops, according to its website.

“We are a part of the USF COBA,” Hutchinson said, “but we’re really for the community.”