Approximately 100 small business owners and students attended UNC Pembroke’s E-Summit on March 3. The full day of networking and small-business education focused on accounting and finance and included sessions on allocating resources, financing start-ups and filing taxes.
Thomas Center founder Jim Thomas with Robeson County Economic Development Director Greg Cummings
The annual conference is a joint project of UNCP’s School of Business and its Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship. Center founder Jim Thomas, a Pembroke native and CEO of the Los Angeles-based Thomas Property Group, knows first-hand the skills entrepreneurs need to succeed. He addressed E-Summit participants about his experiences in starting several businesses.
“If I could do it all over again, I would have gone to business school,” said Thomas, who is an attorney. “I had to learn the hard way.
“At universities like UNCP, young entrepreneurs can take advantage of training in the classroom, and the Thomas Family Center can come out and offer expert assistance,” he said.
This annual conference is just one hallmark of UNCP’s Thomas Center. Apart from this conference, the center plays an ongoing part in the University’s business program, advising small businesses and start-ups and promoting programs in entrepreneurship at the University and throughout the region. Thomas chairs the center’s advisory board.
“I am very pleased with the progress at the Thomas Center, and we now have a faculty chair to help us promote entrepreneurship,” Thomas continued.
Dr. Mike Menefee is the Thomas Family Professor for Entrepreneurship and director of UNCP’s entrepreneurship program. Dr. Menefee helped establish an entrepreneurship track for business majors, a concentration for MBA candidates and a certificate program for students with any major.
Members of UNCP faculty and executive administration took part in the conference. Chancellor Kyle Carter kicked off the event with opening remarks in which he thanked Thomas for his dedication to the community. Chancellor Carter also acknowledged the increasing profile of entrepreneurship at UNCP.
“We depend on entrepreneurs to make the economy more robust, and training the next generation of entrepreneurs at this University makes sense,” Dr. Carter said. “I hope we can expand these programs because they are important to the region and state.”
Plenty of entrepreneurs and small-business owners took advantage of the training and guidance the conference offered, but for different reasons.
Elevator Contest – From left: winter Brandon Eaddy, 3rd place Ronell Anderson and 2nd place Kyera Tennyson
Diane Surgeon, owner of ComForCare, an adult daycare in Lumberton, was seeking inspiration.
“Every now and then, you need something like this to stimulate your mind,” Surgeon said. “I need inspiration because I am embarking on the most exciting and challenging venture ever for me.”
Minh Hua, a business major, and Anh Pham, an MBA candidate, are international business students from Vietnam. Both hope to be small-business owners.
“It is very difficult for small business, especially in Vietnam,” Pham said. “I am looking into real estate.”
Hua said UNCP and programs like this are helpful.
“I am not sure what business to be in, but studying business at UNCP will help,” he said.
Kendria Finkley and Kathy Clark stayed busy networking between sessions. They own Rainbow 66 Storehouse, a mental-health home-care company in Fayetteville.
“We are interested in learning more about small-business management and networking while we’re here,” Finkley said.
“We are in an expansion phase moving into services for returning veterans, and we’re looking to the Thomas Center and UNCP for possible assistance,” Clark said.
The program presenters were a mix of UNCP business faculty and accountants from CP&K, a local company.
Accounting Professor Dr. Stewart Thomas discussed accounting for small-business start-ups, advising entrepreneurs to “focus on what you do best” and get professional help with accounting.
Dr. Ramin Maysami, a finance professor, discussed financing and money-saving tips for “bootstrap” companies.
CP&K’s Matt Peterson, a Certified Public Accountant and UNCP graduate, discussed business taxes; the firm’s Tamara Kemp, also a CPA, talked about requirements for CPA interactions.
As director of the Thomas Center, Dr. Carmen Calabrese actively advises small businesses. He taught a session on QuickBooks, the popular accounting software used by many small businesses.
Hands-on Participation While most of the day’s information flowed from these small-business experts to the people in the audience, UNCP students took an opportunity to show their skills, too.
This year’s E-Summit program included an “elevator competition” in which several UNCP business students had 90 seconds to pitch their idea for a business start-up—90 seconds being the length of time one might share an elevator ride with a potential investor.
Three students in Dr. Menefee’s entrepreneurship class competed for $1,000 in prize money with their pitches, in which they described and promoted new businesses they would like to start. Thermal Metals Treating Company of Aberdeen, N.C., itself a successful small business, contributed the prize money.
Brandon Eaddy earned $500 for his idea for an import-export business, which he personally researched during a study abroad experience.
Second place and $300 went to Kyera Tennyson. Ronell Anderson won third place and $200.