The Virginia Small Business Development Center’s (SBDC) International Business Development (IBD) program is a Stage One winner for the 2023 Growth Accelerator Fund Competition (GAFC) from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The Virginia SBDC, hosted through George Mason University, will receive a $50,000 cash prize to, according to their press release, “build strategic partnerships that will support the launch, growth, and scale of STEM/R&D-focused small businesses with a focus on international markets.”
The Virginia SBDC network of 27 regional centers serves current and prospective small businesses around the commonwealth by providing ongoing support and resources to help them achieve their short- and long-term goals. They offer confidential, no-cost advising to small businesses, entrepreneurs, and individuals hoping to start and/or grow their businesses, as well as training and workshops for business management and connecting business leaders to critical resources such as funding partners. Businesses from hair salons and toy companies to IT consulting and manufacturing have utilized SBDC services to develop successful business models.
On President Washington’s Access to Excellence podcast Paula Sorrell, associate vice president for innovation and economic development at Mason, called this methodology a “no wrong door approach”: no matter where they come from or where they’re going, an entrepreneur can go to an SBDC and be connected to resources to get them to where they need to be.
The Virginia SBDC is part of the larger Mason Virginia Promise, which promises a pathway to a bachelor’s degree or small business for any Virginian who wants one. Through the SBDC, Mason has an estimated economic impact in Virginia of more than $1 billion.
“The Mason Virginia Promise is a commitment from the university to say that we are available and accessible to everyone in the commonwealth,” said Jody Keenan, state director of the Virginia SBDC. “We can meet you where you are and figure out what’s the best game plan to help you accomplish whatever goals or milestones you have for yourself or your business.”
The IBD specifically helps businesses expand into international markets through market research, training programs, and customized business advising on topics such as market selection, regulatory compliance, and the mechanics of trade. The IBD’s goal is to be issue-spotters: preventing small business from making costly mistakes in foreign markets.
Through its GAFC-supported project, the IBD program will enhance its services to Virginia’s STEM companies. “Innovative firms with global aspirations have an entirely different set of considerations they need to incorporate into their business practices,” said Aaron Miller, international trade director for the IBD.
With the prize money, Miller explained that the IBD will “convene partners and potential partners to discuss how we can best provide foundational awareness on international issues—such as intellectual property protection, data privacy, and export control laws—for more STEM companies. In particular, we will be seeking more ways to engage with founders from underserved communities to ensure that resources are being equitably provided.” To that end, they are building on their partnership with the Black and Global Business Network and hope to create a tailored approach to training and counseling for traditionally underserved and under-resourced companies.
“We want to make international expansion part of an integrated, inclusive approach to business assistance for high-potential STEM firms. Hopefully, this new focus helps more innovative Virginia businesses to enter and succeed in global markets,” said Miller.
The IBD will have the opportunity to compete for an additional $50,000 to $150,000 from the SBA’s Growth Accelerator Fund later this summer.