The Southern California Virtual Business Center (SC-VBC) is an online facility designed to prepare business owners to scale and grow through the emphasis of corporate and government contracts. The SC-VBC hosts different programs for entrepreneurs at different stages of their business, through the program’s curriculum, resources, and mentorships.
Wednesday, December 11, 2020—The Los Angeles Sentinel (LAS) interviewed Founder and Program Director of the SC-VBC—Kimberly Kelly-Rolfe. We discussed topics like entrepreneurship, how to secure largescale partnerships, the significance of today’s digital market, and starting a business during the pandemic. The following is a Q&A, but for the full interview please click the link (insert link here).
(LAS) Kimberly, for those who are not aware, how did you get to where you are today?
(K) I would say tenacity, a lot of hard work, and just a determination to succeed are probably my biggest success factors. I always think back to something that I used to say in High School, ‘If there is a will, I will find a way! That’s sort of been my life’s moto, I suppose.
(LAS) Let’s talk about Southern California Virtual Business Center, what is your role with this program and what is the program’s objective?
(K) So, I am the director of the Southern California Virtual Business Center (SC-VBC), and our focus is that we are a center that focuses completely on preparing businesses to scale and grow through contracting. So, we do not offer a lot of different programs on different topics. Simply, all our programming focuses on how to prepare businesses to scale and grow through corporate and government contracts because we believe in a long-term sustainability of contracts. It is a true way that business owner can succeed.
(LAS) Are there any qualifications for enrolling in the SC-VBC?
(K) Typically, in order to work with our center, you have to enroll in one of our programs. We have three programs that we offer, and they are for entrepreneurs at different stages. So, our newest program which we are launching in 2021 is called—The Large Incubator. That program is for entrepreneurs who are looking to start a business that is conducive to contracting, or maybe your someone who is recently laid off, as a result of the pandemic, and you want to now pursue entrepreneurship. We are going to train and teach you how to create a business that would be conducive to corporate and government contracts.
(LAS) Do you think a student would get a better education by enrolling to SVCBC’s program over, let’s say a Junior College or Extension Program?
(K) It really depends on what your objective is, if your someone who is looking to scale and grow a business with contracts, by all means, start with the SC-VBC. If you are someone who is still trying to find their way a little bit, and maybe there is a specific topic that you want to pursue; by all means, look into the extension program. And I am going to tell you that, as an educator and a business owner, I am a firm believer in education and continuing that education. I believe there is so much you can learn!
(LAS) Let’s talk about some of SC-VBC’s partnerships, and how did that come together?
(K) We have been fortunate to create partnerships with a number of different corporations. [Some] of our biggest partners and proponents of our program are Southern California Edison, we have also received significant funding from JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America, and now we are entering into a new partnership with the California Black Chamber of Commerce. In terms of the partnerships, our mindset was ‘How do we support our small businesses?’ ‘How can we provide them with the resources and the relationships that they need to scale and grow?’ One of the things that we do in our CBEST program is we actually foster a relationship between corporate partners and our small businesses because we recognize that as they’re seeking to submit RFP and Proposals, we want to make sure that somebody on the side of the table knows their name and truly understands what they bring to the table. We work very closely with our businesses and our partners to bring them into a relationship, and that’s important to us because we need to give our small businesses all the tools that they need to in order to succeed. So, every partnership that we have pursued is with the mindset of continuing to provide resources and support to small businesses.
(LAS) What does a strong digital plan for a small business look like? Is there an ideal outline?
(K) I think that it’s unique for each business. I think that every business has the responsibility to explore their market. Meaning, what are the trends in your industry? What new technology is heading your way? What opportunities/problems do you see in the market that have not been solved? So, when you are thinking of providing a digital solution for your own company, it’s what resources can we utilize and tap into that’s going to keep us connected to our costumer. What’s going to keep us operating efficiently? I guess if I were to breakdown our digital plan or programming, I would want to make sure it definitely includes: a social media platform to make sure we are staying connected, I’m looking at CRM—Costumer Relation Platform, and also a dashboard that’s going to keep all the functionality of the company at the fingertips of the management.
(LAS) What advice do you have for anyone who would like to start a business during the pandemic?
(K) You’re going to have to be creative. You’re going to have to be innovative. I think what we have done in the past may not necessarily work. The reason is now businesses are forced to be able to service costumers in-person and online. You’ve got to have a good strong plan for both because some people still want to walk into the store and get helped, and others are very happy to visit and do business online. I think both during this time is very important.
(LAS) What are some grants/loans that a small business should be taking advantage of right now?
(K) The one good thing that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is that you do have a number of programs out there. You have a number of corporations who are standing up and saying, ‘Let’s support small businesses!’ So, I encourage small businesses to go to the different websites like Amazon.com or Facebook.com. You have a lot or corporations who have put initiatives in place to support small businesses. I think those are things that small businesses have to look for. You also have a number of cities that are doing programs that also provide some sort of grant or relief. Now, I am going to tell you that it is not significant enough to keep your business operating, but it’s a little bit of help along the way. You can do a search to find these different programs, they are available more than I’ve ever seen in the past. You [also] have business development centers that are doing informational meetings to update you on the latest.
(LAS) Can you give me some common mistakes small business are making right now, and how should they be avoided?
(K) I would say not being innovative. This is a time where you have got to get as creative as possible. You have got to talk to people around you, find out what the problems are, what the needs are, and quickly present a solution. Then I would say being willing to pivot. As a business owner, you have got to figure out how to pivot as a company into what could be a new way of doing business. So, I think businesses that stand there and watch, it’s definitely as mistake.
(LAS) You mention creativity and innovation, if you were starting a business right now, how would you be innovative and creative?
(K) I’m glad you asked that! One of the things I teach business owners to do is costumer discovery. Get out there, talk to people, and find out what they are looking for. You have to jump in a learn your industry very, very well. Getting involved with the industry, getting involved with trade shows is important because they are going to teach you sort of what is trending in your industry. As you learn that, it’s going to help you to not only serve the current needs but understand where your industry is going in the future. I definitely believe in social media; I think putting out all your products and services on social media is really important. Staying connected to your costumers and growing your customer base. Do whatever you can as a business owner to show costumers that you are continuing to bring about solutions. Then figure out how you can create a business that is going to position you for corporate and government contracts because in the long term the sustainability that comes from those contracts’ opportunities are just huge.