Laura DiSano and Bob Clark play an integral role in cultivating Aiken’s small business scene, and their efforts have been rewarded.
The Small Business Development Center on the University of South Carolina Aiken campus, where both DiSano and Clark work as consultants, received the Small Business Administration’s Excellence and Innovation Center Award for the South Carolina District.
The award is given to a small business development center that assists with new business ventures, capital creation, innovative programming and other aspects that foster economic growth in a community, said Anna Huntley, an economic development specialist for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s South Carolina office.
“The Aiken area (center) has demonstrated remarkable initiative in helping entrepreneurs and small businesses throughout the region to succeed,” Huntley said.
In 2013, the center helped establish four new businesses, generate nearly 30 jobs and circulate $4.6 million back into the local economy through financial activities such as building acquisitions and new hires.
DiSano, a retired market executive at Bank of America, and Clark, a retired entrepreneur, took over the center three years ago. The two have consulted one on one with 120 Aiken-based clients in industries ranging from bio-pharmaceutical and engineering to manufacturing and retail.
“They’re the hopeful, optimistic members of our society that still want to take a chance,” DiSano said of small businesses, both existing and emerging. “You’re dealing with people that have creativity and energy. They’re optimistic in believing they can do something special and call it their own. It’s very energizing to work with that.”
DiSano and Clark also were driving forces behind the first business incubator in downtown Aiken, the Mill on Park, by developing the project’s proposal and presenting it to Aiken city officials.
The Laurens Street facility, a partnership of private investment and USC Aiken, is scheduled to open this month as a liaison for startups and established small businesses. It will give USC Aiken students first-hand business experience.
“I always kind of feel that when you have business, government and education coming together on a project, you get the best of the best because you have thinking, a lot of practical experience in business and a community committed to making it work,” DiSano said. “I know that innovative project had some real weight in us receiving this award as well.”
The center, which is supported by state, federal and local funding, will be honored May 7 at the Annual Salute to Small Business event held at the state Capitol in Columbia.