A world of growth for Philadelphia’s small businesses

March 10, 2020 //
Opening of SBDC Ambler Campus


Maura Shenker knows that many entrepreneurs feel the safest when their destiny is in their own hands. 

“What an entrepreneur is really doing is betting on themselves,” says Shenker. As director of the Temple University Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Shenker works to help those entrepreneurs find success in the Philadelphia community. 

Housed within the Fox School, the center operates as a low- or no-cost consulting service, business educator and relationship broker for entrepreneurs and small business owners in the region. They serve entrepreneurs at any stage of business development, from a new business about to launch to a well-loved local business looking for the best way to expand. “Not only do we serve Philadelphia, but we also serve lower Montgomery and lower Bucks counties,” Shenker explains. “There really are no barriers to working with us.” 

The Temple SBDC is one of eighteen organizations in Pennsylvania funded by the Small Business Administration, the PA Department of Community and Economic Development and housed in higher education institutions. “Universities are anchor institutions,” says Shenker. “Because of the Fox School reputation, we see businesses working with the SBDC and coming back to us ten years later.”

Shenker credits the support from the Fox School as instrumental in the center’s success in giving back. “Fox has always been so community-facing,” says Shenker. “The school has really encouraged the SBDC to work out in the community with high-barrier clients.” Through the Fox School, the Temple SBDC receives support in the form of funding, technology, physical space, faculty expertise and knowledge, and data. “We offer opportunities for MBA students to actually work as consultants, where each student works directly with a wide array of clients,” says Shenker. “This is what a real-world consulting experience is.” 

In 2018, the Temple SBDC served over 500 clients through its consulting offerings, workshops and courses, certificate series and legal clinic. “We see a lot of clients in home health care, construction, food and professional services,” says Shenker. Of this year’s clients, 243 were women-owned businesses. 

Take Trina Worrell Benjamin, for example. The North Philadelphian native grew her cleaning business into a company with support from the SBDC’s 10-week business planning class and incubator space. Now, she has a staff of nearly a dozen employees and expects a six-figure profit for this year. Trina takes full advantage of the incubator program; she makes room in her busy schedule to attend each monthly Lunch & Learn and has worked with Temple SBDC interns on improving her marketing.

Or consider Phyllis Ludwig, a Fox alumna and small business owner. Phyllis graduated from the Executive MBA program in 2005 and has received support from the SBDC and the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in growing her company, Ludwig Business Consultants, over the last two decades. 

“We also see a lot of necessity entrepreneurship; people who have been shut out of traditional avenues for income,” says Shenker. Some of the entrepreneurs with whom the SBDC works are part of North Philadelphia’s large reentry population, whose workforce opportunities may be limited to self-employment. This past March, Temple University offered the SBDC use of its library space on the Ambler campus, including rooms for client meetings and co-working. The SBDC is taking advantage of this by developing an incubation program to serve military veterans. Shenker notes that Vicki Lewis McGarvey, vice provost for University College and director of Temple University Ambler was a supportive and driving force behind opening Ambler SBDC. 

Shenker also views her role as advocating for a more supportive business ecosystem in Philadelphia. In meeting with members of city council and heads of policy, Shenker discusses what policies the city can enact that will help with things that are hindering the growth of small businesses. 

“SBDC businesses are the workhorses of the community,” says Shenker. “They’re not unicorns. They’re not developing apps. But they are the lifeblood of Main Street.” And with the SBDC’s help, they are making a difference in their communities. 

How SBDC Serves Philadelphia 

  • One-on-One Consulting: Startup and existing businesses can receive free business guidance from an SBDC consultant paired based on expertise. 
  • Workshops and Business Courses: The current roster of seminars include the 10-week Entrepreneurial Success Workshop Series, a Construction Management Certificate Series and a Temple Business Roundtable.
  • Business Incubator and Co-Working Spaces: The SBDC houses startup businesses in a setting that encourages entrepreneurship.
  • Legal Clinic: In partnership with the Beasley School of Law, the SBDC offers clients legal services including contract review and corporation formation expertise.

Interested in working with the Temple SBDC? Contact sbdc@temple.edu.

See All Fox Focus