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Now accepting applications: E-commerce development program aims to help minority-owned small businesses in Columbia

A program in Columbia is accepting applications to help minority-owned small businesses develop their digital presence.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — There's a program in Columbia looking to help minority-owned small businesses jumpstart their e-commerce.

This week, business owners can apply to be a part of the Sokoni Launchpad E-commerce Development Program.

The USC Columbia Technology Incubator, Sokoni and Wells Fargo have partnered to create the program. Sokoni is a platform by 37 Oaks, which has an online university based out of Chicago.

Kate Stewart, program and communications director at the USC Columbia Technology Incubator, and her team have opened applications for the second cohort of program.

According to the 37 Oaks website, the six month program "offers small, product-based business owners the opportunity to sell products on our e-commerce marketplace; seven 37 Oaks University courses; monthly 1:1 coaching sessions and back-end administrative, marketing, operations, warehouse & logistic support."

The program is open specifically for minority-owned businesses in the Columbia area. 

"We saw that need that was out there and it wasn’t being served, so we stepped in to serve to make sure we’re approaching everything from a diverse and inclusive standpoint," Stewart said about the mission behind focusing on minority-owned businesses.

Stewart said highlighting diverse businesses in the Columbia area is important, because sometimes they go unnoticed.

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"These businesses are here in Columbia and no one knows about them," she said.

Teresa Tidwell-Smith owns the candle-company Meaningful Embraces. She participated in the program last year and successfully graduated. 

Tidwell-Smith started her candle business after spending 30 years in the travel industry. First as a flight attendant, she eventually became a travel agent. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and her clients weren’t able to travel, she captured the scents of their favorite places in candles.

"Launching a product, I had no idea what I was doing initially," Tidwell-Smith said. "So when I found Sokoni and realized it was linked to USC, it was a win -win."

Tidwell-Smith was able to break into e-commerce thanks to the program. She says this helped teach her what she wouldn’t have known how to do on her own. For minority-owned businesses, she says this program is particularly helpful.

"It’s very important because it helps the city. It helps everyone, our residents, our cities really see the vast array of talent we have here in Columbia," Tidwell-Smith said.

So, why e-commerce?

"As everyone knows, it is 2022 and online and e-commerce and everything with your phone or computers or digital media is thriving," Stewart said.

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This has certainly proven true for Meaningful Escapes. Tidwell-Smith has expanded her business in the past year. It is now a distribution center, supplying her product to other businesses.

Whether you make candles, food, hair products, or anything in between, all minority-owned small businesses in Columbia can apply on the Technology Incubator’s website

The applications close on Friday.

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