Becky Bocklage*Editor’s Note: CC Biz Buzz is a monthly column series that features insightful commentary from a member of the Columbia College Robert W. Plaster School of Business faculty.

I recently saw an observation on social media that “February is the quiet time in education.” The author’s point: This is the down period as we wait for days to get longer and the bustle and anticipation of spring break grows, followed closely by graduation. Around Columbia College, that’s not the case, though. It is very busy!

Just this past weekend, Columbia College hosted its fourth Black Business Expo. This year’s expo was the biggest such event we’ve had the privilege of sponsoring. More than 60 businesses owned by Black entrepreneurs showcased their offerings to our community. Everything from prenatal health care for Black women through the Mid-Missouri Black Doula Collective to others offering services to help senior individuals age-in-place — there was really something for everyone of any age and race. These entrepreneurs brought innovative solutions to satisfy the wants and solve the needs of their customers. The whole event was vibrant and fun, honoring the African American experience and ingenuity of Black entrepreneurs. I’m going to give a special shoutout to Kingston with King-Lee Things, who maybe was the youngest entrepreneur at the event. He helped me get a special package together for a dear friend — and his sales pitch along with customer service was top-notch!

The impacts from COVID-19 were strongly detrimental to minority-owned businesses, and the fact that these owners are surviving and thriving in Columbia and our surrounding area is a cause for great celebration. The Brookings Institution reports, “While the pandemic has disproportionately hurt pre-existing Black businesses — who face steeper declines in sales and a harder time accessing capital than their white counterparts — it has also spurred the creation of new Black firms, according to a 2021 report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.” Columbia College was proud to showcase resilient Black businesses that sustained operations throughout the past few years and also those that have recently started, shining a light on their success. I encourage you to visit local Black-owned businesses in the very near future!

Highlighting the importance and excitement of entrepreneurship is what Columbia College’s Robert W. Plaster School of Business’ Steven and Barbara Fishman Center for Entrepreneurship is all about. There are a couple of other free events coming up at Columbia College that support entrepreneurs, and we invite our community to attend.

The first is the Missouri Women’s Business Center Pitch Competition in New Hall Event Space on March 2.  Please plan to join us and see the slate of outstanding women entrepreneurs who will be pitching for $8,000 in total prize money.

Columbia College loves showcasing student entrepreneurs, too. On March 17, the Fishman Center for Entrepreneurship will be hosting our eighth annual Entrepreneurship Showcase featuring the Student Business Pitch Competition. While “Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook at the age of 19,” according to Statista, this “is the exception rather than the rule.” Most founders are over the age of 40! Student entrepreneurs are unique in the startup space.

Our pitch competition is open to Columbia College students from our main campus, Online Program or any of our more than 40 locations across the nation. This year, we have students preparing from coast to coast! We’ll be flying students here to compete in person for $10,000 in award money, and our showcase and pitch are open for the public to attend. The pitch competition is from 8 a.m. to noon on March 17 in New Hall Event Space, and keynote speaker Ben McDougal will be speaking at 1 p.m. with a talk entitled “No Permission Required.” Ben is a serial entrepreneur and master connector working with 1 Million Cups and the Kauffman Foundation. Winners of the pitch competition will be announced at 2 p.m. to conclude the event.

All of these events are made possible by generous donors and individuals willing to give time, talent and treasure. A genuine thank-you to the Fishman family for sponsoring Columbia College’s Fishman Center for Entrepreneurship, through which we are able to invest $10,000 in emerging student entrepreneurs, and to everyone in our community who honors, supports and shines a light on minority business owners and entrepreneurs.

Becky Bocklage serves as director of Columbia College’s Fishman Center for Entrepreneurship.