Skip to main content

Entrepreneurs can get plenty of free advice, but a UNC-Chapel Hill program makes sure that the free advice it provides comes from a valuable resource – smart, energetic MBA students. The Entrepreneur Technical Assistance Program (E-TAP) matches a student intern with a rural entrepreneur for 10 weeks to develop business plans, growth strategies, market research or whatever the entrepreneur specifically needs.

Two of these E-TAP interns, as well as a recent Carolina master’s graduate, presented their summer achievements to Rep. G.K. Butterfield, the U.S. Congressman who represents 24 counties in eastern North Carolina. These success stories “exceeded my expectations,” he said.

That’s because good economic news seldom comes out of District 1, at one time the fourth poorest Congressional district in the nation. The Eastern Plains Region counties are among the state’s most economically distressed because of declines in tobacco and textile industries.

Promoting business growth and job creation in 18 counties in this region is the goal of N.C. Strategic Economic Growth, funded with a five-year, $642,949 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and $1 million in matching funds from the Kenan Funds. E-TAP interns are an important part of this initiative, now in its third year.

Chris Long, a second-year MBA student at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, developed an inventory and cost-tracking system used by client Shure Foods in Washington, the Beaufort County seat. Company CEO Gabe Dough patented a way to extract and process raw crabmeat that he plans to produce commercially soon.

“As we’re ramping up production,” Long explained, “we want to know where the products are in the supply chain.”

Meanwhile in Hertford, the Perquimans County seat, InteliPort founder Steve Lane has been providing Internet service in some of the most remote areas of northeastern North Carolina since 1997. Now that fiber optic technology makes it economically feasible, Lane wants to bring high speed internet to Elizabeth City, Hertford, Edenton, Williamston, Tarboro and Rocky Mount. For that, he needed a new business and growth plan.

“Fiber is the way of the future,” said Jasmine Colquitt, a dual MBA and law school student at North Carolina Central University. She wouldn’t say much about “Project Phoenix,” the company’s newest project, but she did reveal that InteliPort plans to target 35 percent of the businesses and 10 percent of households in the area.

In addition to E-TAP, N.C. Strategic Economic Growth provides research and planning for county leaders. In Duplin County, where hogs outnumber people two to one, intern Carolyn Fryberger helped the county to evaluate the feasibility of a centralized hog-waste-to-energy facility. A 2014 graduate of UNC’s department of city and regional planning, Fryberger did her master’s thesis on these anaerobic digesters.

After researching similar facilities around the country, she concluded that this kind of facility, while it would help tremendously with use of hog waste for renewable energy, would not eliminate hog lagoons or the odor from them altogether, although it would reduce both. Surprisingly, waste from the county’s 2 million hogs could power 10,000 homes.

“You have to look at things in context and make sure all is in balance,” Fryberger said.

Each E-TAP project is meant to “boost or jumpstart startups and businesses in eastern North Carolina,” said LaChaun Banks, economic development coordinator of N.C. Strategic Economic Growth. Anyone can see the problems that the region faces, she said, “but it takes real leaders to go into a community and see the opportunities there.”

By Susan Hudson, Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Published September 5, 2014