Wharton is closing its small business development center, the first in the state

Leaders say Philly has enough programs to support entrepreneurs in the area.

Wharton School of Business.

(Photo via Flickr user Sergio Carreira, used under a Creative Commons license)

The Wharton Small Business Development Center, which helped grow companies like Urban Outfitters, Sabre Systems and Destination Maternity, will be closing at the end of the month, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The organization has provided free and low-cost support services to thousands of small businesses and entrepreneurs for the last 40 years, and was the first small business development center in the state. It’s now one of 18, a reason leaders of the center say they’re OK closing: They believe a strong amount of support still exists for small business owners within these other programs.

Karl Ulrich, vice dean of entrepreneurship and innovation at Wharton, who oversees the Wharton SBDC told the Inquirer it took some “soul searching” to come to the decision.

“Where could Wharton differentiate itself and find a match between its unique capabilities and needs in the world, and we decided supporting small-business starts was not a way we could really differentiate ourselves, not an area where we could contribute better than a lot of wonderful area institutions,” Ulrich said.

Ulrich cited nearby Temple and and Widener universities as having SBDCs closest to Penn’s, and said that a recent inventory by Wharton showed that there are about 60 programs in Philadelphia with very similar programs to the Wharton SBDC.

One of the biggest projects to come out of Wharton’s SBDC is The Enterprise Center, a West Philly nonprofit that provides access to capital, building capacity, business education and economic development opportunities to minority entrepreneurs.

The Enterprise Center works with a variety of ventures, usually those in the early stages on anything from learning how to get capital to back office support and talent acquisition. Some of its recent projects include the Center for Culinary Enterprises Philly Food Innovation Program, a technical workshop for food entrepreneurs and ELevate, a one-year accelerator for growing businesses.


Enterprise Center Associate Director Chelsey Lowe told Philly that the organization doesn’t have much to say about Wharton’s SBDC closing, and that it already works well with Temple on various projects and will continue to do so.

Maura Shenker, director of Temple SBDC, has been growing and redesigning her program for the past year.

“I don’t want to sound opportunistic,” Shenker told the Inquirer. “It’s a terrible thing that Wharton SBDC is closing, but I do think Temple is in a great position to help the entrepreneurial ecosystem and support the businesses that Wharton supported.”

P.S. The Enterprise Center is one of the co-organizers of Broke in Philly’sFunding the Hustle: Accessing capital for your small, new, creative, and/or minority-owned business” event at Venture Cafe on Thursday, July 18. Shenker will also speak on a panel about building a business, to be moderated by Managing Editor Julie Zeglen. RSVP here.

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