In 1988, David Thornburgh, the Director of the Wharton Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and a Wharton SBDC consultant named Larry Bell were looking for a way to expand the SBDC’s reach into West Philadelphia. In particular, they were looking to link Wharton’s entrepreneurial training and consulting expertise with the needs of startup businesses, particularly among aspiring minority entrepreneurs in Philadelphia.
With funding from the Ben Franklin Partnership (now Ben Franklin Technology Partners), the SBDC developed a business plan for the initiative. In 1989, with the help of important early partners such as Bell Atlantic (now Verizon), The Enterprise Center (then the West Philadelphia Enterprise Center) became a reality, originally leasing about 3,000 square feet of space in the former Provident Mutual Insurance Company building at 4601 Market Street. Thornburgh served as the Chair of the founding Board, and Bell became the first Executive Director.
When Bell decided to move on in 1992 to become the executive director of West Philadelphia Partnership, Thornburgh and the Board hired Della Clark – and entrepreneur and client of the SBDC – to replace him.
Under Clark, TEC underwent tremendous growth in the second half of the 1990s. In 1994, TEC purchased the then-dilapidated WFIL Studios building at 46th and Market Streets—the original home of American Bandstand before it moved to California in 1964. In 1997, TEC completed renovations that transformed the building into a state-of-the art center for business and entrepreneurship.
Highlights from the last 15 years:
- In 1997, TEC launched the Youth + Entrepreneurship = Success (YES) Program, focused on the personal and professional development of disadvantaged youth in low-income west Philadelphia communities. TEC has since founded a number of additional youth education initiatives, and in the past year consolidated programs into a single department: The Enterprise Center Leaders About Business (TEC-LAB), which serves more than 400 at-risk youth every year. The mission of TEC-LAB is to empower youth from ages 13 to 18 to pursue entrepreneurship and to become motivated leaders.
- In 2001, TEC formed The Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation (TEC-CDC) to create neighborhoods where individuals are able to achieve their common goals.
- Since 2007, TEC-CDC has run Community Leaders, a nine-month training program targeting residents of the Walnut Hill neighborhood in West Philadelphia. Community Leaders go door to door in the neighborhood to inform residents about services and community initiatives and to solicit their input on the community’s developmental needs. Through neighbors helping neighbors, the program seeks to build a stronger community.
- In 2010, TEC launched the Walnut Hill Community Farm, a youth-based urban agriculture initiative and partnered with Urban Tree Connection to administer a youth-run Community Supported Agriculture program called West Philly Foods.
- In 2012, TEC opened The Dorrance H. Hamilton Center for Culinary Enterprises, a $5.5 million, 13,000+ square-foot LEED-silver certified food business incubator and hub of community health and nutrition resources in West Philadelphia.
- In 2002, TEC launched The Enterprise Center Capital Corporation (TEC-CC), which is an SBA certified microloan intermediary that offers access to capital and reduces barriers to minority businesses looking to start or grow their enterprises. To date, TEC-CC has dispersed more than $850,000 in loans to minority and woman-owned enterprises.
- Since 2004, TEC has operated the MBDA Business Center of Pennsylvania (MBC-PA). In that time, MBC-PA has generated more than $270 million in contracts, $32 million in financing, and created 890 jobs for our clients.
- Since 2008, The Enterprise Center Retail Resource Network has been one of the primary operators of the City of Philadelphia Commerce Department’s Business Technical Assistance Program. Through this contract, TEC conducts technical assistance to retailers that are low income or serve low income communities on 10 key commercial corridors throughout the City that exhibit a critical mass of existing retail food, apparel, and service businesses.
- In 2011, TEC launched Pathways to Independence, a financial training and education program tailored to the needs of women who are survivors of domestic violence.
- In 2016, TEC launched its Master Growth Plan which provides TEC’s vision for growth and impact, and how - with the planned investment of $5.1 million - TEC will optimize services by combining business acceleration, capital investments, and community development.