Five Questions with Renee Hode: Growing Our Community, One Entrepreneur at a Time

Photo of Renee Hode

Renee Hode, South Piedmont Community College’s director of small business and entrepreneurship


It takes about four seconds of talking to Renee Hode to realize she truly loves her work.

Her eyes light up as she talks about entrepreneurship, business plans, and accelerator training.  Her voice quickens as she shares local job creation data. Her smile widens as she tells start-up success stories.

It’s this enthusiasm that’s no doubt fueled the growth of South Piedmont Community College’s Small Business Center since Hode’s arrival as director of small business and entrepreneurship in 2021.

Hode oversees the South Piedmont SBC, one of 58 in the state, and serves as regional director for the southwest region of the Small Business Center Network. The South Piedmont SBC, like the state’s other SBCs, provides resources, training, and support to entrepreneurs seeking a strong start and small business owners looking to scale their operations.

In Hode’s two years with the College, South Piedmont’s SBC has seen remarkable growth in a number of metrics. A couple examples:

  • For the period of 2014-2020, the South Piedmont SBC averaged 34 clients counseled and 90 hours of counseling time annually. In 2022, those numbers jumped to 91 clients and 293 hours.
  • With 1,024 attendees of its various workshops and training programs last fiscal year, the South Piedmont SBC now ranks sixth among all 58 SBCs in the state for attendance. Moreover, Hode is quick to add, the increase in attendees has been achieved efficiently. “We’re growing the average number of participants per training offering. We’re keeping our costs to deliver training steady while increasing our impact,” she said.

Hode, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business with a concentration in economics from Monmouth University, shared more about her passion for helping entrepreneurs, her own career, and her vision for the future of South Piedmont’s SBC. 

You work with entrepreneurs. Have you ever been an entrepreneur yourself?

Yes, I’ve always been very entrepreneurial. I started running businesses when I was a kid. I used to grocery shop for elderly neighbors. It grew to the point where I hired other kids in the neighborhood to help me deliver the groceries. You could say I was Instacart before Instacart. I played softball growing up in New Jersey, and I had the chance to attend some trainings and camps with Olympic athletes. I took what I learned and started a nonprofit in my hometown to boost the competitiveness of our local softball league. Later on, a business partner and I started an online commerce boutique. 

Why is entrepreneurship something you feel so passionately about?

It’s a new and different day every day. I love seeing the wheels turn in entrepreneurs’ heads. Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. I’m an idea person myself. I love working with people to think outside the box and solve problems. Whether a business is just starting or growing, every business has different opportunities, pain points and challenges before them. I get to help them reach their goals, and part of that is helping entrepreneurs and business owners to self-actualize, to help them build their confidence, realize they can do it, and support them as they keep pushing forward.

There are 58 small business centers in North Carolina. How is South Piedmont’s SBC different?

They’re all different in their own ways. What might be popular here may not be of any interest in another part of the state. For instance, our SBCs on the coast offer a lot of training on aquaculture for the fishing businesses located there, but of course, we don’t have that need as much here in Union and Anson counties. Part of my job is to constantly assess the needs of our local business community, look at things through the lens of an entrepreneur or small business owner, and offer programming designed to solve local problems. Locally, we have a large number of small businesses, but many of them have reached a plateau. They’ve survived startup, but they don’t know how to keep growing. Part of our focus has been on creating programming to meet that need in our community.

What are examples of trainings you’ve helped create and what needs are they addressing?

Next month, we’re starting a brand-new program called Trucking Pro. In part because of all the manufacturing in our area, there is a lot of interest in trucking and logistics. The Trucking Pro program will teach attendees to start and operate their own trucking company. We’ve had about 50 applications come in for that program, and we’re selecting 24 participants, so there’s definitely a need. Another example is the Level Up Business Accelerator program, which we’ve run two cohorts of so far. The Level Up program speaks to that need I described earlier to help small businesses grow. In the Level Up program, we train participants and pair them with consultants to help them develop and implement three-year growth plans for their businesses.

What impact are you seeing in our community from the growth of South Piedmont’s SBC?

We are seeing more individuals stepping forward with ideas seeking to the leap into small business ownership and more existing businesses seeking support to grow their operations. This past fiscal year, 74 jobs were created as a result of micro businesses receiving assistance from the SBC. With more than half of those jobs as a direct outcome from the Level Up Business Accelerator program, mentioned earlier. We are helping businesses thrive and enabling them to create opportunities for others in our community whether that is a new job or a valued product or service to support local needs. 

Learn more about South Piedmont’s Small Business Center and upcoming trainings here.


53 Ideas Winners Include Hair Styling Product, Food Truck, and Nonprofit Event Management Service

Photo of the winners of the pitch competition holding large checks.

The winners of this year’s 53 Ideas Pitch Competition include, from left, Shane Fraser and David Casper, Tequia Williams, and Jo’Von Wright.

The winners of this year’s 53 Ideas Pitch Competition include a product to help women of color more easily style their hair, a food truck that sells breakfast tacos, and a service to help nonprofits reach more donors.

“Each of our winners are on a mission to solve a unique problem in our community. We’re thrilled they chose to further develop their business plans through the 53 Ideas Pitch Competition, and we’re excited to see what comes next for each of them,” said Director of Entrepreneurship and Small Business at South Piedmont Community College Renee Hode.

“Congratulations to our winners and all our participants.”

The 53 Ideas Pitch Competition is a regional entrepreneurship competition hosted by South Piedmont that allows business owners and entrepreneurs to pitch their big idea in a 53-second video. The top 53 submissions are then given training and support as they develop their business pitches.   

Each contestant completes 12 hours of business training covering business model development, customer discovery, finance, and pitching. There are also opportunities to network and learn from other entrepreneurs. The entire process culminates in one final pitch day where 10 finalists make one last pitch for the prize funding, hoping for a shot at the grand prize of $10,000 for their business.

This year’s winners include:

1st place, $10,000  — Jexsii. Founded by Charlotte resident Tequia Williams, a nurse who long struggled with styling her tightly curled hair, Jexsii will offer a signature product called Jagid that combines a wide-toothed comb with a scalp cleanser and massager. The result is a product that has made it easier than ever for Williams to achieve her desired styles without damaging her hair. Williams has been researching and developing her product since 2014. Her prize winnings will allow her to begin production and move closer to bringing Jagid to market.

Last year, Williams placed in the top 10 at the 53 Ideas Pitch Competition.

“It’s really a story of resiliency,” she said. “Over the past year, I’ve grown a lot and become more confident in myself. The competition helped me lay out my financial projections better, narrow down my target demographic, and enhance my pitch deck. I was able to pitch more boldly and just flow better in the moment. It’s an incredible feeling.”

2nd place, $5,000 — Just Jo’s. This delicious start-up is run by Jo’Von Wright, a Charlotte resident who seeks to offer the Charlotte metro area a new option for fast, inexpensive Mexican food. Her food truck will sell nutritious breakfast tacos. Wright’s makes her business all the more unique by naming each taco on her menu after an inspirational woman in her life and donating a portion of her tips to feeding the homeless and hungry. Wright will use her winnings to cover set-up costs, including food supplies and marketing materials.

“This competition was beneficial to making Just Jo’s steps closer to a reality, and I am so thankful for the opportunity,” Wright said.

3rd place, $2,500   PlanTELLGive. The brainchild of Union County-based entrepreneurs Shane Fraser and David Casper, PlanTELLGive will help nonprofits better coordinate, publicize, and manage their events. PlanTELLGive’s services include a calendar to help nonprofits schedule their events without overlapping one another, intuitive event planning software, and event management services.

“The structured process of the competition helped us take our concept and move toward a realistic business plan. The feedback from the second round helped us to answer questions about our business while becoming more invested in this new way to maximize community impact,” Casper said.

To learn more about the 53 Ideas Pitch Competition, visit 53ideas.com.


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