Partnering with Your Local Small Business Development Center: an Overview for Coworking Space Operators

In the past week, I’ve watched a dozen or so people come into NextSpace Santa Cruz to meet with Keith Holtaway, business advisor for the local Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

Keith is a celebrated local businessman, an award-winning consultant and mentor, and a longtime member of the NextSpace community, Keith has a desk here where he meets with SBDC clients all week long. He’s available to offer advice and business mentorship to members and the local community, at large. I’ve personally met with Keith three times in the last year or so as I’ve grown my business.

coworking and sbdc

Coworking and the SBDC

Partnering with the local SBDC is a no-brainer for coworking spaces. It benefits spaces, members, the local community and the SBDC. 

“The SBDC fits within the culture of coworking, which is communities that are here not just to better themselves, but to better their neighbor,” says Brandon Napoli, director of the Santa Cruz SBDC. “The SBDC is a cornerstone of that foundation. We help business owners become more entrepreneurial. That’s really what the SBDC is aiming for.”

Napoli stresses that having a network of other entrepreneurs, service providers and supporters is essential to creating a thriving business.

“There’s a need to be part of a village as a business owner,” he adds, “not just a frontiers person, when it comes to creating your own business.”


In-house Strategy and Success

Through partnerships with the SBDC, coworking spaces have a stream of local professionals and business owners coming into the space, members have in-house business mentorship, the extended community has access to (oftentimes free) business consulting and professional workspace, and the SBDC positions itself in the heart of the professional ecosystem.

Partnering with a coworking space also gives the SBDC a place to have events, and to stay current with local business trends, challenges and opportunities.

Cloud VO Partner NextSpace Coworking Santa Cruz Partners with SBDC

“Partnership with a coworking space puts the SBDC advisor/mentor in the middle of the target market in a way that allows for trust to develop between potential clients and the advisor over a period of time,” says Holtaway. “It also allows for the SBDC to understand emerging businesses before they become more mainstream. In other words, the SBDC is on the ground floor of new stuff that is getting ready to launch.”

NextSpace Santa Cruz Senior Community Manager Maya Delano stresses that the vision for a coworking space and the SBDC is aligned: to help people succeed in work and life. She describes SBDC partnership as enabling spaces to serve as business incubators without being incubators.

“All these SBDC resources are housed under our roof,” she says. “We have informational materials in the space and we mention that we have an on-site SBDC advisor during tours.”

Delano adds that the partnership brings a fresh audience of business owners—and prospective business owners—into the space and introduces new people to the idea of flexible workspace.

“This benefits members at all stages of running a business, from needing basic business mentorship, to launching a startup, to getting a loan and beyond.”

Win Win Win

Since providing business advice to members is not a service generally offered in coworking spaces, SBDC partnerships allow a space to differentiate and provide a valuable community service at little cost to them. A partnership may be as simple as an open coworking membership, or it may include a dedicated desk, meeting room hours, or office space.

Services offered by an SBDC depends on the location, but they usually have a wide range of offerings, including technical services and access to a team of advisors who, as Holtaway explains, “can take care of almost any business need.”

“Such a service would be very expensive to engage for both the coworking space and the member,” he says. “For smaller coworking spaces, it would be a feature that would allow them to compete with larger coworking spaces that have a large marketing budget. There are also approximately 1,200 SBDC centers throughout the U.S. so finding one would not be difficult. Since SBDCs operate on a tight operations budget, offering low or no cost space would be very attractive to them, as well.”

Small Business Development Centers across the United States

Creating an SBDC Partnership

For coworking space operators interested in partnering with the local SBDC, Napoli advises having a clear understanding of how the needs of the coworking space align with the goals of the SBDC.

“If the need of the coworking space is to bring in new blood, host more events, fill office space, and increase retention of members,” he says, “align that with the focus of the SBDC, and with who the SBDC is serving and willing to serve.”

Napoli stresses that it’s vitally important for SBDCs to understand the local business environment and stay relevant to local business owners. 

“An SBDC that’s focused on the future of work is an SBDC that knows the trends of the workplace,” he says. “An SBDC needs to move from the corner office in its host institution into becoming a cornerstone of the ecosystem serving business owners.”

Coworking and Small Business Development Center Partnership for Members

What partnerships have you formed within your local business community that align with your coworking space? We’d love to hear from you.


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CloudVO is the umbrella brand of Cloud Officing Corp., headquartered in San Francisco, California. CloudVO’s mission is to provide comprehensive virtual office, coworking and meeting room solutions to professionals under a Workplace-as-a-Service™ model. CloudVO grants preferential access to day offices, coworking space, and professional meeting rooms in 700 locations worldwide for distributed workers on a subscription or a pay-per-use basis.