Retired SBDC Associate State Director Eric Bonaparte and his sister Carol Bonaparte celebrated with award winners at the Small Business Development Center’s annual awards presentation Wednesday night. A $25,000 gift from Bonaparte endowed the annual Consultant of the Year award, which this year went to Alisa Kirk, from the UGA SBDC at Clayton State University; and the Support Staff Person of the Year award, received this year by Geoffrey Loften, from the UGA SBDC in DeKalb County.

Bonaparte spent 26 years at the UGA SBDC. When he decided to retire last year, he wanted to give something back to the university that had played such an important role in his life. His $25,000 gift to UGA supports an endowment to ensure that the SBDC employees would continue to be recognized for their hard work.

Bonaparte’s UGA career began in 1991 in the DeKalb office of the SBDC, where he was at first the only consultant, managing about 250 clients. By the next year, he had about 450 clients, some just coming into business, some at a point where they could make or break. He helped entrepreneurs secure loans and create a plan to launch new businesses. He helped guide small businesses as they grew. Over the years, he watched some flourish and some falter. He celebrated their successes and mourned the failures.

He began working specifically with minority entrepreneurs, helping them prepare for their meetings with banks and learn best practices for starting a business. Bonaparte was the SBDC’s first minority finance specialist and from 2001-2006, he was head of the SBDC’s Office of Minority Business Development, a statewide position focusing on helping minorities develop and grow their businesses.