Eric Bonaparte spent 26 years—the bulk of his career—at the UGA Small Business Development Center. 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.
Starting this spring, Bonaparte will sponsor the annual award presented to an SBDC Consultant of the Year.
His $25,000 gift to the university launched an endowment to ensure that the consultants would continue to be recognized for their hard work.
“I know how much doesn’t get recognized,” Bonaparte says. “Consultants “don’t work just 40-hour weeks.”
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.
“You are on the line just as much as your client,” Bonaparte says. “And the numbers don’t include how many business people you stopped from doing something really foolish.”
Soon after he started work, he began hearing that minority entrepreneurs were having a hard time getting loans to start a business.
“A lot of minority business leaders felt they weren’t being treated fairly when they asked for capital,” Bonaparte says. “Banks are in business to do loans for people no matter what they look like.”
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.
“Who better to do that than someone who is a minority and who understands the obstacles and challenges that a minority business owner faces,” he says.
The Consultant of the Year was first awarded in 1996. Bonaparte would have been a shoo-in to win, SBDC Director Allan Adams said. But by that time he was in management and not eligible to be nominated.
“Eric has always been known as the consummate professional, but the thing he is most recognized for is his concern for people, particularly his small business owner clients, as well as his colleagues,” Adams says. “His commitment to helping people improve themselves and make the most of the opportunities life presents has made him an absolutely beloved figure.”
Bonaparte and his sister, with whom he has maintained a very close relationship since they were young, plan to be at the SBDC annual meeting in May to present the award.
“I’m looking forward to being there every year,” said Bonaparte, who continues to work part-time for the SBDC in his retirement. “I want this to be an inspiration to other people.”
“It’s nice to feel that my gift is leaving a legacy that will improve others’ lives. It’s also a way to show my loyalty to the university that’s been loyal to my family and me.”
The Small Business Development Center provides tools, training and resources to help small businesses grow and succeed. Funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the SBDC has 17 regional offices across the state.
Interested in learning more or making a gift to the SBDC?
Visit georgiasbdc.org/support-us or call Cherie Duggan at (706) 542-6654.