Widener Small Business Development Center Helps Launch Silvercare Health Center in Chester
Though it’s been a difficult year for small businesses and the economy overall, a large-scale development project bringing healthcare, affordable housing, and valuable community services to Chester has remained on track, aided by professional consulting services from Widener’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
Center Director Lenin Agudo began working with Dr. Guofang Wang and Dr. Xiaobin Li of the Silvercare Health Center team in the summer of 2018, after meeting the physicians at a Chester City Council meeting. With help from the SBDC, Everest Urgent Care opened in Chester in September 2020, fewer than three miles from Widener’s campus. Everest represents the first phase of a $42 million investment into the future Silvercare Nursing & Rehabilitation Facility.
Widener’s SBDC provides no-cost consulting, training and research to assist small businesses as they launch, grow, transition and innovate. The Silvercare project has benefitted from the SBDC’s dedicated team, which includes Widener graduate student assistants. While the project represents an exciting investment in the community, it has also created valuable hands-on learning experiences for Widener students who have contributed to it through the SBDC and through a School of Business Administration management class. Opportunities like this help students develop skills they can take into successful careers.
Though Everest alone expects to serve over 20,000 patients per year, it is just one piece of a high-quality, multi-faceted healthcare and social services center that will eventually include an adult daycare, subacute care units, skilled nursing, memory care, and affordable independent living units. In addition to those healthcare services, Silvercare will also feature a convenience store, beauty salon, restaurant, therapy pool, and rooftop garden, making it a true community hub where all are welcome.
This immense project—spanning five years, five buildings, and over 300,000 square feet at the site of the former Community Hospital of Chester—will not only increase access to healthcare for Chester residents, it will create hundreds of jobs.
For Agudo, the Silvercare project represents a major milestone for Widener’s SBDC: when all project phases are complete, Silvercare will be the largest client in terms of financial investment that the SBDC has ever served.
“This is the largest economic development project in Chester in many years based on the size of the facility and complexity of the project, and even in its first phase, the Silvercare project rivals for the top spot of largest clients the SBDC has ever handled,” Agudo said.
But the project also accomplishes the objectives the SBDC sets for all its clients to start, grow, and prosper their businesses.
“Our mission at the SBDC is to boost economic development in the territory we serve, and we are so honored to have assisted in the Silvercare launch because of the positive economic impact this will create,” he said.
Making It Happen
The SBDC has been named one of only two Pennsylvania Centers of Excellence for Health Care and Life Sciences, a recognition that comes with the hard work needed at the development phase of starting a new business like Silvercare.
Li and Wang are already the owners of Silvercare Adult Day Care and Everest Urgent Care in Upper Darby, but when they began looking forward to a new project in Chester, they realized it was an immense undertaking they couldn’t do alone. From helping with a financial feasibility analysis to understanding economic development programs and assisting with commercial loan acquisition, the SBDC team supported the Silvercare developers from the start, and graduate and undergraduate students alike have played an integral role in the project.
The integrated work of undergraduate students, clients, professors, and graduate assistant consultants is a great combination for everyone to learn and business outcomes to be achieved." — SBDC Director Lenin Agudo
Nariah Williams, a 2019 management alumna with a concentration in human resources, worked with a team in an upper-level management class consulting for the Silvercare project. Her team benchmarked competing companies in the tri-state area, devised a general business plan for the Silvercare team, and then Williams herself dove into researching how the business would impact the local Chester community.
“Through Widener I got a lot of different experiences and perspectives on the business world in class, but this was hands-on life experience,” Williams said. “Knowing I was able to contribute to a business actually being able to open is the best part.”
Elizabeth Rockenbach, also a 2019 management alumna but with a concentration in marketing, worked with Williams and three other team members to research the demographics of the city of Chester. They found that the large elderly population in the city, many of whom were once industrial workers, needed not only specialized healthcare, but also quality, affordable housing. Their recommendation that the Silvercare team tap into those specific needs while establishing their new business in Chester seems to have been successfully implemented.
Rockenbach, who now works in the building remodeling sector, said that collaborating so closely with a small business team as eager as Silvercare gave her confidence.
“Our client so appreciated our opinions and even though we’re still students, they were interested in what we had to say,” she said.
Williams currently works in management but notes that the consulting experience she got with this SBDC project at Widener has honed her project management and people skills even further.
“Working on this project really helped me learn how to work with people from different backgrounds with different experiences, and it also taught me how to manage a big project with many layers,” she said. “Those layers are all things I can do now: I know how to make a business plan and how to manage multiple small projects or one huge project because I had this experience.”
August Axtman, a graduate assistant at the SBDC working toward his MBA with a concentration in finance, also helped advance the project and documented the work, now being considered for national recognition from America’s SBDC Network.
“We help everyone from the guy who’s mowing lawns and needs help organizing his finances on Excel to this team running a $42 million project over the course of the next five years,” Axtman said. “The scope of our work is incredible.”
Axtman, who looks forward to joining the coaching staff of the men’s soccer team, says the opportunity to work with the SBDC played a huge part in his decision to come to Widener.
“Before I applied for my graduate assistantship, I didn’t know that SBDCs existed. However, the opportunity to gain real-world business experience while getting my MBA was something I couldn’t turn down,” Axtman said. “Now I’m rubbing shoulders with small business owners everyday, getting to pick their brains about their business experiences while also helping them grow their livelihoods. Everyday I’m learning something new.”
Empowering A Community
The Silvercare team looked toward opening a facility in Chester to empower a community that currently faces disparity in healthcare compared to other nearby cities.
“We wanted to help people with low or no income, those from different ethnic groups that may struggle with language barriers, and those who don’t know where to look for healthcare and the benefits they are supposed to be able to get,” Li said. “We wanted to help the seniors in the community specifically but also on this campus we’re creating over 300 jobs in the local community.”
That commitment to community is vital to all levels of Widener’s and SBDC’s work, Agudo says.
“One of the pillars of the university is community engagement, and community engagement is the core of the SBDC,” he said. “Creating specialized jobs to bring wealth to the community and certainly the providing of healthcare checks off a lot of economic development metrics that make communities prosperous.”
For Williams, the community engagement aspect of this project sits close to her heart.
“I’m from the city of Philadelphia, and we don’t have a space like Silvercare at all around me,” she said. “It really hit home for me how the Silvercare team are really trying to do something for a different demographic of the community.”
“When I look around, I don’t see a lot of places doing what they’re doing, and that was powerful to me,” she added.
In the next phase of the project, Silvercare will be expanding to include hundreds of long-term senior care units and a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. Li and Wang say they look forward to continuing to work with the SBDC.
“The SBDC has helped us in whatever way we needed ever since we started working with them,” they said. “From strategic planning to government relations to project financing, we could not have done it without their expert consulting.”