Small Business Development Center Network recognizes exemplary service for entrepreneurs

| SAN DIEGO (Aug. 31, 2022) – East County Small Business Development Center Director Danielle Sparks won the region’s SBDC State Star award for her ability to overcome obstacles and support small businesses during the ongoing pandemic.

Sparks and other stars will be honored next week at America’s SBDC national conference, this year taking place in San Diego at the Marriott Marquis. The annual State Star award is offered to one SBDC staff member in each state except for Texas and California, where the large states are organized into regions.

“Danielle came to the SBDC in 2019 as a program administrator,” said Daniel Fitzgerald, regional director of the San Diego & Imperial SBDC Network. “At the beginning of the pandemic, she was a frontline for thousands of small business owners calling for help. She became a director in 2021 and has shined in that role, taking on large projects such as relief grants and making them a success.”

State Star Danielle Sparks helms East County SBDC

Part of the San Diego & Imperial SBDC Network, the East County SBDC hosted by the East County Economic Development Council in El Cajon specializes in business development, manufacturing, cybersecurity and more niche as well as general small business support areas — plus offers services in Spanish.

A San Diego native, born and raised in the East County region, Sparks studied education at Grossmont/Cuyamaca College and graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University with a bachelor’s degree in organizational management. Her experience includes customer service across multiple industries including the health and human services sector, restaurant, retail and adult residential care.

Colleagues who nominated Sparks shared how she’s gone many miles for the region’s small businesses — nothing seems to stop or stump her — or if it does, she helps find the answer and is there to support the small business owner or her coworkers. Moreover she fully embraces teamwork with calmness, professionalism and bright ideas. From making sense of complex information to always responding to emails and phone calls, these small but important acts of dedication go a long way in a workplace that serves. When Sparks found out about her nominations and win, she said she was blown away and honored.

Danielle Sparks, East County SBDC Director, at a professional development event with two of her staff members

Danielle Sparks, East County SBDC Director in El Cajon, at a professional development event last year with two of her staff members, Angela Nagel (left) and Sarah Gyselbrecht (right).

The director gave all the credit back to her network and team in East County, highlighting how much they teach her daily. Helping one small business at a time, she observed, gives her a sense of purpose and tangible impact; she thinks it’s wonderful and unique how the SBDC fosters that, a purpose which gives her an energy and motivation like no other.

Straight from the star’s spark

“Transitioning from project coordinator to director mid-pandemic was actually a smoother transition than I thought it was going to be,” Sparks explained. “We had already been assisting small businesses for months with accessing emergency relief funds, pivoting their business models and revenue streams, and adhering to reopening guidelines. For me, it was more of a challenge to transition out of the pandemic as we began to shift back into in-person activities and the more traditional SBDC services rather than emergency services because that was a brand new experience.

“My passion is helping people. I’ve always been drawn to service-oriented career fields and that’s what I love about this job. Every day we get to help businesses succeed, thrive, and reach new horizons. The work we do has meaningful impact not only for the individual business owner but also on a much broader scale. By serving small businesses, there’s a cascading impact in our communities, economies, and the overall vitality of our region.”

A four-step process that can save

When asked how she handles high-stress situations with such aplomb, Sparks shared she has a four-step process for handling new and unfamiliar things:

  1. Panic – I don’t think I’m alone in feeling a great sense of trepidation (panic) when I’m faced with projects and things which are brand new. As humans we tend to have a healthy fear of failure, and I’ve learned to embrace that emotion, acknowledge it for what it is, and then move past it.
  2. Prepare – Then I prepare both mentally and organizationally. Preparation of knowledge, material, and resources will always help things run smoother plus save a lot of time and stress in the long run.
  3. Persevere – There will always be points in large projects and unchartered territories where it feels overwhelming and the end is nowhere in sight, but you keep pushing forward and celebrate the small victories or milestones along the way.
  4. Prevail – Growth is always uncomfortable. As we grow professionally and as an organization, there are always challenges and trials which will bring us out of our comfort zone. Just like to grow a muscle causes physical discomfort through exercise, we must be willing to get uncomfortable to grow professionally as well — it’s always worth it in the end.

“My last nugget about dealing with stress,” Sparks said, “is to try and always view things through a lens of gratitude. Life has taught me to feel gratitude for everything. Life is a gift, careers are a gift, and every day is a gift. Even the days which feel bad and nothing goes as planned; those are the days which allow us to truly appreciate the good ones.”

More about your regional SBDC

The San Diego & Imperial SBDC Network exists to help small businesses at no charge. Entrepreneurs can reach out to find a business advisor, who works with small business owners one-on-one and for free. Visit to access an advisor or call (619) 482-6391 if needed. The SBDC website also has other information available such as no-cost or discounted business resources and tools as well as live and on-demand training.