Katrina Smith has been hard at work helping businesses in Orange County and the Inland Empire make it through these tough times. While the pandemic has taken a toll on the economy, she and her team have made the necessary adjustments to best support them through the process.

Smith is the associate regional director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and her work at the center has been a high point in her career. “The ability to serve with such truly amazing people and directly affect individuals’ and families’ lives by supporting their entrepreneurial dreams is beyond explanation.”

This December, Smith was been recognized by the Greater Irvine Chamber as an outstanding 40-Under-40 business professional in Orange County. The award honors professionals younger than 40 employed in Orange County with excellent leadership skills, integrity and initiative.

The Orange County Inland Empire SBDC Network is supported by both federal, state, and local funding and has more than 100 consultants who provide guidance to small businesses and entrepreneurs to successfully start and grow their organizations. This year, the center reinvented the strategies they use to help businesses survive and recover during the pandemic. Smith oversees and manages the center’s operations, compliance and financial programs and assists in outreach and community engagement with economic development organizations in the region.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, SBDC has helped almost every business in the network to thrive in these difficult circumstances. “When we receive emails or notices from businesses about how we have helped them during this time, it makes the extremely long and strenuous hours absolutely worth it,” says Smith.

She credits several people who have supported her throughout her career. “I think the most influential [professionally] have been my previous boss, Denise Bell, who retired from Sponsored Programs at CSUF Auxiliary Services Corporation, and my current boss, Mike Daniel, regional director of the Orange County Inland Empire SBDC,” says Smith. “Both have exuded passion, a work ethic and leadership qualities that are beyond exemplary. On a personal level, I would definitely recognize my grandfather, mom and sister who have modeled and instilled qualities that I believe have allowed me to prosper in my career so far.”

The recognition came as a surprise to Smith. “It was definitely a shock and very unexpected to be recognized,” says Smith. “I’m truly honored and grateful, and I share this recognition with the amazing team within the entire network.”