Recently, I had a discussion with an entrepreneur who said, “We are becoming a 1099 nation.” That comment really stuck with me as I have studied the breakdown of our economy, the 2nd Great Depression.
Tons of great people are without jobs, benefits are being cut, the lending markets are basically frozen, businesses are showing declining numbers, and our country is in a state of turmoil. It seems sometimes there is no other choice than to venture out on your own.
Knoxville is a great place to start a business as opportunity exists everywhere, and thanks to the launch of Knoxville Overground, now entrepreneurs in Knoxville have a source to help in growing their businesses.
What do you think? Is this the year of the entrepreneur? Is Knoxville a great place to start a business?
There’s a saying in the business world, “if you want to see innovation in your company, take a zero out of the budget.”
Likewise, if you want to see individuals go from employees to entrepreneurs, take away their paycheck.
Historically, we know that what happens afterwards is always inspiring. Ideas and innovation usually flourish in both instances.
The “entrepreneurial renaissance” we’re currently experiencing will continue to expand in Knoxville. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be here.
But let’s also be honest. Regardless of industry, the majority of startups fail after the first year, regardless of the timing or market conditions.
Additionally, after the Depression in the 1930s, there were obvious opportunities in manufacturing, real estate development, and retail just to name a few industries. The “common man” could put their head around how a variety of businesses operated, work hard, and expand.
But today, we live in one of the most developed economies on earth meaning the opportunities are harder to find when it seems like everyone “has it all” and franchises are everywhere making it harder for entrepreneurs to get something going from the ground up.
Yet, the truth is it really is the best time in history to be an entrepreneur – and Knoxville can be an even better place to launch companies as long as we put a few more components in place.
Here are some suggestions for what those components might be in my humble opinion:
1. As a business community, we need to start focusing on foreign market opportunities on a micro-enterprise level. This also means that Knoxville needs to, over time, start publicly positioning itself as more of a cosmopolitan center. The 1982 World’s Fair doesn’t count anymore. Diversity is good for business. Knoxville is strengthened the more we export out of the country and we can only do that if we foster the right relationships.
2. The http://www.greenforall.org campaign needs to come to Knoxville and help the mainstream understand that the emerging green economy has the potential to completely revitalize the waning middle class in this country. (Trying to still make a fortune or a viable business solely on the Web is so 2002 … it’s still possible, just harder.)
Applying the “three Rs” of “reduce, reuse, and recycle” is good for the bottom line of any business. It’s this type of thinking that’s going to create millions of jobs in cleantech (e.g., renewable energy), manufacturing, consulting, and design.
We need host additional conferences in Knoxville that showcase market research data illustrating emerging market data for both domestic and international market opportunities.
3. Even though the majority of startups fail, in some of the top business incubators across the country the success rate is as high as 92% after three years. This means that businesses that go through a program in a supportive community with proven methodologies are more likely to succeed. Creating the right environment is crucial to success. (If you haven’t already done so, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, “Outliers.”) We need to continue to lobby for additional funding to grow and develop small business development centers and other community resources that support entrepreneurship at all levels.
4. Everyone should join Entrepreneurs of Knoxville for free at http://www.eokhq.com — it’s one of the best ways to get connected with a variety of entrepreneurs at all levels in our community. The more people get connected and know each other, the more synergy we’ll have.
5. Visit Knoxville Overground at 1204 Kenesaw from 9am-5pm Monday thru Friday where members have a free place to work, collaborate, and research your next business. Also visit 35 Market Square on March 25 at 7:00pm for a social mixer that will showcase what could be Knoxville’s premier micro-enterprise development center, modeled off of the San Francisco Renaissance Center at http://www.rencenter.org. Such a program can help get more businesses into top business incubators we already have in the area through UT and Innovation Valley. We need to continue to expand the idea that pre-revenue startups should receive subsidized office space in a community setting that has statistically proven formulas and methods to help startups grow. No one should ever go at it alone.
6. We need to inspire more folks to volunteer with Knoxville Overground to help sponsor events in our community that bring together entrepreneurs, investment capital, and research findings. Just as economies grow because there is a rapid exchange of currency, innovation increases because there is an ongoing exchange of ideas. We need to make sure we continue to have those discussions online as well.
7. Knoxville Overground is positioning itself as an advocacy group for sensible public policy that benefits self-employed professionals and entrepreneurs. We all need to continue to discuss what the issues are that should receive the highest priority on both the state and federal levels of government in the blogosphere and in person.
8. We have some incredible local brands here in town – from locally baked bread to locally produced clothing. We can do more to encourage that our dollars stay local – for instance reminding our friends to shop local is proven to do more than spending thousands of dollars on ad campaigns.
9. There is a lot of untapped investment capital in our community that in turn could be invested in our community. However, a lot of it goes untouched in mutual funds, index funds, and stocks that pay dividends. In other words, it goes to New York.
There are private equity companies like Angel Capital Group (ACG), http://www.angelcapitalgr.com, that help investors identify high-growth opportunities in their local community here in Knoxville. Recently ACG helped fund TrakLok Corporation. TrakLok has the entrepreneurial community buzzing with excitement over the possibilities for international expansion with their shipping crate security technology. We need to continue to get the word out that we have both small and world-class opportunities right here in our community that help boost the local economy as well as create jobs, additional tax revenue, and wealth for everyone.
In conclusion, these are serious times and it’s up to all of us, the people, to demonstrate focus and strong leadership at a grassroots level.
It’s going to be up to each and every one of us to do our part to position Knoxville to be more of a self-sufficient, locally owned economy with more vibrant agricultural base where entrepreneurship and innovation thrive.
If each of us focuses on these things, then yes, Knoxville truly will be an even better place to start a business.
@Alex Lavidge: could not agree more.
@bcknoxify If you all ever want to chat about it on camera, drop me a line!
Thanks for always doing such an awesome job with Knoxify — it’s really a beacon of optimism for our community.