Entrepreneurs take varied paths to find success

Friday, October 30, 2009

Nashville Business Journal - by Jeannie Naujeck Staff Writer

With its low cost of living, stable economy, a favorable tax and regulation climate and a wealth of networking resources, Middle Tennessee is a great place to start a business, would-be entrepreneurs say.  Part of it is in Nashville’s blood. Nashville has bred entrepreneurship in such industries as health care (HCA, HealthAmerica Corp.), technology (Emma, Echo), retail (O’Charley’s) and services (American Legal Search, Vaco Resources).

“There’s a real culture here for entrepreneurship, and that’s not to be undersold,” said Jeff Cornwall, who holds the Jack C. Massey Chair of Entrepreneurship at Belmont University. “Whether in health care, music and entertainment, much of what has gone on here has been very entrepreneurially driven.”

Cultural support in a community is a predictor of entrepreneurship, he said, including resources and expectations of what people are able to do. But there’s also been a concerted effort to foster small business.

From early entrants to seasoned CEOs, Nashville is developing the formal networks to support business owners at every stage.

“We’ve helped folks trying to start a green energy business, a creative design agency, service businesses,” said Joe Kustelski, project manager of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, a new group aimed at connecting early-stage entrepreneurs with people and resources. “... We provide that front door.”

Organizations such as Ladies Who Launch also provide workshops, networking and incubator programs to help people develop business plans and bring them to fruition.

At higher levels, when entrepreneurs have become successful, there are groups like the Entrepreneurs Organization Institute, a members-only group that provides business advice and fellowship from a group of high-achieving peers. The organization’s dues are $1,400 each year, with an initiation fee of $700. And it’s not for everyone; members must meet certain revenue requirements before they can join. The median sales for Nashville members is $2 million.

Once in, groups such as EO provide the opportunity to step back from the daily business.

“It lets you work on your business, rather than in it,” said Scott Scovill, founder of MooTV and an EO member.

From One Business to Three

EO helped Scovill to take a more strategic approach to growing his business. For the first five years after launching MooTV, a video production company serving touring artists such as Alan Jackson and Martina McBride, business grew as his reputation spread.

“It got so big I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “There were employees I didn’t recognize.”

Scovill, 41, had started MooTV after his business partner Lee Griffin, 51, of Annapolis, Md., died during a carjacking outside his home in September 2002.

That December, Scovill opened up a handful of credit cards and spent the limit on equipment to provide video services for the tours he was designing.

A quarter of a million dollars in debt but with high-profile clients and corporate accounts including Ford, GM, Verizon and Qwest, MooTV was out of the barnyard.

Scovill credits two things with helping him become a better manager: peers and instructors at EO, and the influential book “The E-Myth: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It” by Michael Gerber.

Not long ago, Scovill started another company, installing a talented young employee as president. He’s also negotiating to purchase another complementary business in Los Angeles, a decision he sought advice on from his EO group.

“I started (EO) in January, and now it’s October and I’ve got three businesses,” he said.

‘You can do the same thing’

Chris Kincade always knew he would own his own business. By fifth grade, he was reading Inc. Magazine and Forbes.

After graduating from Vanderbilt University, Kincade decided not to follow his peers to Silicon Valley but to work with his brother at a cleaning firm.

Yes, he cleaned toilets.

Kincade, 34, his brother and parents are the master franchiser in four markets — Nashville, Memphis, Birmingham and South Florida —for Bonus Building Care, a corporate cleaning service with a cost of entry as low as $1,500.

At any given time, 30 to 40 nationalities are represented among his franchise owners, Kincade said.

““I tell them, ‘I started a business built from nothing and you can do the same thing,’ ” he said.

Kincade got early help in his business from Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management, which helped with a business plan, and

the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Fast Track program. Over the past year and a half, Kincade also has been getting more involved with Vistage, an organization for small business leaders.

“People have a hard time getting over a business that is not very sexy, but it is recession-resistant so it was appealing to me,” he said.

“Healthy for Business”

When Rebecca Donner left an interior design job at age 27, she took on a couple of clients to cover her expenses.

Sixteen years later, the St. Louis native presides over Inner Design Studio, a commercial interior design shop with eight employees and five designers.

“I had no idea I could grow into this. I didn’t know I couldn’t,” Donner said.

Donner, who specializes in designing health care environments, as well as some restaurant work, started out with client Surgical Care Affiliates and quickly built up her business through networking. SCA was bought by Health South, expanding her network. Then HCA came on board, with its huge potential base of hospital work.

Today, HCA is Donner’s biggest client. Others include Amsurg, the chain of outpatient surgery centers, and LifePoint hospitals.

With revenue in the “couple million dollar” range, Donner said her company is as big as she wants to get. Like Scovill, she said at one point it had grown so quickly she didn’t know what was going out the door.

“You can get too big,” she said.

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