Hello. I’m Elizabeth Lemmonds, and I’m a recovering entrepreneur.
I’m also the Director of Talent Programs for EPIcenter Memphis, where I have the remarkable opportunity to champion local entrepreneurship by cultivating the village of support necessary to convert a bold idea into a solid and sustainable business model.
You know, to help others clear hurdles that I didn’t.
Actually, my original dive into business ownership was a decade ago, when my younger daughter was born. I couldn’t bear to return to Corporate America when she was brand new so my husband and I brainstormed a way to combine our skills into a home-based company. We formed a boutique creative services firm, and it successfully served its purpose. We both got to stay home with Flannery for her first 18 months, albeit on a shoestring budget and with abysmal health insurance options.
But in our particular case that was never intended to be scalable. It was a means to a temporary end. And then after another several years I had the privilege of working with Start Co. as Chief Brand Officer. While there I launched an initiative to reduce barriers and fuel women’s entrepreneurship. Apparently I caught the bug, and set out to start a brick and mortar makerspace on the burgeoning Broad Avenue.
Except that… I wasn’t so good at brick and mortar spaces. I discovered that utility deposits are based on a bizarre equation, commercial tenants seriously need a tenant rep to navigate leases and especially repair provisions, and getting a business loan can be more complex than buying a house (especially if you’ve committed full time with your business!).
Oh, and liability insurance can be a beast. Letting customers into your space at all ups the ante. Serving (much less selling) alcohol? Up it some more. Then there is your annual state business filing and fee, even if you’re not yet open.
Some of you may be rolling your eyes at my naivete right now! But others… aren’t. You’ve been there. After all, many of today’s successful entrepreneurs have a failure hidden in their closet. Perhaps you’re thinking about taking the plunge, and taking notes. Pro tip: build a stronger credit score.
Some of you may be thinking that you’re not building something that immediately needs real estate and its accompanying baggage. You’re innovating. You’re developing software or a prototype. But that has its significant challenges, as well! You’re trying to convince an existing market that it needs something heretofore nonexistent. You also need considerable resources – human and otherwise – and potentially patents. And how do you approach investors?
Even a full-time home-based service business – like our creative services firm back in the day – needs its bills to be paid. Including the mortgage and groceries.
Think of your favorite restaurant. Now think of the equipment and fixtures required prior to generating revenue… much less the health department regulations, employee training and liquor licensing. Plus vendor selection, inventory management and point-of-sale systems. And…
The point here really isn’t to dissuade anyone from pursuing their dream. Pinky swear. Quite the opposite!
The point is multifold, including to remind the rest of us that our favorite locally owned establishments put in an awful lot of work and sacrifice! We’re quick to complain when one closes but rarely does a business shutter due solely to lack of passion.
I also want to remind the potential entrepreneurs of the tasks ahead, so that you seek help as you need it. It truly does take a village, from friends and family to mentors and service providers.
And help is there! EPIcenter serves as a hub, connecting entrepreneurs to resources and our network partners. From coffee shops to cloud-based software, we recognize that entrepreneurs create jobs, an infusion of wealth into the local economy and vibrancy. We fiercely believe that we can redefine our city and its diverse neighborhoods by catalyzing audacious ideas and tenacious founders.
Organizations from Start Co. to the TN Small Business Development Center wake up every morning with a mission to help your crazy idea succeed. Then there’s Memphis Bioworks, NAWBO, Cowork Memphis, the Mid-South Minority Business Council Continuum, Communities Unlimited, Black Business Alliance, Emerge Memphis, Memphis Startup, SCORE, UM’s Crews Center and more. And, of course, the Greater Memphis Chamber, whose Chairman’s Circle breathed life into EPIcenter through its ambitious moonshot mission to create 1000 entrepreneurs in Memphis over the next decade.
Even the Memphis Library has a robust online support network through its First Tennessee Small Business Center, plus free courses (with a library card) through Lynda.com!
But even with help, it’s hard. Really freaking hard. That’s why I’m thrilled by the opportunity to be an ongoing part of Make Memphis through the new Trep Talk series (as in, enTREPpreneur; you get it). While you’ll primarily see spotlights on compelling local entrepreneurs – including their inspirations, greatest challenges and rewards, downtime sanity-saving tips and veteran advice – you’ll also read here and there about opportunities from entrepreneurial training programs to networking events.
And I’ll need your help: while we have a pretty standard Q&A for the featured entrepreneurs, I want each to have one question unique to them. I’ll be crowdsourcing requests!
In the meantime, I hope that you’ll reward the hustle of your favorite entrepreneurs with some additional support. And maybe a hug. I vowed for 2016 to each month spend at least $25 with one new-to-me local business. I challenge you to do the same. That’s a small price for many of us individually, but collectively could amount to a tremendous investment in local economic development. And in what is uniquely Memphis.