Campbell County, Tech 20/20 select Branam to lead entrepreneurial initiative

There’s a familiar line from old western movies that goes like this – “we got our man.”

After talking with John Branam, it sounds like the folks in Campbell County have found their man in the new Assistant Director of Tech 20/20’s Center for Entrepreneurial Growth (CEG) who will have responsibility for a new entrepreneurial initiative in the county.

Branam told teknovation.biz in a recent interview that he considers Campbell County home even though he was born in Louisiana. It was the community where he was raised, and it is the place where he and his family have chosen to return after a 35-year career in community banking across the South.

“We returned home in March of 2011 to help with some family matters,” Branam said. He had just ended a six-year role as President and Chief Executive Officer of a community bank in Gulf Shores, AL and early stints with banks in Georgia.

The CEG opportunity arrived at the time that Branam was ready to reengage in the workforce. Campbell County had contracted with Tech 20/20 to have the organization help establish a county-wide entrepreneurial initiative including a planned incubator.

Branam joined the CEG team in mid-May and is the organization’s point person locally. The entrepreneurial initiative is part of a $215,000 grant that is funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

As far as his new role, Branam says that “it is right down my alley as a long-time lending officer,” referring to the many loan applications that he reviewed for small businesses during his banking career that started in 1976 at the First National Bank of LaFollette.

“We will offer good, solid assistance to help people with a good idea get their product or service to market,” he says, adding that he sees the ARC-funded work as a “great opportunity for the people of Campbell County.”

Just a few weeks into his job, Branam is still working on details like a permanent office location – for now, it’s his home – and the planned incubator that will have low-rent space for entrepreneurs – “hopefully an announcement in about 30 days.”

Those details have not detracted from his focus on the “wealth of areas” where Campbell Countians have opportunities to start new businesses. Branam quickly lists tourism and hospitality, noting that the county has over 600 miles of riding trails and 800 miles of shoreline on Norris Lake.

“There are a lot of creative folks in the Southern Appalachian area,” he says. “If they know about the availability of the incubator and how it can help them on the business side, we all will be successful.”

Yet, Branam is also realistic. “We’re so early in it,” he says, explaining that one of the biggest challenges is to spread the word about the new initiative. “Our best advertising will be word of mouth” that will come from early successes, he believes.

To that end, Branam is already helping a local welder who has an artistic ability in vehicle customization understand how he might start a new business.

“This is something I want to do to give back to a county where I grew-up and started my career,” he says unabashedly.

Campbell County and Tech 20/20’s CEG clearly have a person passionate about helping his home area. Those who are interested in contacting Branam can call him at 423/201-8306 or email him at jbranam2011@hotmail.com.

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