Jason Hubbard came by the entrepreneurial spirit naturally. He inherited the trait from his parents who started grooming him at the age of 12 to be their successor by regularly including him in strategy meetings for their companies.
Five start-ups into the entrepreneurial game, including three initiated by his parents, Hubbard is questioning whether his latest venture can succeed in Knoxville where “capital is the single biggest hurdle” or if they will have to relocate to where capital is more readily available.
In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, the Boone, NC native related his experience working with his parents on their three start-ups – one that was very successful, a second where Hubbard admits “we lost our shirts,” and the third that is doing well after a mid-course retooling. On his own, he has one start-up – JADiS Energy Solutions LLC – that was founded while he was in college and consulting gigs with several local start-ups.
Today, Hubbard is Vice President for Sales and Marketing at Knoxville-based Simple Control, a managed automation company that is focused on reducing energy consumption in commercial buildings.
Through each of these companies, he’s experienced the entrepreneur’s highs and lows from a variety of vantage points.
The lack of capital to fund Simple Control’s current business model – its third in less than 30 months – is challenging the optimism that Hubbard possessed when the former doctoral candidate in philosophy shifted direction and pursued an MBA degree four years ago.
Hubbard says that he left college in 2010 believing that he would “transform this area” as an entrepreneur.
“Knoxville has potential, but it has always been on the brink,” he says. For him, it comes back to the availability of capital, something that he finds particularly frustrating with all of the new TNInvestcos being headquartered in Middle and West Tennessee.
A conversation with Hubbard reveals an individual who is passionate about entrepreneurship and one who does not appear to shy away from the challenges that face entrepreneurs. Like his parents, he has a vision for what could be.
“Let’s bring rehab services to nursing homes,” Hubbard recalls his father saying when the father started the family’s first company that provided speech, occupational and physical therapy. It was listed on Inc. magazine’s fastest growing companies and grew to 3,000 employees before the Hubbard family sold it in 1990.
After a less than successful effort as a franchisee of Bruegger’s bagels, the family’s next venture was managing about a dozen nursing homes in three states. The Hubbard’s were just a few years into the venture when the Jason graduated from Davidson College and was brought into the company.
“I discovered we were on the brink of bankruptcy,” he says, adding that the family had leveraged about everything and had six months cash flow at most. Working as part of a restructuring team, Hubbard says the decision was made to lease the nursing homes and “become glorified landlords,” a decision that was fought by his father. The plan proved a good decision with the company profitable and paying down its debt ever since the change.
However, the conflicts over the decision “left a bad taste in my mouth,” Hubbard said, a fact that brought him to Knoxville.
During his MBA years, Hubbard consulted with several area companies including Voices Heard Media, 3rd Dimension Technologies and Bootie Butler. He and some MBA colleagues also founded JADiS, a start-up focused on applying social media to incentivize human behavior.
“We did not get beyond the concept,” he said. “We lost the team at graduation,” a not so unfamiliar fact. Hubbard said that 95 percent of his graduating class left the region.
Just months away from graduating, Hubbard met John Miller who was pitching Simple Control at the Tech 20/20 “Entrepreneurial Imperative” conference. They clicked, and Hubbard joined the small management team.
As Vice President for Sales and Marketing, he was part of the three business strategies that started with a focus on managing energy usage in high end residences. The long payback period and challenging residential market caused the company to shift its focus to “self-learning, intelligent systems” for the commercial market. The latest iteration calls for Simple Control to purchase and install the systems and earn a percentage of the savings realized on energy costs over a five-year period.
The newest business strategy shifts the cost of capital from the business owner to Simple Control, but the challenge remains finding the necessary funding to purchase and install the systems.
“At our heart, we are a software service company,” Hubbard says in noting that he believes Simple Control would find more success in raising capital if it were located in Silicon Valley. He is, however, somewhat philosophical about the future.
“I would love to stay here and help Knoxville realize its potential.” Hubbard says, but quickly adds that the likelihood of being here three to five years from now is “pretty small.” For Hubbard, it’s still all about the availability of capital to start businesses.