Ashley Cox’s sproutHR bringing human resource expertise to start-ups

SproutHR2(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in our series of articles spotlighting Northeast Tennessee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Kingsport’s Ashley Cox is still a young professional by most standards, but she has a number of years of experience in human resources that she is bringing to her new company named sproutHR.

During a recent interview at AccelNow’s offices in Sync.Space, the West Virginia transplant says she worked her way through college as a clerk at a little Kroger store near Concord University. After graduation, she entered the corporation’s management program where Cox was exposed to human resources in a big way when she was assigned to hire 350 in eight weeks to staff a new store.

Along the way, Cox helped Kroger develop a 17-week management training program and another program for interns. She also did a stint with J. Crew before relocating to Northeast Tennessee with her husband.

“I have a background in everything HR . . . on all sides,” she says.

After arriving in Tennessee, Cox decided to take her passion for photography and start her own company that did brand and product photography for entrepreneurs. That experience taught her two things.

“It (the photography start-up) was not for me,” Cox says of the first lesson. “I enjoyed doing it for myself but not for others.

The second realization came as a result of the brand and product photography work she was performing for other entrepreneurs. They were asking her HR questions, and Cox was shocked to learn about the mistakes they were making.

“They don’t understand onboarding of people, legal implications and other things,” she says. So, Cox shutdown her photography business and launched sproutHR in July 2016.

We obviously were interested in the unusual name.

“I wanted a brand that connected with creatives,” Cox explained. The name also underscores the three areas in which she offers consulting advice.

“Sprout is the hiring . . . getting your team together,” she says. Next is the word nourish which reflects training services, while the third word – thrive – captures leadership development for the entrepreneur.

“I help creatives navigate the intimidating, overwhelming and confusing world of growing and leading a team,” Cox says of her overall mission.

While sproutHR has some clients in Northeast Tennessee, it also serves online companies in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, and Texas. In about a year of operations, Cox has logged 35 clients.

“I’m a one-woman show,” she says. “I use a variety of online tools to communicate with my clients.”

An important part of her service is to understand the unique laws in each state which vary in areas like unemployment and workers compensation.

In addition to her own start-up, Cox also works part-time at AccelNow, helping other entrepreneurs as she also shares her own story and challenges.

“I did a complete 180,” she notes of the shift from a photography business to one focused on HR. “It shows you can make a pivot and be successful.” Her company turned a profit in its first month of operation.

Cox was also recently recognized by in its third edition of the “100 Best Sites for Solopreneurs.”

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