CBI’s Holly Hanson personifies famous Margaret Thatcher quote

Cumberland Business IncubatorBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

“If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman,” Margaret Thatcher, the late and memorable Prime Minister of Great Britain, famously said.

One has to think that description aptly applies to Holly Hanson who recently assumed new duties for Roane State Community College (RSCC). In addition to her role leading the Cumberland Business Incubator (CBI) since February 2013, she added responsibilities as Director of RSCC’s Cumberland County campus at the beginning of this year.

“I have everything in Cumberland County,” the energetic Hanson says.

That enthusiasm and service approach have allowed the licensed professional business coach and 20-year veteran of Ingersoll International to build a strong base of programming and coaching in a region more noted for its retirement communities and numerous golf courses.

“We are definitely general purpose . . . Main Street,” Hanson says of CBI and the individuals it serves. “We don’t have much technology transfer. We primarily draw people who want to do business in Cumberland County”

That said, she also adds, “We don’t check IDs when people come to us. We never turn anyone away.” CBI has clients from a number of counties, both within and outside the traditional Roane State service area.

It was an odd set of circumstances that brought Hanson to the CBI role. She and her husband enjoyed successful careers in industry, both with divisions of Ingersoll. Later, they served as Founders of EIGERlab, a combination co-working space, business accelerator, incubator and product development center operated by Northern Illinois University.

When they thought they were going to slowdown, they bought a house in Cumberland County in early 2012 with the intention of staying there about a week a month while also continuing to do some consulting.

“I was looking for someone to mow our lawn and was given the name of a young man,” Hanson says. “I chatted with his mom who said she was planning to get help from an incubator, but didn’t know how a chicken grower could help her.”

The mother was referencing CBI which was then under the interim leadership of Don Griffin. Hanson subsequently did some volunteer work for CBI and landed the full-time role of Director, starting February 18, 2013.

She brings a good deal of relevant previous experience to CBI. After leaving Ingersoll GmbH as President, Hanson served as Executive Director of the EDGE Business Center in Rockford, IL; Director of Business and Professional Institute at Rock Valley College; and Interim Director of Rock Valley’s Small Business Development Center.

All involved working with grants, planning workshops, and helping would-be entrepreneurs and small business owners. The experience has informed much of her focus at CBI.

“Business coaching is our number one activity,” Hanson says. “If I hear something in a coaching session three times, I know it’s time for a workshop. A lot of our programming is marketing and social media as well as bookkeeping.”

She starts every meeting with a prospective client by conducting what she calls a “90-minute sanity check” to make sure the individual has a good grasp of the market, opportunities and challenges.

“We frequently hear that they never thought about that,” Hanson says of the probing questions she asks. Then, with a laugh, she adds, “No one leaves without some homework.”

Hanson is pleased with the impact CBI is having. The organization has worked with about 250 entrepreneurs, and its incubator is full. One of the tenants is growing with 10 current employees.

CBI, which is located on the RSCC Crossville campus at 2569 Cook Road, is totally funded by Roane State along with grants that Hanson has applied for and been awarded. It does not receive revenue from either Crossville or Cumberland County.

Stay connected with us on Twitter and LinkedIn. Article ideas and other suggestions should be sent to tballard@pyapc.com. Include the name and contact information (phone and email) for follow-up.