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March 02, 2022 | Tom Ballard

Evolve focused on helping entrepreneurs take small businesses to the next level

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The name selected for this new local program says it all. Evolve is focused on helping entrepreneurs with small ventures literally take their business to the next level in its evolution.

“This program is designed to take you from where you are to where you want to be,” explains Tanika Harper, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Shora Foundation, a now more than 15-year old non-profit focused on youth and the transformation of East Knoxville. Evolve is an initiative of The Roots Collective, the Foundation’s growth and development center that provides programming, private offices and shared coworking space to small business owners.

Tanika Harper

Harper understands the challenges for small business owners, including women and Black individuals, very well. She’s the Founder of Harper’s Naturals LLC, Founding Partner at Elite Facility Maintenance, Co-Founder of The Women Foundation, and a Past Co-Chair of Knoxville’s “Maker City Summit.”

“If you have an idea or a start-up, there are programs from KEC (Knoxville Entrepreneur Center) and KAUL (Knoxville Area Urban League) that can help you get started,” Harper says. That list starts with opportunities like CO.STARTERS and 100Knoxville. After that, there are not many programs that help those who are in a growth stage, but also want to continue being a small business.

“This is not CO.STARTERS,” says Catherine Porth, one of those helping Harper with Evolve. Porth is KEC’s Director of Insights and Development, Founder of nonprofit named Let Her Speak, and also involved through her KEC work with 100Knoxville. She explains the latter program that includes multiple cohorts each year and is generally not specifically focused on a certain stage in a start-up’s growth as Evolve will be.

“I’ve recruited a team of entrepreneurs to help build a great entrepreneur program,” Harper says. “It is a deep dive (for participants) . . . built for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs who’ve lived the experience.”

Catherine Porth

To that, Porth adds that the ideal participant is someone who clearly understands that “I’ve figured out some things, but I know what I don’t know.” Maybe the small business owner needs a better understanding of its customers. Perhaps it is a stronger business plan, deeper financial forecast, pricing strategy, capital access plan, digital and other marketing strategies including social media, or go-to-market strategy.

All of those topics will be covered in the seven-month program that requires a commitment of two hours each Wednesday morning beginning in early April. Harper says the ideal size for the inaugural cohort is five to seven entrepreneurs although she would accept up to 10. Cost is $2,997 per person and interested individuals can apply at this link.

The ideal candidate is full-time in her or his business, and the venture itself is three to five years old.

“Evolve serves everyone though we do have a focus on Black entrepreneurs,” Harper adds. With her longtime involvement in the local Maker Community, she says those businesses could really benefit from the program. “They know their craft, but it’s that whole business side where Evolve can help.”

Porth adds that “entrepreneurs need a village and a community to be successful,” and that is what Evolve will be providing.

Others recruited to help facilitate the new initiative include Damon Rawls, Principal Strategist for The Innovation Digital Agency and Founder of The Knoxville Black Business Directory; and Deidra Harper, Owner of Creative Art Design Enterprises.

After the first cohort, Tanika Harper hopes that participants will say, “This is where I was, this was where I wanted to be, and Evolve helped


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