Jane Allen is on a mission to talk to as many people as possible as the newly named Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center (EC) formulates her priorities for the organization.
“I’m meeting with people from all constituencies (to get a) well-rounded perspective on what the EC needs to be to bring real value to the Middle Tennessee entrepreneurial ecosystem in 2020 and moving forward,” Allen told us when we sat down with her recently in Music City.
At the time of the interview in mid-December, she had met with 100 people and was still scheduling what she called “fabulous” discussions. As she described her approach to a position she started in late October, we could not help but see how her three careers, not counting being a wife and mother, were guiding her approach.
“In all of these (school teacher, lawyer and entrepreneur), it was helping people solve problems,” Allen explained. The University of Kentucky law school graduate first moved to Nashville in 1994, where she was an attorney at Doramus & Trauger (now Trauger & Tuke). In 2000, she left the firm to start her own business with her husband. Counsel on Call, now called Legility, is an on-demand legal services company, which she grew into a nationally acclaimed business before selling it.
In addition, Allen and her sister, Rebecca White, who had retired as Dean of the University of Georgia Law School, started a handbag company, Hanner Clarke. “We searched for a bag that was professional and feminine but could not find one, so we created it,” she explained.
Noting that she is in a position where she really does not have to work, Allen added, “That’s not me; I’m not there yet.” While she has kept busy serving on boards, both for profit and non-profit, Allen questioned whether there was more that she should be doing; however, nothing really “got my juices flowing.”
So, when the EC opportunity became available, the long-time financial supporter of the non-profit decided to consider it for several reasons.
“I have always felt that the Nashville Entrepreneur Center is a very important organization,” Allen says, “It allows entrepreneurs to connect with resources that will help them be successful. When we started Counsel On Call, several successful entrepreneurs were willing to give their time and experience to help us navigate the uncharted waters, which was invaluable. The EC is an organization that does this and more, so in a way this is a ‘pay it forward’ or what I call ‘a circle of giving.’ It is also an exciting time to have a positive impact on the Middle Tennessee entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
The more she thought about it, the more Allen saw a good fit.
“After the leadership talked to me about it, I would wake-up at night, and ideas and questions started flowing,” she says. One important consideration before saying yes, however, was her 15-year old daughter with whom Allen consulted.
“I think you have gifts you need to share with others,” her daughter told her. “That was my burning bush moment.”
In announcing her appointment as CEO, EC Board Chair Beth Chase, said, “Jane not only brings a great deal of wisdom and experience taking an idea from concept to launch to sustainable business, but she also understands firsthand, the power of collaboration and connectivity of the entrepreneur community to the broader corporate community. That expertise is crucial as we look to grow the EC’s ability to accelerate entrepreneurial success and strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the city.”
As she listens to others to determine the priorities that she will emphasize as CEO, Allen has formulated some fundamental principles. “Our mission is to help people solve problems/challenges by connecting then to the resources needed to increase the probability of success, however that is defined,” she says.
She’s also a strong believer in working with other organizations that are working to help entrepreneurs, such as local universities and other entrepreneur centers that are a part of the Launch Tennessee network.
“I’m a believer in efficiency and no duplication,” Allen says. “We do not want to do anything to build up walls, we believe strongly in collaboration and connection.”
As she goes forward, Allen says, “It is exciting to see all of the great work the EC is doing; however, I think continuous improvement and innovation should be in our DNA. Thus, we are looking at all of programming to ensure significant impact and that we are bringing real value to the Middle Tennessee entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
With her experience as an entrepreneur, the analytical nature of attorneys, and the role of school teachers in helping others learn, you can expect to see all of those experiences reflected in the EC’s priorities for the future.