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Liz Bennett takes the reins of the Holston Business Development Center in Kingsport

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Northeast Tennessee’s Liz Bennett has a new gig. After serving as Assistant Director of East Tennessee State University’s (ETSU) Innovation Lab in Johnson City for more than six years, she’s moved her professional address to neighboring Kingsport to serve as Director of the Holston Business Development Center (HBDC).

Her appointment, which officially began in May, was announced by John Campbell, Executive Director of AccelNow, the organization that manages the 13,000 square foot HBDC for Hawkins County and the City of Kingsport.

“We feel very fortunate to find a director with Liz’s educational background and experience,” Campbell said, noting that “she has already been involved with the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the region” through her previous role at ETSU. Both HBDC and the Innovation Lab operate as business incubators.

Liz Bennett

Bennett is actively recruiting new clients for office space and affiliate memberships, helping current clients build their businesses, and advocating for entrepreneurial efforts throughout the region. A top priority is also helping grow the Innovation Village in downtown Kingsport and finding new ways to assist entrepreneurship growth in Hawkins County.

“We have 22 office spaces of about 400 square feet each,” Bennett explains. Five of those are classified as shared spaces for multiple use at any one time or designated for administrative purposes. When we talked with her recently, 12 of the spaces were available.

“I would like to see a lot more start-ups,” she said, adding that there is not sector focus at this time. “It’s open space that can be used even for light manufacturing. The one restriction is no retail.”

Full-time office rates start at $300 a month and include consulting; high-speed internet; and use of classrooms and the boardroom, breakroom, kitchen, and presentation equipment.

For those who don’t require a full-time office but need more limited access, HBDC offers four levels of service with three of those characterized as affiliates.

  • Clients who are not considered affiliates can have a mailbox and shipping address that includes normal business hours access to the building for $20 a month.
  • The basic affiliate membership includes the mailing address, 24/7 building access, internet, 10 hours per month of shared space, access to shared-resources for an additional fee, access to the breakroom and kitchen, invitations to Innovation Village events, and early registration to HBDC workshops and programs for $50 per month.
  • The advanced affiliate membership, which costs $100 a month, includes the same services as the basic membership with the exception of 20 hours per month of shared space rather than 10.
  • For $250 per month, clients get those same services plus 60 hours of shared space.

For Bennett, the opportunity to run her own ship was an enticement as was working in the city where she lives. “I see a lot of possibilities for the Center,” she says, noting that “the facility has been under-marketed in the past.”

Of her ETSU experience, Bennett describes it as “a great six years (where) I learned how to run an incubator.”

HBDC opened in August 2003 through a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant for the building with operational funding provided through Hawkins County and the City of Kingsport. Since then, HBDC has continuously worked toward providing entrepreneurial support for start-up companies as a small business incubator.

It is strategically located in Kingsport off US Highway 11W (Stone Drive) across from Allendale Mansion on Holston Army Ammunition Plant land. The building, however, is not within the secured perimeter of the plant.

For now, Bennett is collaborating with the Sync.Space Entrepreneur Center & KOSBE (Kingsport Office of Small Business Development & Entrepreneurship), both in Kingsport, on entrepreneurial programming rather than launching her own for tenants. She is looking into ways to assist workforce development through partnerships with career technical education (CTE) programs at the local educational institutions. She’s also working with Create Appalachia and FoundersForge in Johnson City.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” she says. “There is already a robust and growing entrepreneurial ecosystem established in the region.”

Bennett received her M.B.A. in entrepreneurship, corporate innovation and management at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business in 2015. She spent 12 years in Japan, where she operated her own English conversation school before serving as the global sales manager for Yamato Soysauce & Miso Co. in Kanazawa, Japan. Her undergraduate degree in business management and Japanese studies was awarded in 2001 by Illinois Wesleyan University.

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