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February 18, 2021 | Tom Ballard

PART 3: Scott Andrew bringing his commitment to “rugged entrepreneurship” to his new hometown

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a three-part series spotlighting Scott Andrew, a Johnson City resident who has started more companies than anyone we have interviewed in nine years of writing and publishing

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Scott Andrew says that Johnson City has the same feel as Asheville had two decades ago, and he wants to help that “rugged” entrepreneurial spirit succeed. To do so, he’s investing in the community in a number of ways including several that involve East Tennessee State University (ETSU).

“I want to use my success to teach entrepreneurialism,” Andrew says, and he sees that opportunity focused specifically on further development of the Walnut Street corridor, a 1.5-mile stretch that connects Downtown Johnson City to ETSU.

Recently, after years of planning and work, one of Johnson City’s iconic properties has been restored to be a major magnet for that development. It’s the Model Mill, a 110-year old former flour mill that is now housing both businesses and several offices of nearby ETSU.

“I acquired three properties adjacent to the Mill,” Andrew said. One of the three buildings will house a unique initiative that he is planning in conjunction with Rugged American Spirits, a beverage company he  owns, and Jonesborough-based Tennessee Hills Distillery, which Rugged American Spirits recently partnered  with and plans to expand to a second larger location in Johnson City.

“We’re going to create a distillation program at ETSU and house it in one of the buildings,” Andrew says. There are also plans for a museum about distilleries, Tennessee, and the history of whiskey that he hopes ETSU students will help develop.

That’s not, however, the biggest initiative he is planning with the institution. That one, named Rugged Buc Labs (RBL), incorporates Andrew’s lifetime of learning about entrepreneurship into a program with two components – an internal and an external accelerator.

  • The internal program is focused on career skills development that connects local, regional and international organizations to another of his enterprises named the Rugged Think Tank. The goal is to create experiential learning programs and projects that use students from various ETSU disciplines to address real needs of these organizations.
  • The external component is a start-up innovations incubator and accelerator for entrepreneurs who are either in their infancy stage or in the product or project ready stage. For the former, the focus would be on helping participants develop their new business idea from scratch. For those who are more advanced, it would be what Andrew calls a “time-boxed” approach to ramping up their business with mentorship and partnerships.

“Universities that don’t put much more emphasis on experiential learning will be way behind,” he says, and Andrew is committed to making sure his new hometown institution is not a laggard.

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