Participants in inaugural cohort of 100Knoxville share thoughts

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of articles that will spotlight the activities of the inaugural cohort of the 100Knoxville program. Over the next several weeks, we will follow-up with individual articles on the five participants.)

By Kailyn Lamb, Marketing Content Writer and Editor, PYA

We caught up with the first cohort of 100Knoxville earlier this month to see the 5x5x5x5 initiative in action. The five companies met over Zoom for five weeks to speak with mentors and learn more about resources available to entrepreneurs in the region as we described in this earlier article.

During the call sat in on, the entrepreneurs got to hear from Doug Minter, the former Director of Small Business Development at the Knoxville Chamber, about the GrowthWheel platform. The cloud-based technology helps business owners to create visuals that help identify opportunities and challenges within their company. Minter called the program “the GPS of where your business is.”

The rest of the call was dedicated to both entrepreneurs and mentors talking over any meetings they had, and what the five companies were working on. Each cohort member also talked briefly about what he or she planned to do with the $5,000 from 100Knoxville. Keep an eye out for our upcoming series on each of the companies in 100Knoxville to learn more about the entrepreneurs and how they plan to use the money. Learn more about the first cohort in this article.

Founder Brandon Bruce said all five companies found the mentorship aspect of the program very helpful, and that the new connections made through 100 Knoxville will also helped to build their companies.

“All five companies made substantial progress,” he said in an email. “This first cohort will serve as a great foundation for (hopefully) many future cohorts and will be the beginning of a 100Knoxville alumni group that will be able to help each other and future companies.” also spoke with the participants about what more can be done to help Black entrepreneurs or other business owners of color in the region.

Reuben Mitchell of NACI Corporation said that too often, he sees minority-owned businesses pushed to the side or ignored in consideration for potential projects. The playing field needs to be even, he said, adding, “we all can participate.”

For him, leveling the playing field means coming together. Mitchell hopes that the City of Knoxville’s properties that are not currently in use can be transitioned into offices, training spaces, low-income housing, or other projects that better support the community.

Sterling Henton of Rev It Up agreed that coming together is important. The former University of Tennessee football athlete used a sports analogy, saying that people need their team, and when you all wear the same jersey, it can be the “jersey of success.”

“There are a lot of gifted, exceptionally gifted, people that happen to be of color, and not just Black,” he said. “There is no force, no better dream than a team coming together.”

Jade Adams of Oglewood Avenue said that since opening her own small business, she has come to realize how crucial the support of the community is. While supporting a business with your money is important, she also said that other forms of support such as reviews or spreading the word can be just as helpful.

“It’s just putting your time, energy, money where you want to see things grow,” she said. “I appreciate everyone’s awareness that there’s not a lot of Black businesses in Knoxville, and then taking that awareness one step further and supporting, whether it’s their time or their word of mouth, or giving clients, or purchasing.”

Lee Sloan of Hand N Hand said that many minority business owners face a learning curve to running a successful business. Resources on business education were often hard to come by, he said, adding, “It’s just not in our history.” He’s hoping to see an open door in the future in providing those resources to Black-owned businesses.

Deidra Harper with B&B Services has been on both sides of the resource equation. As part of the first cohort of 100Knoxville, her business has been receiving entrepreneurial support. In her other role, as a member of The Women LLC, she works to provide resources to businesses. Last spring, the foundation run by The Women was able to provide interest-free microloans to three small Black-owned businesses. The organization will offer the same program this spring. Learn more about the microloan here.

Harper added that one organization, such as The Women or 100Knoxville, cannot do it alone. While social capital such as mentorship is a crucial component, funding is also key. “Access to capital and funding is very hard for small businesses in Knoxville,” she said.

The goal of 100Knoxville is to help Black-owned businesses to have better access to resources available in the region and to grow by $10,000,000 in the next 5 years. Bruce sent out an email earlier this week asking entrepreneurs to share their experience in raising funds. The survey can be found here. The information will be used to create an “Access to Capital Report.”


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