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May 01, 2016 | Tom Ballard

Saturday’s “Mad, Bad and Dangerous” event builds on GPS’ entrepreneurial founding

MBD_Logo_OrangeBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Thanks to the legacy of three entrepreneurially-minded female teachers who were concerned about preparing young women for success more than a century ago, Knoxvillians are going to have the opportunity to participate in a very unique event this Saturday, May 7.

Ironically, “Mad, Bad and Dangerous” (MBD), as the conference focused on female entrepreneurship is called, comes on the eve of Mother’s Day and thanks to the persistence of one local mother.

The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) has “stepped to the plate” to host the first MBD event to be held outside of Chattanooga where Girls Preparatory School (GPS) launched the concept in 2015. The conference begins with registration at 10:30 a.m. at the Southern Railway Station, 306 West Depot Avenue, and ends about 4 p.m.

While the program is focused on women from school age on, KEC’s Emily Skaar says men are invited to attend and are also encouraged to bring their daughters. To register, click here.

So, how did a Chattanooga-developed program find its way to Knoxville? We had the opportunity to talk last week with Autumn Graves, GPS’ Head of School, who moved to the city in mid-2014 and spearheaded the MBD idea.

“I was taken by the amount of entrepreneurship that existed in Chattanooga,” the former New York City resident said, citing national brands like Coca-Cola, Olen Mills Portrait Studio, and Chattem, Inc. that got their starts there. Chattem might not be a household name to many of our readers, but its products are – Allegra, Gold Bond, Nasacort and Rolaids.

In addition to its heritage as a business start-up community, Chattanooga also holds a unique position in terms of the history of GPS. Graves told us the school was founded 110 years ago by three female teachers who were concerned that the public school system was not adequately preparing women with science, language and other educational skills.

“They were very entrepreneurial,” Graves said of those founders who each contributed $100 to start the school. Today, GPS has an annual budget of $14 million and an endowment of $30 million.

With the dual legacies of the school and the city, Graves, a self-described advocate for social entrepreneurship, started asking some fundamental questions. One was, “What can we do to better engage us in the community?” The answer was MBD.

“We’re going to start this, be entrepreneurial, and take some calculated risks,” Graves said of the decision. “So much of this is about bringing the community together, both men and women. We are helping to empower women . . . to give them choices among so many options they have.”

She acknowledges that the idea of licensing the concept was not on the table at the outset, but she has found considerable interest from communities like Atlanta, Memphis, Richmond and even San Francisco.

So, how did Knoxville become the first city outside of Chattanooga to host an MBD event? Give the credit to Courtney Jones of Knoxville-based MomSource Network who attended the inaugural event in 2015.

“I wanted to wait another year before offering the summit outside of Chattanooga, but Courtney was so insistent that we do it this year,” Graves explained.

Thanks to Jones’ persistence and KEC’s commitment, up to 250 people will be able to participate in the five-hour event designed to inspire women of all ages, including students, to pursue their entrepreneurial passions. There will be:

  • Entrepreneurial education tracks led by local and national experts, business leaders, and established entrepreneurs on beginner and advanced topics;
  • A “24-Hour Generator” where girls from area schools participate in an intensive period of mentoring, community building, and planning to solve a business problem;
  • Three keynote presentations by Liza Graves, Co-Founder of; Kelly Hoey, author and investor; and Ita Ekopoudom, Chief Executive Officer of Tigress Ventures;
  • A women’s marketplace with more than 20 vendors; and
  • A Tech Tinkering Lab that features hands-on virtual reality and 3D printing experiences to enhance creativity and idea generation.

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