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September 20, 2023 | Tom Ballard

“You Might Be Right” podcast recorded live during “3686 Entrepreneurship Festival”

Normally co-hosted by two former Tennessee Governors, one of those individuals shared his start-up experiences with two other entrepreneurs.

The 2023 edition of the “3686 Entrepreneurship Festival” featured a special recording of the new “You Might Be Right” podcast from the Howard H. Baker Jr. School of Public Policy and Public Affairs at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Normally co-hosted by two former Tennessee Governors – Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam, the live recording on September 20 featured Governor Haslam flipping the script, asking questions of his co-host and predecessor in the Governor’s Office, who said he had started eight companies with three going public. Joining the conversation were two young entrepreneurs – Brad Smith, Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Russell Street Ventures and Executive Chair of CareBridge Health, and Sarah Bellos, Founder and CEO of Stony Creek Colors. CareBridge was the fastest-growing privately held company in the latest rankings from Inc. Magazine.

In response to the first question about their motivation for becoming an entrepreneur, Governor Bredesen said he had always had an interest in starting a business. After numerous conversations with his wife, he recalled her saying, “I’m happy if you do it or don’t do it, but either do it or stop talking about it.”

That first company was a health maintenance organization (HMO), and he said the experience reinforced the importance of always making sure that whatever he did was focused on the two or three big things that had to be done correctly. Later as Governor, his top issue was TennCare, the state’s runaway program from a cost perspective, and he spent quality time focusing on solving the financial challenge.

Smith had a more personal motivation in helping launch Aspire Health. It was about his grandmother and finding a better way to help people near the end of their lives. Palliative care in its current form was not scalable.

When the conversation shifted to the role of government as a stimulator of entrepreneurship, Governor Bredesen characterized TNInvestco, which occurred during his time in office, as a disaster. He described the work of Launch Tennessee as a “soundly thought-out approach,” said he viewed government as having a “limited role,” and described the ideal as start-ups springing up as “wildflowers” rather than carefully cultivated flower gardens.

Bellos interjected that Stony Creek Colors, which she described as a specialty chemical company, greatly benefitted from federal investments through the Small Business Innovation Research program. She said the funding helped validate the market opportunity and attract venture investment.

Governor Haslam asked what advice the three panelists had for founders when tailwinds turned to headwinds.

“Set (the right) expectations for the team,” Smith said. “There will be natural ups and downs. Everything is not going to go right.”

Bellos explained that her company was strongest when the top executives were “looking around the corner” while others were focused on solving the problem of the moment.

Those interested in listening to the podcast can subscribe to “You Might Be Right” at this link.

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