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TSU Business Incubation Center Builds Entrepreneurs Through Start-ups and Small Business Development

Clinton Gray III, Derrick Moore and Emmanuel Reed wanted to turn their three-man moving company into a thriving business, but they didn’t know how.

They turned to the Nashville Business Incubation Center at the TSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, for help.

The three former college roommates, who dreamed up their moving business idea while still in school at TSU, only had a rented truck and the “grandiose” dream to build a successful moving company like no other.

In 2010, the NBIC stepped in, providing access to business expertise, networking opportunities, mentoring and consulting relationships, and office space for the business start-up.

In three and a half years, since moving into the center, The Green Truck Moving Company has more than doubled sales each year, growing from three employees and a rented truck, to 30 employees and seven company-owned moving trucks. For a business that started with an initial $3,000 investment, the company’s revenue projection is $1.6 million by the end of the next business cycle, according to Gray, who, as director of marketing, is the front man for the company.

“We wouldn’t be halfway where we are today if it wasn’t for the incubation center,” said Gray. “We have outgrown two previous spaces and have had to move to another. From 500 square-feet when we first came here, we are now occupying a 2,000 square-foot area.”

The incubation center offers management and technical assistance to small businesses for up to five years through classes, programs, onsite mentoring, one-on-one business counseling and peer support.

“Our goal is to increase an entrepreneur’s or startup’s likelihood of success by orchestrating connections to coaching, capital, customers, resources and talent,” said Director Angela Crane-Jones.

She said since its establishment in 1986, the NBIC has provided “a well-rounded entrepreneurship and incubation platform” for local businesses. NBIC embraces diversity with a focus on microenterprises: minority, veteran and women owned businesses.

“In the past five years NBIC’s clients have generated over $44.1 million in sales and created 253 new jobs,” Crane-Jones said.

Last year, NBIC clients reported a combined 21 percent increase in sales to close the year at nearly $17 million, while creating 64 new jobs for the Nashville area.

“When they come in, we assess their idea or business growth potential,” Crane-Jones said. “We help them to understand the core functions of human resources, accounting, marketing, legal and operations.”

This way, she said, they can be held accountable to be sure they are hiring the right people, reinvesting their profits into the company, have access or a path to obtain capital, and building sustainable business relationships.

These core values of accountability, reinvestment and sustainability have been a key reason why NBIC start-ups have been successful, and many beat the odds while others floundered under the weight of the recent economic downturn, said Crane-Jones.

U-Kno Catering, a professional catering service and cafeteria food service contractor that prides itself on offering fine cuisine and quality service at an affordable price, knows well the benefit of abiding by the NBIC’s core values.

During the recent recession, while other companies and businesses were struggling and reporting losses, U-Kno Catering, which joined the incubation center in 2008, was maintaining a comfortable profit margin, says owner Brenda Odom, a TSU graduate.

“With the help of the center, we made it a point to reinvest our profits, found a better way to market our business using QuickBooks to track sales, expenses and create invoices instantly,” added Odom, who has more than 20 years experience in the catering and food service industry.

She started the company seven years ago looking to fill a Middle Tennessee market in search of a dependable, fast and quality food service entity with its origin “right here.” There is every indication that Odom has hit her stride. From an initial 1,000 square feet, her business now occupies 2,000 square feet of space at the incubation center.

Among U-Kno Catering’s clients are such notables as Vanderbilt University, Deloitte, Allstate, and NES (Nashville Electric Service), which according to Odom, needed a substantial security bond to sign a contract with the catering service.

“We did not have the bonding, but the incubation center stepped in and provided a letter of guarantee to the bank to help us secure the contract, and bond in less than 30 days,” Odom said.

The success of the NBIC, according to its director, has been largely due to its vision as “the best place to grow a small business,” supported by the University leadership and a Board of Directors including individuals with proven business abilities and keen leadership skills.

Although TSU President Glenda Glover – a CPA herself and former dean of a business school – joined the University just two years ago, immediately upon arrival saw the need to make the center more responsive to the needs of the business community and the university. She established the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, with an executive director, to serve as an umbrella overseeing the functions of the incubation center, and the Small Business Development Center in the College of Business.

The goal of establishing the CEED was twofold, said Executive Director, Dr. Ruthie Reynolds, also a CPA and a longtime business professor.

“Being so aware of the business world, President Glover wanted a better coordination of the entrepreneurial efforts at the University, as well as begin an interdisciplinary approach to entrepreneurship,” said Reynolds.

She said CEED was created to expand the focus of educating and preparing students for positions within corporations to raising student awareness of self-employment as career alternative.

“By bringing the incubation center and the SBDC under one umbrella, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development endeavors to nurture and encourage entrepreneurial spirit in the students, faculty and staff and the local community,” added Reynolds.

According to Crane-Jones, this coordination of effort has worked well for the incubation center. Although admission to the center is opened to all, she said 27 percent of the new entrepreneurs and startups are either current or former TSU students.

Graduates of the center are making their marks in business and industry.

Take for instance Zycron, started at the center about 23 years ago, is now an industry leader in information technology services, providing client-specific solutions in health care, energy and utilities. It has five offices across the U.S., Latin America and England serving a broad client base.

But while this sounds good, Gray, of The Green Truck Moving Company, says it takes a lot of work to make it all happen.

“Starting a business is not easy, which is why access to business experts and affordable office space that the incubator program offers is so vital,” he noted. “It takes a lot of energy, a lot of will power and a little bit of luck thrown in to succeed.”

And Gray, Moore and Reed know too well what hard work and perseverance can do. Just as they dreamt, they built a moving company like no other…. a real “green company.” Their company trucks run on biodiesel, a cleaner form of fuel, and for every move, the company plants two trees, “which helps beautify our communities as well as clean up our earth’s atmosphere.”

Now, that’s like no other!

Department of Media RelationsTennessee State University3500 John Merritt BoulevardNashville, Tennessee 37209615.963.5331

About Tennessee State University

With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 42 undergraduate, 24 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.