There is no denying 2020 was challenging, and for small businesses and entrepreneurs, it was even more challenging. But this isn’t another perspective on the devastating impact of the pandemic. Rather, it is one of positivity, hope, success — of celebration, even. It is about the work being done at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center that harnesses the spirit of community and mentorship and is fundamental to Music City, making it one of the best places in the country to start and grow a business – even in an incredibly challenging year like 2020.
The Nashville Entrepreneur Center (NEC) was founded in 2010 to support the next generation of entrepreneurs and celebrate the spirit and tenacity of the entrepreneurial community. NEC supports visionaries from every background, in any industry, at all phases of the entrepreneurial lifecycle. It connects these individuals to critical resources and champions their desire to change the world. Admittedly, a lofty goal for a non-profit headquartered in an old trolley barn, but we are part of a community empowered by the belief that anything is possible.
At NEC, we offer classes, programs, speaker series and pitch events. We connect members to customers, investors, training, mentorship, space and above all, community.
And we are a diverse community. NEC works to keep the playing field level to ensure entrepreneurship is accessible to everyone, particularly as entrepreneurship is a means to breaking the cycle of need. By starting a viable business, entrepreneurs can create wealth, jobs and economic growth.
But there are often many hurdles. At NEC we are dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs of color who are navigating the business journey through education, connections, mentoring and investment opportunities. We offer scholarships for entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds, and are committed to making more available. Since the 2015 launch of NEC’s Diversity & Inclusion initiative, our community has experienced 400% growth in engagement of underrepresented founders.
So, what happens when we can no longer meet face-to-face as our community is struggling more than ever? In the true spirit of entrepreneurship, we innovate.
Like so many organizations, NEC embraced technology. Through virtual programming, we did not miss a single scheduled event, and we expanded opportunities to connect entrepreneurs to critical resources. We hosted 130 events assisting more than 4,000 entrepreneurs, doubling our participation over the previous year. We created even more tools to help founders adjust to a rapidly changing world, building two production studios to enable them to produce audio and video content. And we’re just getting started.
Through a partnership with Metro Nashville Davidson County, we implemented the Renew Nashville Program where we offered small businesses master-class resources, executive level advisors and the support of the city’s largest business network to navigate the challenges of COVID-19 at no charge. In total, more than 800 small businesses joined the program.
As the need for that level playing field became more important than ever, we increased our representation of non-white small business owners to 40% and non-male business owners to 50%. Twende, our program to support Nashville’s entrepreneurs of color, grew by 3x. All of this while expanding many of our signature programs.
Nashville has always been a city of innovators. Ten years ago, we created a place where their innovative ideas can come to life. We are a community of people who are wired to solve problems, to keep moving forward, to have a purpose and vision that drives decisions, and no tornado, bomb, political unrest or pandemic can damper that spirit. It is my hope our city continues to support both NEC and these small businesses so this tenacious spirit may thrive, well into the future.
Jane Allen is the CEO of Nashville Entrepreneur Center. An attorney by training, she received her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Kentucky College of Law and completed a federal clerkship in the Western District of Kentucky. She moved to Nashville in 1994, where she was an attorney at Doramus & Trauger (now Trauger & Tuke). In 2000, she left the firm to start her own business, Counsel on Call, an on-demand legal services company, known today as Legility. She also started Hanner Clarke, a handbag company she co-founded with her sister, Rebecca White. Allen is married to Greg Allen, and is the mother of three sons and a daughter.