On March 27, 2012, the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) hosted a Young Entrepreneur Summit (YES) at the Georgia Tech Research Institute Conference Center. The summit was designed to connect successful young entrepreneurs with young people interested in starting a business or those currently owning a business but needing assistance. With nearly 300 people attending, the audience included aspiring young entrepreneurs, high school and college students, and business owners, all taking the opportunity to gain insight and to network. The event also highlighted small-business resources and programs available to the entrepreneur community.
The YES events were launched by the White House and the SBA at the end of 2011 and subsequently have been held in several states across the nation. Atlanta was selected by the SBA because of its strong entrepreneurial base and success of startups awarded financing. The MBDA Business Center-Atlanta at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute collaborated with SBA on this summit.
Frank Ski, radio personality for Atlanta station V-103 FM, moderated the event. An entrepreneur himself, Ski recently opened a restaurant in Atlanta, Frank Ski’s Restaurant & Lounge, with the backing of an SBA loan.
The keynote speaker was Michael Tavani, co-founder of Scoutmob, an Atlanta-based company that brings mobile deals to consumers. Scoutmob was launched two-and-a-half years ago and currently has more than 1 million users. Tavani told the audience that one cannot start a business by just reading a book, but that one must take that initial jump and get it going. He said, “Now is the best time in the history of the world to start a company.”
The SBA recognizes the need to encourage and support the efforts of young people creating jobs for themselves and others. SBA’s Regional Director Cassius Butts and District Director Terri Dennison welcomed the audience on behalf of SBA and briefly discussed the agency’s services and its role in ensuring that small businesses get the assistance they need. Financing remains a critical factor for startup businesses, and according to Butts, the SBA has assisted entrepreneurs in obtaining more than $100 billion in small-business financing.
Stephen Cross, executive vice president for research and innovation at Georgia Tech, welcomed everyone to the campus. Cross said, “Economic development is something we take seriously here at Georgia Tech.” He added that the Institution has a long legacy of being involved with entrepreneurship and economic development and has helped Georgia manufacturing companies reduce operating costs and increase sales by millions of dollars in addition to creating thousands of jobs. It also helped minority businesses and other Georgia companies win millions in government contracts and financing. The institution fosters hundreds of technology startup companies and research innovations.
The summit presented a panel of five successful entrepreneurs, including Kenneth Canty, president and CEO, Freeland Construction Company; Alok Deshpande, founder and president, SmartPath; Cori Fowler, president and CEO, American Technologies; Caroline Van Sickle, CEO, Pretty in My Pocket (PRIMP); and Robert Knowles, CEO and managing partner of ODHR Consultants and a business advisor at Georgia Tech’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Center-Atlanta. The panelists shared their experiences in starting and growing their businesses and discussed challenges they faced along the way. They all agreed that to succeed with any business one must have passion, patience and persistence.
Canty, a client of the MBDA Business Center, said he thought the event went very well. He believes that the time frame was adequate so that anyone who really wanted more information could reach out to the panelists as well as MBDA and SBA staff to seek assistance. Knowles said, “Wonderful event! It was extremely gratifying to see so many young people taking a serious look at becoming entrepreneurs. They asked great questions and are well on their way to becoming part of our solution to continuing our economic recovery.”
The MBDA Business Center-Atlanta is funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency. As part of a national network of centers established by MBDA to increase the number of Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs) and strengthen existing ones, the Center provides a full-range of services to assist MBEs experience significant growth. These include access to capital and markets, strategy, organizational structure, infrastructure, policies, procedures and technology, and process improvement through the implementation of environmental management, sustainability programs, and ISO 9001 and 14000 certifications. Established in 2004, the center has assisted thousands of entrepreneurs and has helped clients secure nearly $500 million in financing, bonding and contracts and create more than 3,500 jobs.