published Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Chattanooga entrepreneurs offer advice, experience to fresh startups

Stephen Culp
Stephen Culp
Photo by Patrick Smith /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

EXPERIENCE TALKS

Successful local entrepreneurs will share their methods once a month for the rest of the year as part of the Experience Talks Seminar Series. The free talks take place at The Camp House on Williams Street from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and include a free lunch. To register for the series, visit www.colab.is/experiencetalks.

If you've got a great idea for a business, start that business, find good partners and research the mistakes and successes of similar companies that have come before you.

"My background had no business in it," said Stephen Culp, a Stanford University law graduate who founded Smart Furniture and Delegator.com. "If your backgrounds don't lend yourself to what you're doing, that's OK. It may even be why you can do it well."

Culp and three other successful Chattanooga entrepreneurs discussed what it takes to start a successful business Wednesday at the first of eight free Experience Talk seminars aimed at connecting new business people with experienced mentors.

Culp told about 80 Chattanoogans attending the lunch discussion that an unrelated resume is no reason to bury business dreams. Inexperience often has as good a chance of leading to innovation as it does to mistakes, he said.

But aspiring entrepreneurs need to make sure their vision is aligned with their business partners and investors and they're willing to put in plenty of work.

"It's not a 9 to 5 deal," said Ted Alling, founder of Chattanooga shipping logistics company Access America Transport. "You are working all day to get your business off the ground."

Shannon Nix, a freelance communications specialist, said the advice was useful. Even without the expert tips, she said she would attend the next seminar just to meet with other professionals going through the same problems she is.

"It's great to have a forum for discussion about the small business environment in Chattanooga," she said.

That's the goal of Enoch Elwell, the series' organizer. Elwell works for The Company Lab, a Chattanooga group focused on helping entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground.

"There's always a need for more interaction between entrepreneurs and people who are just starting," he said. "We want to see mentorship roles and connections happen."

The next talk will occur on June 20 and focus on recruiting a business team. The monthly free discussions take place at The Camp House on Williams Street from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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