Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The goal is launching local businesses that will thrive

The  issued last week by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, presented a complicated — and, some might argue, conflicted — snapshot of the state of entrepreneurship in America.

On one hand, the level of entrepreneurship in this country, defined as new business creation, experienced a hiccup in 2011 and dropped 5.9 percent below figures for the year before.

On the other hand, entrepreneurial activity across the nation has reached some of the highest levels since the mid-’90s, well before the dot.com bust and the recent Great Recession.

The Kauffman findings also indicated that entrepreneurial activity was highest in the South and the West, with Tennessee posting an impressive  increase in entrepreneurial activity (0.15 percentage points) during the last decade.

Only three states recorded higher percentage point increases in entrepreneurial activity: Nevada was first in the nation with an increase of 0.23 percentage points, followed by Georgia with a jump of 0.18 percentage points and Massachusetts came in third with a rise of 0.16 percentage points.

But despite those percentage point gains, most regions declined in entrepreneurial activity. Only the Northeast recorded an overall increase in new business creation.

Here’s another interesting finding: The study revealed that although entrepreneurship rates last year were 5 percent higher than before the recession started, the startups created haven’t (so far) been robust job creators.

That’s because a growing number of entrepreneurs founded companies as a result of job displacement following the economic meltdown and many of those startups have remained single-employee operations.

Acknowledging that reality, but determined to change it, the folks at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which is located in the FedEx Institute of Technology at the University of Memphis, are working with local entrepreneurs to launch scalable businesses. So far, the results are encouraging.

Kelly Penwell, the CEI’s program manager, arrived in Memphis last summer to develop and implement a variety of resources for entrepreneurs and small business owners under the auspices of the CEI. Her startup benchmark, Penwell said, was to launch three CEI-affiliated companies within two years.

It’s taken six months.

And there are a half-dozen other CEI-related startups nearing the launch stage, which Penwell expects to occur in the next few weeks.

“I like to think that this is what can happen when you’re passionate about something and you work like crazy to make it a reality,” Penwell said. “We’re here to provide resources and support and training for people who have good ideas, but need help translating those concepts into successful businesses.”

Offering a multitude of free programming, the CEI reaches out to a diverse population of entrepreneurs, from U of M students and faculty members to community members and even some small-business owners.

There are workshops on basic accounting and business plan development, as well as courses on pitching startups to investors and effective marketing strategies. And the center’s whiteboard sessions, which allow entrepreneurs to present their concepts before an audience of peers and professionals in order to get constructive feedback, regularly draw more than 50 people at each session.

“It’s a way to get honest reactions about your ideas and refine them. There’s a level of sharing that’s very constructive because everyone is pulling for you to win,” Penwell said. “We try to get people to see challenges as opportunities for which they can develop solutions. That’s our entrepreneurial model, to see a need and fill it.”

Coming up, the CEI will offer an introductory course on creating business plans at 5:30 today in room 326 at the FedEx Institute of Technology. There’s also a class on creating websites  at 3 p.m.  Wednesday at the same location.

For more information on these and other programs, call (901) 678-1579.

 

– James Dowd: (901) 529-2737

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