Reaching back to support up-and-coming entrepreneurs with John Ingram

For 10 years, the Nashville Entrepreneur Center has been the “front door” to entrepreneurship in our city, making Nashville the best place in the country to start and grow a business. 

In the “Power of 10” blog post series, we’re telling the story of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center through the eyes of the entrepreneurs who built it. These 10 interviews will explore the history of the EC, and the impact it’s had on the community, building a strong foundation of entrepreneurship that made Nashville the city it is today. This is the second of 10 posts in this series; check back soon for more!

John Ingram knows a lot about business. Having worked for decades in different roles in his family’s company, Ingram Industries, he’s seen what it takes to successfully run a large, profitable organization. But his perspective isn’t only that of someone who leads an established, mature company—he also identifies with the entrepreneurial spirit, whether that’s through disruption and reinvention in the publishing industry or through his efforts to bring a Major League Soccer team to Nashville.

This familiarity with many elements of the entrepreneurial struggle is what inspired John to get involved with supporting the EC early on in the organization’s history. As the EC was looking to expand its footprint by moving to the Trolley Barns location, founding CEO Michael Burcham and founding Board Chair Clayton McWhorter reached out to John about fundraising.

“The idea of having a place and people that could help someone who had a good idea and had the guts and the fortitude to turn that into a business—it just seemed like the right thing to support,” he explains of his decision to become involved. “I was glad to get behind it and be a part of it.”

For John, a key part of being an entrepreneur is not being afraid of failure; being an optimist (though one grounded in reality) and being persistent to keep going even when things get tough. He also feels it’s important to be able to inspire others to see your vision and take part in your journey. He had the opportunity to put those principles into practice through his work spearheading the expansion of MLS to Nashville with the Nashville SC team over the last few years.

From the outset, the venture faced numerous obstacles. Firm plans to move forward didn’t crystalize until the holiday season in 2016, and John and his team soon learned that the applications for consideration were due to MLS by the end of January 2017. He likens it to arriving at the starting gate at a race track when the other contenders—in this case, 11 other highly-competitive cities—were already halfway around the track.

“But it doesn’t matter where you start, it matters where you finish,” John observes. “And at the end of the day, we got to the finish line first.” One of the key factors in their success, according to John, was the team of highly capable people who came together to make the vision a reality, as well as the support of the city itself.

In many ways, the EC strives to fulfill a similar role for the entrepreneurs who come through its doors, whether that’s by providing advice from experienced mentors or creating a like-minded community of supporters to provide encouragement along the way.

“I think the greatest contribution of the EC to-date has been to be a place where thousands of people could come to vet their ideas, decide whether what they were working on was worth leaving what they were currently doing—which is an important decision—and to have the resources available to help you make that important decision, and to help launch you on the way to raise money or hire people,” says John. “That’s a wonderful thing; what makes this country special is the ability to do that.”

As for what he hopes to see in the future, John feels that a main area of focus should be around further expanding access to entrepreneurial opportunity. “One of the key things I want to do in hopefully helping the EC, but also outside of it, is trying to make a difference where a larger, more diverse pool of talent has more opportunity,” he says.

He firmly believes that good ideas come from all types of people, regardless of background, socio-economic status, or other factors, and that an important part of the EC’s legacy is to be a place where anyone with a good idea and the resolve to see it through can find the support they need.

“The greatest gift I’ve ever received is the ability to give, and to try to help other entrepreneurs realize their dreams, which includes creating new jobs and services—it’s just wonderful,” John explains. “It resonates with me, and I’m glad to participate to help make this opportunity available to other folks in the city. Whoever they are, whatever they look like—the EC can be the front door.”

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