Reflecting on the EC as a part of family legacy with Stuart McWhorter

For 10 years, the Nashville Entrepreneur Center (NEC) 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 sixth of 10 posts in this series; check back soon for more!

You could say that being involved with supporting the Nashville Entrepreneur Center runs in the family for Stuart McWhorter: His father, Clayton McWhorter, was the founding Board Chair for the NEC and the namesake of The McWhorter Circle annual giving society. Stuart himself previously served as the NEC’s CEO, too.

It all started more than 10 years ago, when the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce was working on its Partnership 2010 initiative. According to Stuart, his father knew that one thing Nashville would need to be successful was a dedicated way to support entrepreneurs and small businesses. When several leaders of that effort initially approached Mr. McWhorter about chairing the board, however, he wasn’t sure about it right away. He was in the process of scaling back his involvement in a few areas, and not necessarily looking for a new project—after all, many of his peers were retiring or already retired.

However, he quickly came around to the idea and agreed to serve as the founding Board Chair, recognizing how important the NEC could be to the future of the city. “My dad did a lot of great things in his career,” Stuart reflects. “And I think for him, one of the proudest things and accomplishments, in terms of something he felt he contributed to Nashville, was agreeing to do that.” Having a prominent local businessman like Clayton McWhorter as chairman of the board helped encourage others to become involved with the NEC at its inception, providing crucial support to help the founding team make the idea into a reality.

In the spring of 2015, Stuart found himself following in his father’s footsteps of supporting the NEC when he was selected as the center’s next CEO to succeed founding CEO Michael Burcham. He was excited by the opportunity to build further on the strong foundation in place after the NEC’s first five years. “My job was to really come in and take all the great work Michael and the board had done and put additional substance around that and try to hone in on the things we needed to focus on,” he says.

During his year as CEO, Stuart also interacted frequently with the larger community outside of the NEC, learning about areas where the center was succeeding, as well as areas for improvement as it looked to continue shaping the future.

Stuart stepped down as CEO to spend more time on the family business following his father’s death in 2016, but the NEC remains close to his family. To honor his father’s legacy, The McWhorter Circle was established as an annual giving society. Today, it remains a key driver of the NEC’s ability to connect entrepreneurs to the critical resources they need to create, launch, and grow businesses.

“To honor my father in this way means a lot to me and my family,” says Stuart. “As we continue to work through the pandemic and even beyond, I know that resources may be scarce, so I know my father would be proud of having the McWhorter Circle as a vehicle to sustain the NEC’s important mission.”

Looking ahead, Stuart sees the NEC as continuing to play an important role in the future of the city, and views the larger community as being a critical part of that process. “This is a time, more than ever, when we need the community to support the work here,” he says.

“When we think about what Nashville will look like in the coming years—how to increase access to capital, how to increase diversity of ideas and people—I think the NEC is in a perfect place to provide a platform for all those things to come together.”

More news from EC