Hall of Fame Inductees for the 2023 NEXT Awards

Middle Tennessee entrepreneurs and community legends will be honored during NEXT Awards gala ceremonies on Oct. 23

Nashville, Tenn. (Sept. 20, 2023) Nashville Entrepreneur Center (EC) today announced its four new inductees to be welcomed into the Entrepreneurs’ Hall of Fame at the 2023 NEXT Awards on Oct. 23 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. This year’s class includes:

  • Eddie George:  From the football field to the board room, Broadway musicals to graduate business schools, Eddie George personifies a renaissance man. A Heisman trophy winner (1995) a first-round draft choice, earning NFL Rookie of the Year honors in 1996, then later running back for the Tennessee Titans, George’s performance on the football field is nothing short of historical. He was selected to four consecutive Pro Bowls and led his team to Super Bowl XXXIV before retiring. Business success soon followed, earning an MBA at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. A series of entrepreneurial triumphs include the Edward George Wealth Management Group. As an actor, George played Billy Flynn in “Chicago” on Broadway, and in many theatrical productions, feature films and TV roles. His authentic, heartfelt performances have earned him rave reviews. As Professor Eddie George, he gives back through higher education, and developed The Business of Professional Sports at the Fisher School of Business at The Ohio State University where he brings perspective to meet the challenges and opportunities for aspiring professional athletes and future business executives. Since 2021, George has served as the 22nd head football coach at Tennessee State University.
  • Shirley Zeitlin: As a second generation Nashvillian, Shirley Zeitlin is a real estate entrepreneur and community activist, who founded the residential brokerage company, Shirley Zeitlin & Co. Realtors, in 1979. Shirley Zeitlin became a prominent figure in the world of real estate and community leadership with a lifetime of achievements and contributions that have left a lasting impact on Nashville and its real estate industry.  Throughout her career, Shirley emphasized the importance of professionalism and integrity, championed training and educating her agents to ensure they represented the company with honesty and excellence. She fostered a culture of teamwork and family, which contributed to its growth and reputation. Shirley’s commitment to Middle Tennessee, intertwined with her business values, is evident in her philanthropy and community involvement as an integral part of entrepreneurship. In 2018, the company affiliated with Sotheby’s International Realty, ushering in a new era as Zeitlin Sotheby’s International Realty. Locally rooted and globally connected, the firm now services clients in 20 Middle Tennessee counties and around the globe through the firm’s outstanding partners.
  • Jim Ayers: Ayers’ entrepreneurial journey has spanned various sectors, including healthcare and real estate. However, it was in the banking industry that he would leave an enduring legacy. In 1984, alongside a business partner, Ayers acquired Farmers State Bank in Scotts Hill, Tenn., which marked the inception of what would eventually become FirstBank. Through strategic acquisitions and a steadfast commitment to personalized service, FirstBank’s assets skyrocketed from a modest $14 million to a staggering $13 billion, solidifying its position as Tennessee’s third-largest bank. Ayers’ commitment to community involvement and social responsibility is evident through the establishment of The Ayers Foundation, providing scholarships and educational support, and his significant contributions to healthcare initiatives, including the Jim Ayers Institute for Precancer Detection and Diagnosis.
  • Saurabh Sinha: Saurabh Sinha is the Founder of Emids, a global healthcare technology company. Sinha started his business in 1999 in Silicon Valley and moved to Nashville six years later. Under his leadership, Emids evolved from a web-development services company to a healthcare-focused technology powerhouse with 3,500-plus employees worldwide, growing at 40% CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) over the last 15 years. The company’s focus on healthcare became a key differentiator, and it thrived in an industry known for its complexity and regulatory challenges. Sinha’s commitment to addressing digital inequality in healthcare, and his dedication to social responsibility are evident in Emids’ initiatives, such as providing laptops to those in need. His legacy extends beyond his role as the CEO of Emids, as he transitioned to Chairman in 2023.     

The Nashville Entrepreneurs’ Hall of Fame honors individuals who have built long-standing and meaningful careers in Nashville. Previous inductees include: Dolly Parton, Darrell Freeman, Trisha Yearwood, Cordia Harrington, Leatrice McKissack, Phil Bredesen, Jon Yabrough, Andre Prince, Mike Shmerling, Steve Turner, Amy Kurland, among other influential individuals.

“Nashville’s entrepreneurial landscape is marked by individuals whose remarkable vision and tireless dedication have built businesses and livelihoods here in Nashville and around the world,” said Sam Davidson, CEO of Nashville EC. “Their stories inspire us all to dream big and work hard. Join us in celebrating their extraordinary achievements at the NEXT Awards event, where we’ll honor not only our Hall of Fame inductees but also the next generation of trailblazing entrepreneurs who will shape Nashville’s future.”

The evening is supported by its major sponsors Presenting Sponsor: Amazon; Champion: Hudson Lee Carter; Pathfinders: Dell Technologies, Evolution Event Solutions, LBMC. The co-chairs of this year’s event are Sherry and Mark Deutschmann. Attendees can purchase tickets– only Box and Balcony seats left –and find more details here.

About Nashville Entrepreneur Center

Nashville Entrepreneur Center (NEC) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) founded in 2010 to serve as Nashville’s center for entrepreneurship, supporting visionaries from every background, in any industry, by connecting them to critical resources and championing their desire to change the world. Over the past 10 years, the NEC has helped more than 14,000 entrepreneurs, including 1,000 alumni, who have raised over $319M in capital, generated $417M in revenue and experienced over $100+M in exits. Learn more about the NEC by following @entrecenter on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and at www.EC.co.


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