Karen is joined on this episode by Tiffany Anton, Vice President of The Biz Foundry. From workshops and training programs to providing a co-worker space and business connections, The Biz Foundry helps entrepreneurs no matter where they are in their small business journey.
Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Karen Wilson: Welcome to the BLC Connection podcast. I am Karen Wilson, your host for today. These small business episodes will focus on local businesses that excel in particular parts of customer care. Today’s guest is Tiffany Anton with The Biz Foundry, which is a nonprofit entrepreneur development center and co-working space with locations in Cookeville, McMinnville and Sparta. Welcome, Tiffany.
Tiffany Anton: Thanks for having me, Karen.
Karen Wilson: Yeah, so good to have you. The Biz Foundry is something, as we were talking a little bit before we we started recording, you guys have been open in McMinnville maybe two years now, not quite?
Tiffany Anton: We had a grand opening at the end of 2019, November of 2019. So right before the pandemic hit.
Karen Wilson: And of course, that posed some problems. And we’ll talk about that, not just for The Biz Foundry, but for all businesses. So, let’s first talk about your team and what are some of the major goals of The Biz Foundry.
Tiffany Anton: So we are a small, but mighty, engine. So Jeff Brown founded The Biz Foundry almost ten years ago now. And so, we’re state run. Most of our funding comes from Launch Tennessee, which there’s seven entrepreneur centers across the state that Launch Tennessee funds. And so we are one of those entrepreneur centers. Jeff found the grant and said, “Hey, we need this in Cookeville.” And so he kind of got the ball rolling. About five years ago, I stepped onto the scene, and we had a couple other interns here and there along the way. And then in July we hired our director of marketing, Jess Lewis. So right now, it’s the three of us. We’re three full-time people, and there’s a lot for us.
Karen Wilson: Yeah. So what are some of the I guess, what are the goals that The Biz Foundry has as far as helping incubate businesses?
Tiffany Anton: So our goal is to help provide resources for people no matter what area they’re at in their journey of entrepreneurship. If they just have an idea and they say, “I have no idea where to start, what to do, where to go,” we want to be the resource that they turn to. If they’re a business that’s doing well and growing, and they’re ready to scale and take on investors, we’re ready to hold their hand and kind of take them through that process as well. And so we, kind of our tagline has been at times, “imagine, start, grow.” So no matter where you’re at in your business, we’re there to help you.
Karen Wilson: Oh, that’s great. Because, I mean, so many people kind of feel, you know, kind of like they’re lost there. They don’t have the resources, but they’re sitting out there.
Tiffany Anton: So many people, entrepreneurs and very successful entrepreneurs, have passion for whatever their thing is, but they don’t necessarily have the business skills. And so that’s where we come in and we say, “It’s okay that you don’t have the business skills. It’s okay that you don’t know what a profit and loss statement even is. We’ll help you through that. Or we’ll provide resources. We’ll connect you with the right accountants that can help you take care of you.” And so we want to foster entrepreneurship throughout the Upper Cumberland. And so that’s really what we’re all about.
Karen Wilson: Well, and you’re certainly growing. You have an impressive home in downtown McMinnville, and I’m sure all the other locations are just as nice. Why is it important to bring businesses together in a physical location at times?
Tiffany Anton: I think the biggest thing is that businesses always have holes. They always have something that they’re lacking, something that they’re needing. In our Cookeville location, we have a developer that he does programing and coding independently. He’s a remote worker. He’s been based out of Philadelphia and D.C. before. And then we have one of our entrepreneurs that works out of our space. And he was needing somebody to help with developing an app that his business was having. And he couldn’t find a good developer. And so having somebody in his physical space, he was just kind of talking and kind of, “woe is me, I can’t find a good developer.” And sure enough, there’s a developer just sitting right there. And so they ended up being able to work together, and that happens often. We’ve had people that their business was a physical therapy glove for arthritis, and they needed a seamstress. And there was a seamstress that was at an event, and we were able to connect the two of them. And so that’s one of my personal favorite parts and ways to contribute to businesses as being that connector for people and saying, “Oh, you have a medical center, and you have a medical device. Okay, well, let’s connect you two and see how you can work together.”
Karen Wilson: Yeah, I would think that there is a synergy that is there whenever you’re physically together, you’re being inspired by seeing others working, doing all kinds, you know, and sharing ideas, having a sounding board. So just being together with other small businesses is quite helpful.
Tiffany Anton: Correct. We started in Cookeville about three years ago now. A group called Power by Her. And we started with just having monthly lunches. And I will have speakers come in, but I think that people show up, not necessarily because they’re so interested in the topic that the speaker is speaking on. It’s more to know they’re not alone. Women really need that community a lot. And so to be able to connect and say, “Oh my gosh, I’m just overwhelmed. I’m just, this is too much. How do I keep going?” And then somebody is like, “Yeah, I was there a month ago, and this is what helped me keep going.” And so I think especially for women, that Power by Her community has really helped them connect and just not feel so alone.
Karen Wilson: Awesome. That’s good. We’ll have to hear more about that. One of the most impressive aspects of The Biz Foundry is coaching. What are some of the most needed topics that you coach on?
Tiffany Anton: I would say I mean, to say everything is too, too broad. But we have people that come in and don’t know how to register their business. Or “Do I need a county license? Do I need a city license? Do I need a state license? What kind of licensing do I need? I don’t know how to do anything with accounting. How do I set my prices?” All of those, but then also high level things of, “Okay, I’m ready to scale. Where do I find a place to manufacture my product? How do I go into those kind of issues and making it scalable so that I can ship across the country, and I can make my product more well, well attainable for people, not just locally.” And so I love the little questions of just “I don’t know how to get my word out there. I don’t know how to do social media.” We love those little questions, but then we love the big puzzle pieces that really are going to change the trajectory of a business. And so that business coaching aspect is really, really important, and I think that we don’t have enough people that take advantage of that at all.
Karen Wilson: So you could coach on anything from marketing to accounting to HR issues and manufacturing and things like that.
Tiffany Anton: Well, and one of our big things, we do a program called Startup Your Startup, and it’s an eight session long program, and we have an accountant, a marketing person, an insurance person and a lawyer come in. And so people are able to ask those personal one-on-one questions and say, “Hey,” you know, and the lawyer has said, “Hey, what you’re doing, you can’t, that’s not really legal.” And so it kind of stops you before you get too far down the path. And so that program is, again, one of the most underutilized programs that we run. That’s just, it’s really easy, and you kind of can bounce ideas off of a cohort that you’re with. And so there are definitely great resources out there.
Karen Wilson: So thank you, Tiffany. We’re going to take a short break, but stay with us. More information to come on business incubation at The Biz Foundry.
Karen Wilson: Now it’s time for our marketing minute. Sometimes business owners can feel like they are on their own or on an island to themselves, especially as more and more people are working from home. In this marketing minute, I’m going to emphasize the importance of utilizing our resources. One resource is to join your local Chamber of Commerce or small business association in your town and your region. These people operate in the same arenas that you do, and their experience is a tremendous resource. They will help you make vital connections in the community at events, ribbon cuttings and more. Another great resource is to join community and civic organizations that often host luncheons and have speakers that demonstrate how local, state and national events affect your community and your business. Online resources are also great. From Facebook groups to LinkedIn, you can connect with others who run similar businesses and connect with vendors. Business incubator groups like The Biz Foundry may also be available in your area with the sole purpose of helping to kick start small businesses in rural America. So if you are in need connections or just a sounding board for your business idea or plan, start local and spread out from there. Your community is full of resources to help you grow your business. I’m Karen Wilson with Ben Lomand Connect, and this is your marketing minute.
Karen Wilson: We are back with Tiffany Anton, vice president of The Biz Foundry in downtown McMinnville, also in Cookeville and Sparta. Tiffany, let’s pick back up with some of the workshops you offer. I think the Test It Workshop is such a wonderful resource. Tell us how that works.
Tiffany Anton: So again, a lot of people don’t even know they have a business idea. And they — and I’ve been a victim of this as well — I have this great idea. I don’t know how I’m going to make money at it, but it’s a great idea. And so kind of going through the test it before you invest it is a way to go through your idea and think, is this a viable idea? How can I make money out of it? And who are my customers? I think that’s a really big thing, is that people get really passionate about whatever their thing is and they think, “Well, everyone’s going to buy this.” Well, I mean, you have a hairbrush. Well, most men don’t use a hairbrush at all, you know, or bald men definitely don’t. And so, you know, you have to kind of think, is it, is this viable? Are people, who’s going to be my customer? And so taking that step before, you’re just, you know, ten miles down the road and, you know, $100,000 into a business, is a good kind of breather. But we also do the Startup Your Startup Workshop, which is eight sessions long.
Tiffany Anton: We also do kind of stand alone. Coming up, we’re going to have a coffee and content, and it’s going to be. We have a content writer that’s going to help tell you what to put on your website, what to put on social media, your words matter. And so just kind of helping people in their business, in the marketing aspect. And so we have those stand alone. Sometimes we’ll have an accounting workshop that, hey, what do you need to do at the end of — we had one at the end of 2021 — what did you need to do to wrap up your books? How do you need to, you know, what kind of receipts do you need to find? What kind of things do you need to do to kind of put yourself in the best position? So we have those stand alone workshops. We’re always looking for what people need. So anytime people have suggestions of, “Hey, I have questions on this,” tell me, and I’ll find a speaker, and I’ll get a workshop going.
Karen Wilson: There again, it’s great resources for local people who are even just considering opening up that business. You’re making me think of like Shark Tank or something like that where you guys really give them a sounding board and give them some resources. Is it a good idea? Or if that’s not, maybe it could morph into something that’s a better business plan.
Tiffany Anton: That could be even more viable. Yeah. And I think even, we have some social events that we do. We try and do those quarterly at all of our locations. And I think two, I think entrepreneurship is contagious, and it’s not limited to only entrepreneurs in our spaces. It’s limited to kind of innovative forward thinking people. And so I always kind of want somebody else to come and get inspired and say, “Well, I want to start a business. I don’t know what it is yet, but I think I could do this.” And really, that is the heartbeat of these small towns of America, is that small businesses, people kind of overlook them sometimes. But without all the small businesses here in just Warren County, you wouldn’t have the thriving economic system that you do because of those small businesses. And so I think that’s really important for people to keep in mind.
Karen Wilson: I agree. I think we have kind of come full circle. There was a trend back a while ago, you know, to shop out of town and do things out of town. But with the revitalization of many downtowns, it seems like small business and entrepreneurship are really thriving in rural America.
Tiffany Anton: For sure, and I think people forget that people are bringing money in, and it’s staying in. You know, money from outside of town sometimes is coming in too. And so I think people forget how important that is.
Karen Wilson: Yes. It looks like there are, you know, as you said, many workshops for all different phases of businesses. How does The Biz Foundry continue to help a business or an entrepreneur through, you know, from the beginning on throughout their business?
Tiffany Anton: Well, as I said, whether it’s just that, you know, you want to be a small mom and pop shop, and you just want to grow your your business where it is. You’re not necessarily looking to have multiple locations or to ship outside the region. We just will help you try to hone in that customer, help with marketing, help you figure out and make sure your pricing is correct. But then also, if you really are at that scalable point, and you have a business that could get nationwide, we have connections within the state of Tennessee. It’s one of the healthiest entrepreneurial supported states across the nation. And so we have connections all over the state, especially, you know, kind of Memphis is the medical hub. And so if somebody is in a business like that, we can connect them with people there and whatnot. And so that’s kind of the growth aspect of us helping businesses.
Karen Wilson: I would think too, you take a business that’s been around for say 40, 50 years, even longer. There’s still things to be learned because the market is changing so much.
Tiffany Anton: Well, and just the way we do business. I think that there’s so many people, not even necessarily that their business has been around for 40, 50 years, but even maybe 15, 20. And they don’t have a website, and people are not — you know, we got real heavy into Facebook for a while where everybody was looking on Facebook if they wanted to know information about a business. But I think we’re stepping away from that. The political climate of the social media’s kind of got pretty hot in the last couple of years. And so people are stepping away. And people realize, too, without a website, you don’t own your customer and your domain and all that kind of stuff. And so you need your website presence. And so that’s definitely a big workshop that we offer is how to, for people just to be able to do their own website. And you know, people aren’t looking for a $5,000 website. People are just looking for something to have a presence out there.
Karen Wilson: Yeah, that is so important. I think you’re right. You really don’t want people to have to scroll through your Facebook page to see your products and things. It’s so much easier just to go to their website. And they’re so easy now to do. They’re much easier. You don’t even have to know WordPress anymore to do your own website.
Tiffany Anton: That click and drag thing is pretty easy, and you can kind of, you can get something that looks nice and valuable. And those businesses have been around for 40 years, how exciting is that for them to kind of keep pushing forward and change and be adaptable. And just, you know, you were kind of telling the story of Ben Lomand, like that, you know, how much Ben Lomand has has adapted over the years. It’s been pretty neat to see kind of that trajectory of things.
Karen Wilson: Well, we’ve had great leadership that kind of had their crystal ball out and knew. You know, telephone lines are wonderful, but we’re going to have to move forward and find new resources. And so we’re constantly doing that. I’m sure the pandemic was even hard on The Biz Foundry, but I’m sure 2022 is probably looking up. What all do you have planned for this year?
Tiffany Anton: The one thing that people work differently than they used to. And so The Biz Foundry is an entrepreneur center, so we help small businesses and give resources to them. But we are also co-working space. And so all these people who are working from home who (A) don’t have the space or the noise or whatnot, or even the internet, The Biz Foundry has a really great location for high speed internet. And we have private offices, and we have meeting rooms. And so, that’s been a huge kind of pivot and advantage for us over from the pandemic, is that people work differently than they used to. And so people work just from their computer, and they can come into our space, and they want you know, they don’t want the laundry sitting next to them and the dog barking and the kids running around. They want a space that is a little bit more professional than just a coffee shop. And so we offer a really great area for people to work from.
Karen Wilson: And so, like I said, I went to the one in McMinnville. You’ve got a large conference table. You’ve got small offices where they can close the door and have some privacy. It looked like you had, kind of a booth where they could do conference calls or anything like that to have some privacy.
Tiffany Anton: Yeah. And like I said, so we have the three locations. And in McMinnville, we have four private offices. In Sparta, we have three. And then in Cookeville, we just expanded our Cookeville location. We doubled the size. So we have 14 private offices in Cookeville. So it’s just, and I try and make those spaces too a community aspect. So once a year we try and do a cookout at the locations. And we do a Christmas party, and we invite everybody, you know, to be part of our Christmas exchange. And just that people, some people really like that office environment. And so now that when people got sent home in 2020, they miss that office environment. They miss having coworkers, and so we want to be able to provide that kind of community aspect to people.
Karen Wilson: And looking at your website and the rates are so affordable, especially for entrepreneurs or someone just starting out. I mean, you guys make it just so affordable. Talk to us about the rate structure.
Tiffany Anton: So the main co-working membership is $99 a month, and that gives you access to all three of our locations. And that’s 24 hour access. You have a key, an app on your phone that allows you key access in. And so even if you’re traveling a bit, and you are more in the Upper Cumberland region and not just in Warren County, you can have a meeting in Cookeville, and with your $99 a month membership, it allows you to do that. And even the office spaces, all inclusive, everything out the door, it’s $279 a month, and it’s month to month. So you try it for a month or two and you say, “Okay, this didn’t really work for me.” No harm, no foul. You know, it’s you’re kind of out of your contract, if you will, but. So that’s kind of a nice, you know, we’re trying to work with where we’re at. We’re not trying — I mean, some of these in Nashville, it’d be $700 a month for an office space like we have. And so we’re really proud that we’re able to kind of stick with the little guy still
Karen Wilson: Great. All right. Well, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you, Tiffany. Thank you so much for making the trip to McMinnville today to be on the BLC Connection podcast.
Tiffany Anton: Thank you so much for having me.
Karen Wilson: And I will invite our listeners to tune in for future business episodes and to share this content with other businesses. Until next time, this is your BLC Connection.