We had the chance recently to swing by the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and catch up with CEO Jane Allen. The EC is seen as the “front door'” for the city’s entrepreneur scene. Here’s her view from that window into the business community.
Inno: What’s the biggest way the pandemic changed entrepreneurship?
When I look at the pandemic, it’s horrible. I don’t make light of it. But also, some really cool things came out of it, and you really got to see entrepreneurs at work, and that’s what is exciting.
I think it took away the security blanket. You had so many people who were laid off and all of a sudden you realize, why not? I’ve always had this idea, always wanted to do it, why not now? Some of us, we go into work, and we work, and we don’t even think about what we want to be doing in 20 years. We have kids, we have bills, we have mortgages. When something like the pandemic happens, it allows people the chance to take a breath and say, ‘What do I want to be doing in 15 years, and do I really want to be working for this employer?’ Not because I didn’t like the employer, but there wasn’t the security there that I thought there was. ‘Am I really that secure? Maybe I’ll take a gamble on myself.’ It definitely opened up the possibility, moving to a probability for some, of ‘why not now?’ It allows that thought process.
Nothing’s guaranteed. For so many of us, we think it’s always guaranteed. I was a school teacher. I know what I’m going to be doing every day: I know where I’m going to show up to work, I know who my students are, I know my classroom. All of a sudden, now, my school isn’t open, I can’t even see my children. I can’t give them hugs. ‘Huh. I’m still getting paid, but … I don’t know.’
True entrepreneurs are really our problem-solvers. We have a lot of problems that could be solved. Some of those people were working inside of companies, and now they’re at home — and whether they’re laid off or working at home, it’s like, why not?
Inno: You’re a big booster of Nashville. What’s one thing that has to happen this year to sustain the momentum you’re seeing?
Unity. And I know that sounds very Pollyanna, but [it’s] unity in messaging, unity in working together — realizing we live in a really special community. I could live anywhere in the world and I choose to live here, and I think a lot of people could say the same thing.
I think all the pieces are there. How do we break down our walls, and/or our egos? The business community and the civic community have always worked really well together, and there’s been a vision. That’s what has made our city pretty darn special. Can we unify again around the vision and all work together on that vision?
… We cannot let our housing get so outrageous. So if we know this is happening, then what do we need to be doing to plan for it? We’re going to have to have workers. We’ve got to have people who can afford to live off $70,000 a year who don’t have to live two hours outside of the city. How can we all work together?
When I think of this moment in time, I just don’t want to be sitting there 10 years from now thinking, ‘Wow, what a waste, Jane. You didn’t do what you should have been doing.’ I want it to be, ‘Yeah, Nashville is still the coolest place on Earth.’
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