Small Biz Superstar: Equity Alliance giving Nashvillians a seat at the table

Tequila Johnson of The Equity Alliance.

Tequila Johnson of The Equity Alliance.

Equity Alliance is a nonprofit co-founded in Nashville by Tequila Johnson to empower voters to engage in the civic process and take action on issues that affect their daily lives.

Why did you start the Equity Alliance?

We started the Equity Alliance because we knew there were voices being left out of the conversation and vacant seats at “the table” that we could adequately and effectively fill. We were fed up with the way our most vulnerable communities were regarded so- rather than complain, we decided to act.

What was your proudest moment at your organization?

My proudest moment was in 2018 after leading the statewide TN black voter project. We saw early voter turnout increase by over 1000% in a state that ranked 50th in voter.

What was the very first business you ever started?

My first unofficial business was as a 9-year-old child. With help of my mom, I sold ice cream cones and freeze cups in my neighborhood. In college, I would give rides for cash; and in 2009, I stated a consulting firm that provided bookkeeping, secretarial, and business development for small automotive dealers and car servicing businesses both locally and internationally.

What do you do to invest in our Nashville community? 

I love Nashville, therefore I invest my time, talents and treasures in this wonderful city. Through mentoring youth, to volunteering with organizations, supporting and encouraging the support of locally owned businesses to advocating for the community.

What advice do you have for fellow Nashpreneurs?

Follow your dreams and don’t give up. It was once said that if your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.  I believe every word of that. Dream big and work Smart.

Why do you think the Nashville region is a great place to be a small business?

Because of the growth and resources available.

Small Biz Superstar: Trap Garden's "Rob Veggies" is making healthy food more accessible for Nashville

Trap Garden is a nonprofit founded in Nashville by Robert "Rob Veggies" Horton to help make healthy food more accessible to Nashvillians.

Small Biz Superstar: Trap Garden

Why did you start Trap Garden?

Robert “Rob Veggies” Horton of Trap Garden.

Robert “Rob Veggies” Horton of Trap Garden.

My motivation for Trap Garden stemmed from me growing up in a food desert in St. Louis, Missouri and then experiencing the exact same issues after moving to Nashville for college.  As a student at Tennessee State University, I was frustrated with having to travel miles away from my home to shop at a grocery store with quality food. 

In Tennessee, one million residents, including more than two hundred thousand children, live in lower-income communities underserved by supermarkets (source: THE Food Trust). So, I decided to get people hooked on an amazing experience around fresh and healthy food to alleviate the issues faced in food sensitive communities.   It began with me growing my own vegetables and herbs and now it includes assisting others. I apply not only the community development lessons I learned in college and my past consulting career, but also the lessons I learned growing up in the streets of St. Louis and living in a food sensitive community.

What was your proudest moment at your company?

After months of efforts, Trap Garden launched a community garden in South Nashville with the help of local residents.  On the day of the garden launch, it was nearly 100 degrees outside and we had scheduled a community service event.  Because of the weather, we were not expecting many volunteers and even discussed rescheduling the event.  Collectively, we made the decision to move forward, despite the weather. To our surprise - over 100 volunteers showed up! 

This has been the proudest moment for me; we were working alongside community members and local businesses, universities, and organizations.  We are stronger and can accomplish much more for the community when we all work together.   

What was the first business you ever started?

Ironically, the first business I ever started was in elementary school selling candy to my classmates.  My close friend and I would purchase candy in bulk knowing that all students would not have time to stop by the candy store before school.  We would bag up different types of candy and sell to students throughout the day. 

What do you do to invest in our Nashville community? 

We work with communities, schools, and universities to create unique experiences centered around living a more sustainable lifestyle and promoting access to affordable, healthy food.  We have two educational community gardens that service South and North Nashville where we train youth and community members about gardening and healthy dieting.  In addition to these programs, our university partnerships help us to create a pipeline of future community leaders. 

What advice do you have for fellow Nashpreneurs? 

My advice for fellow Nashpreneurs would be to be patient and water the seeds that you have already planted.  I have often seen many entrepreneurs start a business, but quickly throw in the towel once they experience a roadblock or if it is not growing quickly enough. 

Like plants, we must remember to be patient and nurture our businesses.  Know that what you invest into your business may not produce fruit for years down the line. 

Why do you think the Nashville region is a great place to be a small business?

Nashville has a lot of resources and opportunities for those willing to put in the work and network.  As Nashville continues to grow, businesses have the opportunity to grow with the city. 

Small Biz Superstar: Culture Shift Team partner, Robert Wilson, shares thoughts on diversity and persistence

Small Biz Superstar: Culture Shift Team

Robert Wilson of Culture Shift Team

Robert Wilson of Culture Shift Team

1. Why did you start Culture Shift?

Culture Shift Team was the brainchild of my partners Anne Gillespie and Marcela Gomez. I actually hired them to do some multicultural outreach work when I was leading multicultural outreach at Nissan. Ann had a great model for connecting brands with fast growing and hard to reach demographic segments through authentic community engagement. Marcela handled direct PR and marketing for the project. We made some dramatic breakthroughs and when I decided to depart Nissan they were the first people I called. I believed that by joining forces, our passion and complimentary talents and could create real value for our clients.

2. What was your proudest moment at Culture Shift?

What makes me most proud to be a part of Culture Shift Team are my two partners. As a local diversity practitioner, my eyes have opened to the obstacles women face rising to the executive ranks in our city. Watching Marcela and Ann overcome these obstacles and mentor and support young women executives and entrepreneurs on their journey reminds me of why I do this work: to ensure we live in a city where everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute and succeed.

3. What was the very first business you started?

My interest in creating value through community partnerships is no accident. In college I founded two organizations, one of which raised money for emergency scholarships targeted to other first generation college students. I realized how hard it is to navigate the financial burdens of college alone, so I did something about it. The second organization I started helped other ethnic minority student organizations collaborate more easily on campus and create more opportunities for students to engage and feel at home. That experience inspired my founding of the Tennessee Diversity Consortium.

4. What do you do to invest in our community?

One of the super unique things about Culture Shift Team is that all three of us have these community focused “side gigs.” Marcela was the long time president of the Tennessee Latin American Chamber of Commerce and is still very heavily involved with helping Hispanic women entrepreneurs via the Ella program. Ann is co-founder of the Futuro program, which helps first generation Latino students navigate college and prepare for the professional world. I am the co-founder and executive director of the Tennessee Diversity Consortium, which connects local diversity practitioners and helps us skill-up so we are better equipped to drive change within our organizations. 

5. Why do you think the Nashville region is a great place for Culture Shift?

I grew up and Detroit and I am still very passionate about my hometown. Unfortunately, when I was coming of age in Detroit, the city was in a really difficult place. Nashville’s rapid growth is bringing excitement and opportunity and we have a front row seat. That’s rare.  Anyone can go to one of the coasts, but here- you  have the opportunity to be part of the story and create something unique to our culture and community.

6. What advice do you have for fellow Nashpreneurs?

My advice is that if you truly believe in what you are doing and you’ve come up with a sustainable business model, don’t give up, no matter how difficult it gets. Entrepreneurship is about talent, passion and timing. Own your journey, have faith in yourself and the work you are doing and you will eventually be successful. The successful people are the ones who don’t give up when everyone else does.

Small Biz Superstar: Nancy Youssef from Curves with Purpose shares her advice for other entrepreneurs

Small Biz Superstar: Curves with Purpose

1.     Why did you start Curves with Purpose?

Nancy Youssef from Curves with Purpose

Nancy Youssef from Curves with Purpose

Curves with Purpose began almost two decades ago. At the time, I didn’t realize it would ultimately be Curves with Purpose. It started because I grew up seeing friends and family struggle to find great quality and on trend clothing that fit sizes 10 and up. When I went to fashion design school, I had decided that my final project would be a women’s plus size ready to wear line, and that is really where the idea was born. As the years went on, and I deviated into a corporate role, it became more and more evident that even twenty years later there was still a dire need in the market place for this market segment. I went on to create Curves with Purpose in November 2017 to fill that void and support the nearly 70% of the population that falls in the size 14+ market segment.

2.     What was your proudest moment at your company?

As we are still in our foundational years, every win feels like the proudest moment! I would say I’m always surprised (pleasantly) and so proud whenever I’m asked to talk about this community we’re building, where I can brag on the incredible support of the women that believe in our values, and share our purpose.

3.     What was the very first business you ever started?

Does my lemonade stand count???

Curves with Purpose is probably the first true business I’ve started.

4.     What do you do to invest in our Nashville community? 

I love our Nashville community, it has been the foundation of our nearly ten decades of living here. I find solace in giving back through mentoring both inspired entrepreneurs and people growing in the corporate path. I serve on the advisory council of Belmont University’s College of International Business. I have just completed my time as Chair of the Chamber of Commerce’s International Business Council. I’m hugely involved with the immigrant community and serve on Mayor’s advisory councils for new Americans as well as the minority and women owned business council. One of my favorite services is through Soles 4 Souls, a charitable organization based in Nashville that provides new and used footwear and apparel to those in need.

5.     What advice do you have for fellow Nashpreneurs?

It’s cliché, and I never really believed it because I hid behind the curtain of corporate America, but that all changed when I started my own business, find a support system! Find groups of like minded people to support you on your journey. Share your ups and downs and you may find someone has walked through your path (or similar) – it has been my saving grace for the last couple years.

6.     Why do you think the Nashville region is a great place to be a small business?

Nashville is the perfect place to be a small business. There are tremendous resources both from small business programs, human knowledge (mentors and coaches) to capital and infrastructure support. Additionally, because there is a vast network of small businesses, some you’ve heard of, some you never have there is so much support regardless of your business.