For Jim Kennedy III, building the Kenco Group, a third-party logistics provider located in Chattanooga, from a small organization of a few dozen people to one that employs thousands was no easy task, but he’ll be the first to admit that serendipity did play a part.
“Starting a business is rough but rewarding. It takes a great deal of desire, innovation and, quite frankly, a little bit of luck,” Kennedy advised a group of faculty, staff, and nearly 500 students at the sixteenth annual Clarence E. Harris Entrepreneurial Forum.
Kennedy began his career at a very young age in the family business. He started working at a warehouse when he was 14. During that experience, he learned the importance of teamwork.
“You have to get the right team working for you because you can have the best product or service in the world, but without the right people to support it, you will fail,” he said.
Kennedy was on campus for the Clarence E. Harris Entrepreneurial Forum. The forum is conducted every year by the Harris Chair to promote dialogue and interaction between students, faculty and entrepreneurs. Each year since 1996, a group of 9-12 entrepreneurs is invited to campus for a half-day program. Participants interact informally with students and faculty and conduct a panel discussion.
The forum also brought back a selection of College of Business alumni who have begun their own business ventures to advise and inspire current students. The “Growing Our Own: UTC Entrepreneurs” panel featured Betsy Dougherty of Ellie’s Fine Lingerie, Tony Kuka of National Credential and Solutions, Taylor Monen of Taco Mamacita and Urban Stack, and Libby Santin of Dynamic Displays & Graphics.
Betsy Dougherty’s business, Ellie’s Fine Lingerie, may only have been open for five months, but the UTC grad has already learned many lessons with starting her business.
“I wasn’t prepared for the amount of work starting a business was going to be. You’re going to work at your business all day and be up all night thinking about it. It’s constantly on your mind. I would tell others to be prepared for the time commitment. It’s a lot of hard work and it will be more than you were expecting,” she said.
Though opening her upscale lingerie store has caused Dougherty many sleepless nights, she doesn’t regret the experience at all.
“It’s been nice to see all my hard work pay off. I’ve had women come up to me and say how much they enjoy my products and my store. That feels good,” she said.
Tony Kuka also wasn’t prepared for the long nights when he first became an entrepreneur, but the business veteran has now successfully started several business ventures.
“I first became an entrepreneur because I wanted control over my own future. It was hard to leave a job with a nice salary and benefits, but I knew I wanted to work for myself. It’s been very rewarding. I enjoy the satisfaction of creating a living for yourself that wasn’t there before,” he said.
Kuka, who is now the president and owner of National Credential and Solutions, has previously sold businesses.
“The selling process is difficult because your business becomes an extension of you. It’s your blood, sweat, and tears. You want to make sure your staff and clients are well taken care of when you sell. I was well prepared for the selling process by the Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) program at UTC. I applied things I had learned in the classroom directly to the selling process,” he said.
Libby Santin also put her MBA degree to good use when she bought her business, Dynamic Displays & Graphics, two weeks after graduation. She advises current students to seek out experiences outside the classroom to learn more about the world of work.
“In my previous jobs, I looked for any entrepreneurial opportunities in my company that I could take part in. It helped prepared me for the day I owned my own business. Students should look for any opportunity to get experience while in college. Now is a great time to learn and get your foot in the door,” she said.
Taylor Monen had plenty of restaurant experience before opening Taco Mamacita and Urban Stack. Monen worked full-time as a hostess and eventually, a manager of a restaurant while attending UTC.
“I worked around 60 hours a week while taking 9 to 12 hours of classes. It was hard, but I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t start your career in college if you can handle the time commitment. It was fun to learn things in class and put it into practical applications at my job,” she said.
Monen, who owns four self-funded restaurants with her husband, says the best piece of advice she’s ever gotten was to be confident in herself, her business, and her vision.
“When starting a business, there’s always a ‘what-if’. You’re selling yourself and your ideas and what if people don’t like it? Don’t like you? But you have to be confident in what you’re doing no matter what. Every day I have to open the doors to my restaurants and be confident in the food and service I’m providing. People will tell you how to run your business, but you have to remember you did it for a reason and don’t let the rest of the world tell you how to do it. Be confident in you,” she said.