How does a company thrive in a slow-moving economy?  A company’s heart and soul must reside in business development, according to Robert A. Farnsworth, President and CEO of PlayCore, a recreation and play products company headquartered in Chattanooga.

“At PlayCore, we create a culture of entrepreneurial spirit.  It is everyone’s job to look for ideas,” said Farnsworth, whose presentation kicked off the fifteenth annual Clarence E. Harris Entrepreneurial Forum for The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s College of Business.

For example, Farnsworth described a conversation he had with a representative from American Trails.  When the national, nonprofit organization began a conversation with Farnsworth, he asked what the biggest problem was with trails in the US.  The answer:  kids don’t use them.  Farnsworth said that tiny tip led to PlayCore’s upcoming launch, PlayTrails, a way of integrating playgrounds with trails.

A business must act entrepreneurially, Farnsworth said.  He spoke boldly of introducing new business models, distribution models and creating a financial environment that includes ways to incentivize growth.

Farnsworth’s resume holds a variety of experience.  Before joining PlayCore, he said he was “lucky to be part of a startup business in retail, a large family business that sold dinnerware and large corporations that included GOLDTOE socks and Arrow shirts.”

More than 400 UTC students attended the breakfast, including Megan Hallar.  “I’m hoping to network with the speakers and the students,” Hallar said.  “It’s cool to meet other students.”  Jordan Tippit hoped he could “grab something from the speaker that sticks with me.”

Farnsworth encouraged students to seek employment in companies with entrepreneurship experience.  He strongly urged them to find a mentor, saying he heard his mentor’s words early in his career and they’ve stuck with him.  “Don’t manage the business, own the business,” he said.

One of the entrepreneurship majors in the audience, Demario Anderson, a senior from Clarksville, said he’s got a lot of entrepreneurial ideas he’d like to explore.  He wants to pursue the Master’s of Business Administration degree at UTC.  Anderson is looking ahead to a bright future with plans not only for himself, but for the community where he will live.

“I want to create a community center to give kids something to do,” Anderson said.  “It would provide educational and recreational activities, tutoring.  It would have a technology room.  It’s something I feel strongly about,” Anderson said.

Following the breakfast, the Entrepreneurial Forum offered panel discussions on green entrepreneurship and growing an entrepreneurial business.  Panelists included Jonathan Bragdon, Tricycle, Inc.; Jeff Cannon, Green Spaces; Clark Luckmann, Rock/Creek Outfitters; Chuck Pruett, Greenlife Grocery; Kris Simmons, 6 STRONG MEDIA and John Sweet, Niedlov’s Breadworks.

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