Kathy Ware is the driving force behind one of Nashville’s successful engineering firms, KS Ware & Associates (KSWA). A South Carolina native, Kathy attended Clemson University and moved to Nashville in 1992. She also had a front row seat as Music City has grown into the new “It City.” Her company was well positioned to take on unique environmental projects both locally and nationally. If you have driven around Nashville, across any bridges or construction sites, KS Ware & Associates may have been one of the leading firms on these large-scale projects.  They help government, municipalities and other large enterprises manage their projects effectively, and one woman decided to take this journey into small business ownership almost 20 years ago. Learn more about how she created this multi-million dollar brand and her time at the Nashville Business Incubation Center (NBIC).



How did you initially launch your engineering firm?

I originally worked right out of college with a large engineering firm in Tampa and Jacksonville. Then, I was promoted to branch manager by that firm which brought me to Nashville. In February of 1997 I left; a little burned out, but thankful for the great opportunities given to me.

I thought I was going to stop for a while and focus on being a mommy to my 2 and 5 year-olds but that lasted about 3 days (as she laughs). I left in February and started KSWA in March. I decided to continue working with a mission to stay engaged in the engineering community while working with friends. I worked hard and was very blessed to have wonderful people around me. I wouldn’t say I had any great plans, I just wanted to continue to do what I knew how to do with friends and professionals peers.

Kathy, I love your humble spirit and endearing way you reference your clients as friends. Do you think this is what sets you a part from other firms? 

Our business philosophy is simple, we are a small business that wants to enjoy what we do for a living and we want the people who hire us to feel it is a pleasant experience. We do that by establishing long-term relationships, not contractual ones. We believe integrity is essential, if we make a mistake we will fix it and make it right. Innovation is also key by providing new tools to save money on behalf of our client and help increase growth.

So, for the non-technical people reading this, how would you describe what KSWA does?

We provide geotechnical services on large environmental structures. Basically, everything you see around you is supported by soil or rock and our firm is responsible for handling projects that incorporate these types of earth materials. Our typical clients are leaders of government agencies and municipalities, as smaller companies are traditionally not building large water treatment plants.

Side note: think about those infamous highway and interstate projects you see while driving or those large building infrastructures popping up in Nashville. Now, you can put a face to the name of some of the people that make it all it happen. Our typical clients are leaders of government agencies and municipalities, as smaller companies are traditionally not building large water treatment plants.

Wow, these are some heavy hitting services you offer, who was your first client and how did you find them?

Our first client, was Metro Water Services in 1997, on the original overflow abatement program, the predecessor to Clean Water Nashville. We tested all of the plastic pipes being installed around the city in order to rehab below-ground piping and we helped to ensure quality control. Next year, will be 20 years old and Metro Water is still our client. Many of the people we started working with are still making decisions.

So, would your services be inline with some of the problems we see happening in Flint, MI?

There are many different aspects to piping systems. In the case of Flint, drinking-water piping was installed and lead leached into the water over time, which caused the water to be undrinkable. We do not work on the drinking-water supply side. We handle the sewer and storm water side of things.

You mentioned earlier that when you left your job, you were going to take time off for family. How did you learn to master the work/life balance?

It is a kind of an easy answer. My family is more important than my business. I have always put my children before my business. You can’t have it all or do it all, so you have to prioritize. You have to pick and choose what is most important to you. Are you going to get up on Sunday and go to church, or go into the office?  Once you decide what you are going to do, you are going to take the other things off the list. I am not going to have my garden, go to the gym and take up photography. I think having it all is a fallacy. Working hard at what you prioritize is the game-changer.

What three things did you love about your NBIC experience?

  1. The inspiration of seeing other entrepreneurs: It was such a benefit and inspiring to see others in the NBIC program who are ahead of you and have figured it out. It is the hardest thing to start your own business, so when you can drive into the NBIC parking lot and see all of the other people there working and moving up is a true inspiration.
  1. The discipline of understanding the bookkeeping side: When I was working for someone else, I knew I was responsible for the P & L statement. However, it is different when it is your own business. You need to know where your money is going at all times. You can’t survive if you do not have a good bookkeeping system and NBIC helped me to get that in place.
  1. The relationships built: There are still people that I meet in the incubation center that I still keep up with. Darrell Freeman with Zycron, Ben Edwards with the Smart Card, and the list goes on. Life is really made of an accumulation of relationships over time. There were just a lot of really cool people and a diversity of industries at the center.  The diversity of the industries that got started over at NBIC is amazing and they have a great come one, come all motto.

NBIC really allowed you to learn and figure things out without tremendous overhead. I hope other people will hear about NBIC because it is about survival, and figuring out the best way for you to stay in business.

Lastly, since your office is located in the midst of all the Nashville growth, tell us why you are loving Nashville right now?

Yes, so our office has been in the downtown Nashville area since 1997 and to look at the sky and see all the cranes, is pretty amazing. I think Nashville has improved (minus the traffic). The Nashville economy is quite diverse and becoming less dependent on healthcare. When my Mom recently visited, it was great to take her down to a live event at the Ryman. I think a lot of people want to be a part of the downtown vibe and we are committed to being in the downtown area…I think it is worth it.

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Abigail DaSilva
Abigail DaSilva is the marketing coordinator at NBIC, channeling her passion and creativity to support the organization’s mission of leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs. A proud graduate of Tennessee State University, Abigail holds a degree in design, which fuels her artistic sensibilities and impeccable eye for aesthetics. Before joining NBIC, Abigail embarked on her own entrepreneurial journey alongside her brother, where she spearheaded the sales and marketing efforts of their own venture. This experience honed her skills in strategic promotion, customer engagement, and marketing media. Abigail has played a crucial role in the company, transforming their media marketing strategies, specifically towards a more video-driven approach. Recognizing the power of visual storytelling, she has created compelling content and innovative campaigns that have amplified NBIC’s reach and engagement, strengthening their online presence and impact. Outside of her professional endeavors, Abigail is an avid art buff, frequently visiting museums and exploring immersive experiences that combine technology and creativity. She also has a deep love for travel, shopping, and anything that allows her to utilize her creative mind. With her unwavering commitment and broad range of experience, Abigail is a valuable asset to NBIC. She remains eager to push boundaries, elevate engagement, and empower entrepreneurs through her exceptional marketing expertise.
Anne-Marie Tanner
Anne-Marie Tanner is the Programs Coordinator at NBIC. With a Master’s degree in strategic marketing from Midway University and a Bachelor’s degree in design from University of Kentucky, she brings a unique blend of business experience and creativity to her work. Prior to joining NBIC in March of 2023, Anne-Marie worked as a small business and startup consultant, where she gained valuable experience in guiding entrepreneurs through the challenges and opportunities of launching and growing their businesses. Her expertise in strategic planning and her ability to quickly grasp new concepts makes her a strong asset to the NBIC team. As the Programs Coordinator at NBIC, Anne-Marie manages multiple components, including Foundations, E-Myth, Framework, and Groundwork. Anne-Marie values collaboration and strives to align her work with the vision and expectations of her colleagues. Beyond her professional career, Anne-Marie has a wide range of hobbies and passions. She is an accomplished Olympic weight-lifter. Additionally, with her husband, she started a medical clinic in Martin, TN, a brewery and events center in Paris, TN, and an airbnb property. Their goal is not only to build successful businesses, but also to provide economic stability and job opportunities to as many people as possible. With her extensive background in business, her entrepreneurial spirit, and her commitment to personal growth, Anne-Marie Tanner is an extremely valuable asset to NBIC. Her diverse skill set and positive mindset make her a catalyst for success, both for herself and the new businesses she assists.
Saturnie Antoine
Saturnie Antoine has been a part of NBIC since November 2021, serving as the R.I.S.E. UP Program Manager. She holds a Bachelor’s degree and has obtained a professional certification in coaching skills. With a diverse background in corporate work spanning over 15 years, Saturnie has worked in various sectors. As the R.I.S.E. UP Program Manager, Saturnie oversees the entire program. Her responsibilities include structuring the curriculum, sourcing speakers, and organizing the launch campaign. Additionally, Saturnie provides personalized professional coaching to the program participants, offering guidance and support to help them scale their businesses to $1 million plus level. Since the commencement of the program in March 2023, under Saturnie’s leadership, R.I.S.E. UP has witnessed numerous accomplishments and successes. Additionally, the program’s focus on emotional intelligence has helped participants navigate internal challenges and overcome obstacles inhibiting their growth. Outside of work, Saturnie values personal time spent with her family and loved ones. Her true passion lies in her role as a professional coach, where she finds fulfillment in assisting women on their journey towards personal and professional growth. Saturnie’s commitment to her clients and her extensive experience, coupled with her excellent coaching skills, allows her to provide comprehensive support to program participants, enabling them to achieve their goals and reach new heights. Under Saturnie’s leadership, the R.I.S.E. UP Program continues to flourish and make a lasting impact on the lives of female entrepreneurs.
Leroy Cunningham
Leroy Cunningham currently occupies the role of Community and Capacity Building Manager at NBIC. He holds a major degree in Business Administration from Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin, along with minor degrees in Accounting and Economics. Leroy’s prior engagement with business development consulting brings great strength to the NBIC team. He has worked at three of the largest market capitalization companies in the world – Emerson Electric, General Electric, and Berkshire Hathaway. In his current role as the Community and Capacity Building Manager at NBIC, Leroy wears many hats. One of his primary objectives at NBIC is to increase the number of small minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses qualified to undertake contracts from prime contractors and government entities. By fostering relationships with community partners and engaging with prime contractors and government entities, Leroy works tirelessly to bridge the gap and provide opportunities for these businesses to flourish. Additionally, Leroy dedicates his time to consulting with business owners, providing them with valuable insights and guidance. By helping businesses at their current stage and empowering them to reach their goals, Leroy greatly contributes to the growth and success of NBIC’s clients. Outside of work, Leroy indulges in his love for reading, sports, and travel. With his vast knowledge, dedication, and passion for community empowerment, Leroy is committed to making a meaningful impact at NBIC. His wealth of certifications and global business experience lends a unique perspective and expertise to NBIC’s initiatives, which will undoubtedly drive the organization forward.
Octavia Wilson-Simmons
Octavia Wilson-Simmons is the Special Project Coordinator at NBIC. With a background as a tank storage broker, Octavia acted as a vital liaison between storage terminals and cargo owners, facilitating contracts for the transportation and storage of products. Prior to NBIC, she also worked as a chemical operator at a chemical company, further enhancing her expertise in the industry. Joining NBIC in early 2022, Octavia initially served as an assistant to Angela before transitioning to her current position as a Special Project Coordinator. In this role, Octavia plays a crucial part in various projects, including MNAA and Elevate 615. She also provides invaluable support to the team, assisting with grants and streamlining processes to ensure efficient collaboration and coordination. Outside of her professional endeavors, Octavia is extremely family-oriented and cherishes family outings and spending quality time with her loved ones. Octavia is also a dedicated DIY enthusiast and seeks to immerse herself in various projects. Octavia embraces the opportunity to collaborate with the NBIC team, support Angela, and contribute to the company’s mission. Having witnessed the growth of businesses firsthand gives Octavia special insight into the entrepreneurial world and the hard work that goes into operating and expanding your business. With her extensive background in the oil industry and her unwavering dedication to assisting others, Octavia continues to make a positive impact within NBIC, among her peers, and within the entrepreneurial community as a whole.