Building sustainable businesses has been the singular focus of the Nashville Business Incubation Center since it opened its doors 35 years ago. NBIC has been the launching pad of several successful minority and women-owned businesses such as Slim & Husky’s and The Grilled Cheeserie. The program’s foundation is built on three tenants: business sustainability, capacity building, and job creation. Essential to NBIC’s success has been its leadership. At the helm is Angela Crane Jones, CEO, and small business advocate.

Angela, a former business owner, took the reins in 2003 after selling her company. “At that time, I didn’t know I could run a business and have a family. Most of my friends were employees at Fortune 500 companies and couldn’t relate to my dilemma. It was a challenge for my husband and I to conceive. So, I thought selling the business and focusing on my family was my only option,” she shares. Angela has since realized she could have done both, and endeavors to ensure other women understand they, too, can do both, especially with the help of a supportive community.

After selling her business, Angela sought employment at a local business development center. But it was NBIC, and its then Executive Director Mildred Walters, who made the offer. In the fall of 2003, Angela stepped into purpose. For twelve years, she worked as Assistant to the Executive Director, developing competency in the small business development space and building a Rolodex of supporters. Angela’s hard work and commitment didn’t go unnoticed. In 2013, she was named Interim CEO, then CEO, of the Nashville Business Incubation Center.

During that time, Angela’s vision for NBIC began to take shape, but it came with challenges. In 2016, NBIC’s longstanding relationship with a strategic partner ended. “Rebuilding NBIC as a separate entity was difficult but necessary. We were still seeing too many business owners fall through the cracks, be it losing the business due to a lack of succession planning or an inability to grow because of insufficient resources. The rebrand of NBIC shifted the focus to empowering small business owners, specifically minority women business owners, who on average earn just $24,000 in revenue annually, compared to their white counterparts at $140,000+.”

Under Angela’s leadership, NBIC successful reorganized and rebranded, going on to relocate to a new building featuring a modern design, executive offices, classrooms, and most importantly, a suite of programming targeted to the unique needs of emerging entrepreneurs and established but stuck companies. The pinnacle of that programming is NBIC’s Mighty Oak program that prepares business owners to build sustainable companies to achieve at least $1M in revenue ($500,000 for professional services businesses), create jobs, and scale.

“It is our goal at NBIC to shift business owners’ mindsets from scarcity to abundance. They can only do that if they get out of the ‘worker bee’ mentality and put on their CEO hats, working on the business every day instead of working in it. That’s hard to do, and we understand that. That’s why we walk alongside them as they make the transition.”

NBIC prides itself on meeting small business owners where they are, providing educational resources for them in somewhat of an academic style, supported by knowledgeable instructors, mentors, and coaches.

When NBIC pivoted in 2016, little did Angela know that less than five years later, she’d need to tap into the same strength and agility she used to rebrand and relaunch NBIC to rebuild again.  

In March 2020, a tornado devasted the North Nashville community NBIC called home, causing significant damage to their new building. Displaced yet not discouraged, Angela and her team immediately contacted all clients to offer support. The ability to do that was predicated by a decision Angela made two years earlier.

“Early on, I realized that if NBIC didn’t embrace technology, we would be closed or on the blink of closure within a year.” Angela saw technology enablement as the future of sustainability and growth for NBIC and its clients. “We brought in an Entrepreneur-in-Residence exceptionally skilled in technology to help us build technology infrastructure. With everything essentially cloud-based, we could work from anywhere. That framework was NBIC’s saving grace after the tornado as operations shifted from in-person to online.

Then the pandemic hit, and once again, NBIC’s early adoption of technology proved a benefit as classes went virtual. But for Angela, offering online instruction was only half the battle. She recognized that what small business owners in Davidson County needed most was access to technical assistance that helped them pivot. At the heart of that pivot was technology.

“It became clear to me that businesses needed a digital presence to survive the aftershocks of COVID-19.” Thanks to her efforts, NBIC was awarded a $600,000 grant from Metro Nashville under the CARES Act. “This grant enabled us to provide hands-on technical assistance for up to 200 small business owners struggling to keep their doors open.” That assistance included financial services, e-commerce/website capability, digital strategy development, and legal support.

As the economy begins to stabilize, Angela is looking ahead to how NBIC can best serve MWBEs moving forward. She realizes that business dynamics in Nashville are changing. Before the pandemic, businesses sought office space with all the bells and whistles. But after a year of working from home, many are turning to virtual offices and remote teams. “Our goal is to be what firms need now, which looks different from years ago. In the past, our space was a draw, but NBIC’s secret sauce has always been its commitment to giving business owners not only the knowledge but also access to mentors, practitioners, and funders they need to scale.”

With technical assistance comes accountability. “We’re looking for business owners who are coachable and want that level of oversight.” NBIC serves the whole person, helping business owners consider all factors impacting their business trajectory. “We don’t operate in silos. We help you define your goals – business and personal – then develop a road map to get you there.” It is that commitment to preparation and their track record of success that enables NBIC to change the narrative of small business ownership.

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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.