The Nashville Business Incubation Center is making headlines in the Tennessean for “quietly fostering companies’ growth.” The author, Jamie McGee, does an excellent job of depicting what NBIC really is: practical. It highlights companies that have been successful during and after doing business with NBIC. Check out the article below!

Nashville Incubation Center quietly fosters companies’ growth

The incubation center’s Angela Crane-Jones talks with Charlie Tambellini of Further Foods. (Photo: John Partipilo / The Tennessean )
The incubation center’s Angela Crane-Jones talks with Charlie Tambellini of Further Foods. (Photo: John Partipilo / The Tennessean )

On my visit to the Nashville Business Incubation Center, Executive Director Angela Crane-  Jones walked me through a 30- year-old Tennessee State University building that has a  loading dock in the back, long bare hallways and very few windows.

“We’re not sexy,” she said matter-of-factly.

It’s true.

The incubation center is gritty, unglamorous and starkly contrasts against the new, sparkly Entrepreneur Center on the south side of downtown, which is outfitted with sleek meeting rooms and a Turnip Truck cafe and is often hosting events with big-name entrepreneurs and investors.

But the incubation center is not about being shiny and it’s not about venture capital. The  entrepreneurs working out of the 21 office spaces have come there to bootstrap and grow  their company without having to give up an equity stake. Through the center, a nonprofit,  companies get a downtown location offered at far below market rate, subsidized  accounting and legal services and access to zero-interest loans that can help them make the leap to bigger contracts.

Companies often come in as a mom-and-pop business, often in low tech sectors, and the goal is to grow them to a larger, job-creating company. But, instead of venture capital allowing them to scale quickly, they grow with revenues generated. As a result, the focus is on products and customers, without having to worry about finding investors.

“A lot of small businesses that are bootstrapped are creating a lot of jobs and have kept on going through this recession,” Crane-Jones said.

Take Zycron, for example. The company went through the center in the late 1990s. Now, it has six offices across the U.S. and in London generating more than $40 million in annual income and was named a top 100 fastest-growing inner-city company by Fortune last year. Other alumni include The Christie Cookie Co., Beacon Technologies, The Grilled Cheeserie and engineering firm K.S. Ware & Assoc.

“Just about every business in there is profitable; most are profitable from day one,” said J.J. Rosen, a mentor at the center and founder of Atiba. “It has a very practical aspect to it.”

The problem many small companies run into is they have landed a deal but need capital to produce enough goods to see the deal through. They can’t get a bank loan until they have two years of revenue under their belt, and they are reluctant to bring in an investor and share company ownership. The incubation center can loan $25,000 — or in some cases more — for three to six months, charging no interest.

In Crane-Jones’ 11 years at the center, she has not had one company default. Just like smart people don’t loan to unreliable friends, the center is very selective when choosing its companies, she said.

“By your second anniversary you can go to the bank, if we’ve done our job well,” she said.

And while the companies’ founders don’t owe interest or don’t have to share a stake, they do have to meet certain requirements that are aimed at helping them further. They must meet with an adviser every two weeks, and they must come to monthly meetings during which industry experts share advice on relevant topics such as marketing, accounting, legal issues and human resources.

Long list of alumni

While touring the building on 10th Avenue North, I was introduced by Crane-Jones to a commercial cleaning and infectious control company, Diamond Restoration, which had just moved in. Its chief financial officer was sitting on the floor of a small room with her laptop resting on paint cans while the other executives painted the office walls.

A few doors down, Charlie Tambellini showed me around his spice and sauce manufacturing plant, pungent with notes of garlic, paprika, cayenne, dill and celery. His company, Further Foods, makes the sauce according to recipe for several local restaurants — The Southern, Acme Feed & Seed, Edleys Barb-B-Que, etc. While he works on building a new site on a 100-acre farm, he is taking advantage of good rent near his clients.

“Everything comes with the place — trash, water, loading docks,” Tambellini said.

For that, he pays $1,500 a month for 2,000 square feet near many of his clients. As Crane-Jones explains, the more companies can save on costs, the more they can invest in their own company. In the two years Tambellini has been at the incubation center, Further Foods’ revenue has climbed to $700,000 from $20,000 and he has been able to hire five employees.

Further down the line, Michael Weiss operates MedForward, a company that does website design for physicians. In place of a window, he works under a picture of a cloud-filled sky.

What’s interesting about Weiss is that he came to Nashville from Baltimore because of the incubation center, having discovered it online. He pays $500 in membership fees that include his office space and access to business advisers, who recently coached him on the finer points of hiring employees. He has since made a company handbook and hired nine full-time staffers and subcontractors.

Crane-Jones has a long list of alumni companies generating several million in revenue and creating hundreds of jobs in Nashville and other cities. Weiss, Tambellini and founders of the 19 other companies at the center hope to join their ranks.

The incubation center is hungry for more mentors who can share their expertise with these small businesses. Just as local business leaders have rallied around new accelerator efforts through Jumpstart Foundry, the Entrepreneur Center and LaunchTennessee, they can support these bootstrapping companies as well. The companies — and their offices — aren’t necessarily glittery and they aren’t aiming to be the next Twitter or LinkedIn, but they are an important part of the city’s entrepreneurial network, bringing more jobs and more economic strength to Nashville.

Reach Jamie McGee at 615-259-8071 and on Twitter @JamieMcGee_.

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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.