Panel for September’s FrankTalks exudes excitement for future of entrepreneurship in region


Panel for September’s FrankTalks exudes excitement for future of entrepreneurship in region

PHOTO: The panel discussion at Monday morning’s FrankTalks session was led by (from left) Kari Miller, Hallie Heiter and Matt Largen. / Photo by John McBryde

By JOHN McBRYDE

If conditions allow, the new Center for Innovation at the campus of the former O’More College of Design will be open and ready for innovators within the first few months of next year.

At Battle Ground Academy, there are plans in the next couple of years or so for a 36,000-square-foot building to house the school’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program.

And once the 2019-20 school year got underway last month for Williamson County Schools, the district debuted its 10,000-square-foot facility on the Franklin High campus that is home to the new Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center.

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive in Williamson County, and efforts to fuel it are showing up through private partnerships, mentoring and, yes, facilities that are being built, planned or already standing.

That was part of the message that came from the panel of Monday morning’s FrankTalks session at the Williamson County Enrichment Center. September’s program, hosted by Franklin Tomorrow, looked at how the entrepreneurial spirit is driving the economy of Williamson County and Middle Tennessee, and how it’s being shaped by innovation and by education.

The panel featured Williamson Inc. CEO & President Matt Largen; Kari Miller, executive director of WCS’ EIC; and Hallie Heiter, director of BGA’s EL program. Largen spoke to the number of businesses in Williamson County that have sprouted from the seed of an entrepreneur, while Miller and Heiter gave perspective from educators.

“Sixty percent of today’s jobs will not look the same in 10 years,” said Heiter, who was hired in 2018 to lead BGA’s new program. “So the onus is on us to create students who are able to solve problems and adapt very quickly. Entrepreneurship is all about adaptability — how can you survive within a very volatile workplace or work field?”

The EIC can trace much of its creation to an informal advisory group that formed a nonprofit and has committed to raising significant dollars to enhance the program.

“They have come alongside us every step of the way and really made this from a good program to a great program,” Miller said.

The EIC, which takes up half of the building that was formally Columbia State Community College, features a maker space and fabrication lab, along with co-working stations, meeting rooms, a café and presentation space that can accommodate over 200 people for “Shark Tank” competitions.

Regarding the 4,100-square-foot Center of Innovation at Franklin Grove Estate & Gardens, Largen said there are challenges with the restoration of the late 1800s mansion, but expects it to be ready in the first quarter of 2020. Williamson Inc. has partnered with the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County to use the building, which will have nine individual rooms.

“Each room will be a dedicated office space for a company … to use for a limited time,” Largen explained, “and the idea is, they will grow out of that space and create additional jobs and take additional square footage in Williamson County.”

Meanwhile, Heiter said the planned facility at BGA will include a maker’s studio, four more classrooms than what are currently available and breakout rooms, among other features.

“I’m really, really excited about the future of entrepreneurship both at BGA and in Williamson County,” she said. “t’s really about creating the job creators of tomorrow. High tides raise all ships, and as long as we’re all in this together and we’re creating this platform for all of our students to have a future in entrepreneurship, we’re all the better for it.”

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