Former Rome Floyd Chamber executive director Al Hodge became known for preaching job growth based on an analogy to a three-legged stool. Jobs are created by expanding existing businesses and industries, by creating new industries in the city, and by promoting start-ups or entrepreneurial ventures.
But what is an entrepreneur?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an entrepreneur as “someone who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or organization”. The Oxford dictionary definition of entrepreneurship calls it “the activity of making money by starting or running businesses, particularly when it involves taking financial risks”.
The keyword or phrase in either definition seems to take a risk.
Braden Keith of Romega Digital said that from a relatively young age he felt compelled to run an organization and invest in people.
“I got a feeling that it would most likely turn out to be owning and running a business,” said Keith.
He acquired knowledge of computer technology and was able to acquire a technology-related company in Rome about three years ago. He never had a formal education in computer technology and owes his aggressive self-starter efforts to the success of his company.
“We’ve been renamed and it’s now our own business,” said Keith. “We reach far outside of Rome and in fact most of our revenue is outside this zip code and this state.
The Rome Floyd Chamber embraced the concept of promoting entrepreneurship years ago with the creation of its Spectrum of Technology conference, which evolved into the Confluence conference.
The conference typically included presentations on trends in new technologies as well as local businesses offering a variety of high-tech digital services.
The conference began as a two-day event, which took place at the Forum River Center, among others, and then turned into a one-day event at the DeSoto Theater or the Courtyard Rome Riverwalk.
One of the most successful programs took place in 2008 when Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who was the keynote speaker.
Over the years the conference has attracted moderators such as Robert T. McNally, CEO of Geovax Labs, who spoke about innovation and developing vaccines against viruses such as Zika, HIV and Ebola.
Chris Anderson, former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, was the keynote speaker for a year. Dave Berkus, Assistant Professor of Management at Oral Roberts University, and Jeremy Simon, President of 3DUniverse, were keynote speakers in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Stephen Fleming, director of the Enterprise Innovation Institute at Georgia Tech, and David Lee, vice president of research at UGA, have participated in the program over the years.
The Chamber’s position as Director of Membership was ultimately changed and is now known as Director of Membership and Entrepreneurial Development, a position held by Thomas Kislat. He said the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the 2020 Confluence conference being canceled, but he hoped the conference this year could be a face-to-face event.
Kislat sees his role as an intermediary for everyone who wants to start a business.
“A lot of people have a great idea, but they don’t really have the business background,” said Kislat. “We’re here to connect you with the right people. We want them to be successful. “
There are a variety of factors that play a role in deciding whether to start a new business.
Any good real estate agent will tell you that one of the first factors is location, location, location. Is the community business friendly? If your business includes personal traffic, is site access good? Is the parking good? If you’re not a completely new concept to a community, is there a competition nearby?
The second big factor is funding. If you have cash on hand, is there enough to support a slow throw at the start of the opening? Do you have access to capital if you don’t have cash upfront? Do you have a business plan that includes funding for marketing? Even the most thoughtful business requires people to know who you are, where you are, and what exactly you can do for the customer.
Kislat said that connecting entrepreneurs with sources of capital is a big part of what he does.
A common mistake young entrepreneurs make today is relying on social media to get the word out. You might have a ribbon cut with 500 friends on Facebook or 750 followers on Instagram, but how many friends and followers can translate into clients.
Keith said the biggest challenge for his early years at Romega Digital was its explosive growth.
“We doubled (sales) every year when we were in business. Every time you do this, it puts a strain on processes, skills and team members, ”said Keith.
He said the challenge of delivering value to customers was a lot of fun.
Kislat said a major challenge facing many young millennials is the difficulty of balancing their business with their personal lives.
“Sometimes you have to run a business nine to five, six days a week,” said Kislat.
Recruiting is another problem that startups face when trying to run a business on a budget.
One of Kislat’s success stories over the past few months concerns the efforts of Roman businessman Billy Newby to open a commercial winery in west Rome.
“It was a hobby that got out of hand,” Newby said.
He was already a partner in a successful local financial advisory firm. He owned a large farm on Billy Pyle Road in west Rome and had some success growing blackberries, raspberries and blueberries.
But Newby said it must be a hassle to pick fruit every day for six weeks. When someone suggested grapes, it didn’t take long for him and his wife Shannon to make the switch
Kislat said one of the best ways for Newby to get the business going is to open a tasting room downtown.
“He needed help and we have everyone at the table … and we made it,” said Kislat.
Newby said that really got the ball rolling in terms of local approval for the project.
“I don’t think this would have been such a big deal if we hadn’t had the pandemic,” Newby said.
He said it will be a lot easier in the future if another winery and tasting room is to open in Rome.
“Nobody had ever done it. We didn’t have any ordinances, so they created a lot of things to do this, ”Newby said.
Once his wine tasting room is open, he’ll start the actual winery on his farm.
The chamber also offers entrepreneurs a special workplace, the OTR Lounge, where four computer workstations are available in one room in the chamber building.
People who need space or are considering starting their own business can contact Kislat at 706-291-7663 or contact the Small Business Development Center at the University of Georgia in Rome at 706-622-2006.