It’s Small Business Week this week in Charlotte, NC, and the city is celebrating with a number of events, workshops, and awards ceremonies throughout the week.
Yesterday, the “Signature Event,” the Charlotte Small Business Week Conference, was held to both celebrate and inspire small businesses in the region.
And inspire it did.
The morning was filled with speeches by entrepreneurs who, repeatedly, shared stories that focused on the real reasons behind their success.
We heard speaker after speaker tell stories that spoke of following their natural passions and gifts. They spoke of their desires to serve a cause greater than themselves. They shared experiences that left them with feelings of outrage and convictions to do something better.
Here’s a sampling of what they shared:
Cassie Parsons: Named local Restaurateur of the Year by Charlotte Magazine in 2011, Cassie Parsons is the Chef and owner at local eatery Harvest Moon Grille. Already following her passion for food and cooking, Cassie worked as a chef before becoming an entrepreneur. While working for another restaurant, Cassie became discouraged and frustrated with the quality of food that she saw coming in, and ultimately she decided that the poor quality ingredients compromised the integrity that she demanded of herself and her own cooking. She left her paid job and created her own organic garden and farm. Her personal mission was to do her part in helping to provide food that was fresh, locally-grown, and antibiotic- and hormone-free. She initially sold produce and meat from her farm and then began serving from an upscale food truck in the Charlotte uptown area. Eventually, she opened Harvest Moon Grille and remains committed to using items grown or raised locally – all within 100 miles of Charlotte.
That Guy Smitty: Smitty had a passion for music from an early age. Growing up in the age of vinyl, he would spin record after record on his turntable at home. He could tell you every song on every album and had a flair for putting music together. Again, like Cassie, he let his passions lead him into the corporate world, where he worked for a steady paycheck programming music for a local corporation. Still, he had the burning desire to “gig” – live and in person as a bona fide DJ. He went out on his own and has built a successful business, following his dream and still being able to provide well for his wife and family of three children.
Robin Emmons: Another corporate-girl-turned-entrepreneur, Robin admitted that a little piece of her was dying while she worked inside her cubicle prison in an ivory tower. Almost immediately after leaving, she found herself acting as an advocate for her mentally-ill brother as he dealt with some legal issues. Her eyes were opened to the social injustices being done to the mentally ill and others who were financially challenged, particularly with regard to the lack of access to basic nutrition. She rededicated her life and career to helping eliminate barriers that prevent the needy from receiving nutrition assistance. She founded the non-profit Sow Much Good and now talks about the magic that can happen when you follow your passion. She emphasizes that the money will come; entrepreneurs just have to find the right focus (and reason) first.
Emmanuel “Manny” Ohonme: Manny is the founder and president of Samaritan’s Feet International. Manny grew up in Africa in an area of extreme poverty. One day, missionaries came to his community and taught the boys how to play a game called basketball. After showing them how to play, they suggested a competition and offered a prize to the winner – a pair of shoes. Manny turned out to be a natural. He won the contest that day, becoming the first person in his family ever to own a pair of shoes. From then on, he practiced basketball and began to believe in a better future for himself. He received a scholarship to come to the United States and play college basketball. He earned a degree in business and led a successful corporate career, but he knew that he had a greater purpose to fulfill. The pair of shoes that he won that day had given him hope, and he knew the pride that he felt when he went from being barefoot to having his own pair of shoes. He also knew of all the needless injuries and illnesses that affect children around the world that could be prevented simply by protective footwear. Saying that his mother always told him, “To those whom much is given, much is expected” (a paraphrase of Luke 12:48), Manny knew what was expected of him. His vision is to provide shoes to over 10 million children in the world through Samaritan’s Feet.
The speeches continued, and words like passion, purpose, bliss, integrity, God-given gifts, and God-given abilities just kept pouring out.
Words like “I did it because I thought I could get rich doing it” were completely absent from the stories. While money is certainly a necessary part of the equation, each speaker insisted that it was a by-product and not a primary motivator for them.
Each entrepreneur encouraged conference attendees to find their own gifts, embrace them, be thankful for them, to pursue them, and to dedicate themselves to a cause greater than themselves.
Great advice from some great people. I hope that their stories encourage you to think about how your own gifts, passions, and purposes are factoring into your entrepreneurial visions.
Manny Ohonme closed by sharing a few questions that he asks himself on a daily basis; I’ll close with them as well and suggest that you ask yourself the same ones today:
- Is my community better off with me in it?
- If I were gone, would anyone miss me?
- Who did I serve today?