By Mary C. McDonald
Published: The Daily Memphian, February 28, 2019
This is Memphis, a city of renowned entrepreneurs, dreamers who act, creative people whose ideas have changed the world. It’s exciting to think about the next big thing that will come out of Memphis.
Actually, there is already a new wave of innovators whose next great things are gaining momentum now. Six of them pitched their new ideas at the first Next Big Thing, hosted by The Society of Entrepreneurs and Epicenter.
The event was held on Feb. 19, at the FedEx Institute of Technology at the University of Memphis, the perfect backdrop for the encouragement of entrepreneurs. For some competitors, it was their first big idea; others were pitching a new twist on their established business. For all six, the competition was a risk they were willing to take to launch their new idea.
The mission of The Society of Entrepreneurs, and Epicenter, is to educate and encourage entrepreneurs. What better way to encourage entrepreneurs than a competition, and an award with a cash prize to help in the launch.
The award was named the Mustang Award. Mustangs are independent, hearty and tenacious, able to withstand adversity and survive an oppressive environment. Mustang is also a term used by the military to refer to someone who starts at the lowest rank and through hard work, courage, and leadership, achieves the highest rank. We could easily exchange the word “mustang” with the word “entrepreneur,” and we would be describing the people who presented at The Next Big Thing
Fourteen members of The Society of Entrepreneurs served as judges as six businesses – three start-ups and three scale-ups – presented their business plans in the Memphis version of “Shark Tank.”
Those who pitched their ideas for a new business or an expansion were Phillip Ashley, CEO of Phillip Ashley Chocolates; Denise Higdon, CEO of WorkSite Consultants; Parker Pell of QuikFix; Aayush Thakur, CEO of Truckish, Maureen Yarborough, president of Sign Matters; and Marterrious McClain, co-founder of SecondKeys.
The group represented the brightest and best in innovative ideas, and each was chosen from among the many entrepreneurs who applied for the opportunity to compete. They were a group diverse in age, gender, race, type of business, and business model. They pitch their innovative and creative solutions so as to appeal not only to the judges, but to the large number of attendees at the competition. It was an opportunity for each entrepreneur to get the word out about a problem, their solution, and why their business is a good investment.
The judges had a tough job, but in the end Ashley was announced the winner. Ashley’s chocolates have been gifts at award shows including the Grammys, the Emmys, the Oscars, and most recently, the Tony Awards. He plans to use his Mustang Award prize money to purchase equipment needed for expansion.
Memphis is truly a city of entrepreneurs who are preparing for the next great thing.
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