Panelist at Jackson entrepreneurial roundtable.
DOE-sponsored Jackson PORTSFuture Entrepreneurial Roundtable images by fkknutsen; April 6, 2017

TechGROWTH Ohio and PORTSfuture spearhead entrepreneurial roundtables

Austin Ambrose
May 26, 2017

Two Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs programs – TechGROWTH Ohio and PORTSfuture – collaborated with a number of local entities on a series of roundtable discussions about growing entrepreneurship opportunities in southern Ohio. 

The PORTSfuture project is funded by a grant from the US Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office.  The grant works in consultation and collaboration with former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant stakeholders and leverages Ohio University resources and expertise in a variety of activities to support the cleanup of the former uranium enrichment facility, provide STEM education experiences to local students, and to engage the public in outreach activities.

The four events occurred in Piketon, Portsmouth, Jackson and Chillicothe in April and May 2017. “The roundtable series demonstrates DOE’s commitment to providing community outreach on employment alternatives to the citizens in the counties surrounding the DOE facility who may be impacted by the site’s closure,” Stephanie Howe, Voinovich School Program Director of the grant, said.

A first series of these roundtables occurred in 2013. Since they were so well received, DOE encouraged the programming for a second implementation. Success grew in the second round; the credit being given to the shift in regional participation.

Hosts in each of the four communities identified and brought local entrepreneurs into the programming. TechGROWTH supported the framework for the events, the hosts owned the logistics and speakers. An increased engagement in participation could be credited to this local involvement.

“We hoped to engage folks in conversations about entrepreneurship as a rational career path as well as other opportunities,” Faith Knusten, Associate Director of Operations for TechGROWTH Ohio, said. “We wanted to broaden the range of knowledge of services in the area and show that no door is the wrong door for support.”

Shawnee State University hosted one of the discussions, with their Coordinator of Workforce Development and Entrepreneurship Angela Duduit, acting as the director of the event. When TechGROWTH approached Duduit about this opportunity, she agreed because it aligned with the university’s attempt to grow an entrepreneurial atmosphere on campus.

“We were really excited to kick that off this event and promote entrepreneurship at Shawnee State as we get ready to start an innovation accelerator,” Duduit said.

With timing on her side, Duduit knew a local business had recently participated on ABC’s show Sharktank. Dale King and business partner Renee Wallace own Doc Spartan®, a veteran owned, all natural skin and hair product company, which appeared on the show shortly before their request to join the panel.

King and Wallace decided to participate in the roundtable because they were able to provide an avenue for people looking to open their own business to learn from someone who already went through the process.

“Very rarely do you have the opportunity to learn from people who have been there,” King said. “That level of knowledge requires some type of internship, but this was a free program from those who have been there and done it.”

The passion seen in King and Wallace appeared in all the participants across the four events. Their stories provided insights and assurance that anyone can start a business, regardless of their experience on paper.

Nathan Kitts, a barbeque owner who participated in the Jackson event, explained his seeming lack of experience and diverse background. Coming from a job in healthcare administration, he always had a passion for barbeque. This passion continued to cultivate and now he owns Rowdy’s Smokehouse.

“Even though there are all the different walks of life, a common thread exists that all entrepreneurs share: their dedication to the product or service,” Kitts said. “They possess a willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to be an entrepreneur, which is not the easiest way to go.”

Although Kitts says the path is difficult, he also believes that with enough passion anyone can be a successful entrepreneur. His and all the other panelists’ stories provide a framework to demonstrate the potential of entrepreneurial activity, which can help bolster the communities they’re located. 

“The community entrepreneurship roundtables provide a very valuable opportunity for aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs to dialogue with successful local business owners and regional business assistance experts to learn how to successfully start or grow a business.  Nascent entrepreneurs greatly benefit from making these connections and learning about pitfalls to plan for or avoid, and they also learn about business assistance services available to them in their own communities,” Howe said. 

The panelists demonstrated the high potential and necessity for entrepreneurial initiatives in the communities impacted by the site closure. Although the loss is challenging, this series showed an alternative path that citizens could take.