Looking to our leaders during this time: The first virtual McWhorter Circle event, ft. Sen. Frist

May 21, 2020 / Share:

A letter from CEO Jane Allen

These days have been filled with many “firsts” for the Nashville Entrepreneur Center (“EC”), whether it’s our first virtual celebrity pitch event, our first virtual Project Music kickoff, or our first virtual happy hours for members. On May 19, we added another to the list: Our first virtual meeting of the McWhorter Circle.


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The McWhorter Circle is the EC’s individual giving society composed of leaders and successful entrepreneurs who believe that the EC is a place where future generations can pursue their entrepreneurial dreams and keep alive Nashville’s legacy of starting and growing businesses. It’s named after Nashville business legend Clayton McWhorter, who served as the first board chairman for the EC. As a 501(c)3, we rely on several different funding streams to keep our operations sustainable, but the McWhorter Circle philanthropy group is special because of the depth of experience members bring to the table and their passion for fostering entrepreneurism in Nashville.

In our recent meeting of the McWhorter Circle, we were honored to hear from former Senator Bill Frist and Stuart McWhorter, who was appointed by Governor Lee to lead the COVID-19 Unified Command Group for the state of Tennessee. They shared their perspectives on the pandemic and how it will shape the future of business and entrepreneurship, and answered questions from members of the McWhorter Circle on these topics.

During this challenging time, I value both the resources and expertise that leaders like the members of the McWhorter Circle are sharing with the EC. I’m proud of the work we’ve done so quickly to ensure we continue serving our community—more than doubling our amount of programming, hosting virtual pitch events, etc.—but I also find myself constantly asking, “What’s next?” How can the EC continue to best serve our community as we all navigate through these unknowns together?

Do we need to open up more grants to businesses that are specifically launching or pivoting to respond to challenges raised by the pandemic? Our Pitch for Good event had more than 100 applications for participants, so we know that there are entrepreneurs out there who are working hard to tackle these problems. We were able to award grants to the winners of the contest, but there are clearly many good ideas on the table.

Do we need to change the way we evaluate and guide businesses through the idea and execution phases, in particular recognizing how the landscape has shifted because of the pandemic? For instance, industries like telehealth clearly have a bright future, but some ideas that were viable even months ago may now no longer be smart bets. We want to make sure that we are recruiting, selecting, and working with entrepreneurs that will truly help transform our economy as we move out of this difficult time. To date, 84% of companies that have worked with one of our hands-on programs are still in business, and we want to keep that trend going strong.

I think the simple answer to all these questions is: Yes. We need to do everything we can to help problem solvers, innovators, and creative thinkers change the world for the better. To do that, we not only need to rely on the 10 years of data and experience we’ve accumulated while helping entrepreneurs, but also consult with experts about how to modify or adjust our work to account for the “new normal.” And through all of this, we need the continued support of leaders like the McWhorter Circle members and our other sponsors and partners. Together, we can fuel Nashville’s entrepreneurial cycle and ensure that the newest generation of creators has the resources they need to make a positive impact.

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