When Jena Potter went with a group to the Williamson County Schools’ Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center to shoot a video for Williamson Inc. last spring, she didn’t necessarily think she’d end up as a mentor for the program now entering its third school year.
But then she had a chance to interview one of the students enrolled in the EIC, and was impressed with her ambition and entrepreneurial spirit.
“She had such an interest in graphic design and marketing,” said Potter, marketing and communications specialist for Williamson Inc. “After the interview was finished, she walked up to me and asked if I would be interested in helping with her project. She needed a mentor, so I started the next day with her and worked with her every other day until she finished her project.”
Potter discovered her niche through that encounter, and she is returning as an EIC mentor for the 2021-22 school year. She recognizes how the mentors and coaches play such an important role in the life of the center that opened in August 2019.
“With the student I mentored, she had so much ambition and so many ideas, and it was great to see that in someone so young,” Potter said. “Sometimes they just need guidance on how to execute that. They’re at an age where they have all these ideas, but they don’t know the steps to start the execution of them. That was the role I played, and it was amazing to see her really take the lead and I just sat back and guided her as needed.”
The WCS district is seeking more mentors and coaches for the upcoming school year, as enrollment at the EIC has grown from 150 to 180 students and all signs are thus far pointing to fully in-person classes. Ideal candidates would be local business and community leaders and members.
Those interested are invited to attend a mentor mixer Tuesday at the EIC located adjacent to Franklin High School.
“It will be an informational setting for letting people know how they can get plugged in,” said Jeremy Qualls, the center’s executive director. “How deep do they want to go — do they want to be a full-on mentor or just a coach? Do they want to speak to the classes every now and then and share some ideas? Whatever involvement folks can get into will be welcome.”
Jeromye Sartain, a patent attorney with Lodestone Legal Group in Franklin, has been involved in the EIC since it welcomed its first students. He sees firsthand how important mentors have been in the program’s progression.
“It’s a pretty neat experience for high school students to get exposure to entrepreneurship at that age, so I’m really happy to be involved and plan to continue indefinitely," Sartain said.
“The mentors are a critical part of what they’re able to do at the EIC. The staff that’s part of the school system can only do so much, but to have a mentor from the business world to work with each student group is important.
“I enjoy the interaction, I enjoy addressing their questions and thinking through with them. These are really bright students, kind of the best of the best in Williamson County. They’re very motivated, very smart kids, and it gives me hope for the future, for our business community and our county generally.”
Those interested in volunteering at the EIC are invited to attend and learn more about becoming a mentor, coach or guest speaker. The event is free to attend and will begin at 5 p.m. Tuesday. To attend, fill out the RSVP form.