By BROOKE WANSER
Nashville may be known as a music capital, but the region is also developing a reputation for its residents’ entrepreneurial spirit.
Nashville’s Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a global network of business leaders, boasts the second largest chapter in the world at 221 members, behind only Tokyo, and the most female chapter members, 39.
Eleven women serve on the organization’s board of 30, and one, ST8MNT brand manager Bethany Newman, has just been elected as the chapter’s president for 2019.
Newman said the involvement of female business leaders in the organization has been deliberate.
“We started at a board level four years back to have diverse set of perspectives and ideas and promoting females to be in executive leadership positions,” she said.
“It’s really that standing behind and saying, we’re going to have paths to leadership. It fosters an environment then that women want to be a part of. It turns into this ecosystem that keeps growing.”
The Nashville chapter of EO has an 18 month course called Catalyst designed to bring in new members.
Entrepreneurs selected for the 18-month course have businesses with a profit of at least $250,000 but under the membership threshold of $1 million per year.
The goal of the program is to help the participants grow their businesses and professional networks.
Over the course, they learn the business basics, skills Newman said many smaller business owners in the creative sphere didn’t necessarily learn.
In the past six years, 37 Catalyst members have graduated and joined EO, about one-fourth of those taking the class.
Williamson County entrepreneurs
Sixty-five of EO’s 221 members reside in Williamson County, and 48 have businesses in the county.
Below, four Williamson County businesswomen discuss the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, founding their brands, and the nurturing community in Middle Tennessee.
“From the Nashville level, it goes back to what I see as a creative economy,” Newman said of EO’s acceptance of female members.
With a community open to non-traditional ways of thinking about business, “it opens up away from the boys club,” she said.
Newman founded ST8MNT, a Nashville boutique branding agency, 14 years ago with her husband, Josh.
Since then, the agency has done branding for Taylor Swift’s 1989 album, Bread & Company, Bonnaroo, BNA, Wine Group Wines and The Union Station Hotel.
Newman got involved with EO through the Catalyst program five years ago.
“It’s the only peer-to-peer entrepreneur organization that’s about learning and sharing within completely different business types,” she said.
ST8MNT originally opened offices in Cool Springs, close to Newman’s Franklin home, later moving to downtown Nashville.
She said a good amount of members choose to live in Williamson County because of the high quality of life, lauded school system and vibrant economy.
As a creative director and graphic designer for Alpha Omicron Pi in Brentwood, Rebecca Davis decided she wanted a more creative outlet.
What started as her side project, creating jewelry, morphed into clothing and accessory boutique Jondie, named eponymously for her husband.
This summer, they will celebrate the store’s tenth anniversary, and the second anniversary of Mimi & Dottie, another boutique they own and operate just across Main Street.
Christi Lassen, the owner of Olivia Olive Oil in Cool Springs, encouraged Davis to apply for the Catalyst program, which she began in 2014.
“It was really great for me,” she said “I didn’t really know other entrepreneurs that well.”
Davis said she thinks Williamson County residents are supportive of entrepreneurs because of all the creatives in the area.
As a member of EO, Davis said she has felt more equipped to build her company.
“I’m extremely dedicated to providing really great things for my customers and growing and making a great experience for my employees,” she said.
Since 1993, Rebecca Donner’s Inner Design Studio in Brentwood has created more than 800 medical facilities, including the Murfreesboro Medical Center and the Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville.
With a degree in interior design from O’More, Donner began the firm as a 27-year-old after leaving her design job at a health care firm in Nashville.
Her key to success is listening to owners to give them the best quality for the best price, staying within budget, and making sure her designers do their homework.
“I’ll probably never be on the front of Architectural Digest, but I’ll always give quality design and have good relationships with the owners,” Donner said.
She has been a member of EO for 13 years, sitting on the board for eight.
The decision to create the Catalyst program, she said, “I think that is probably our main source in building our numbers.”
Other chapters have similar programs, “but I don’t think they seek out the minorities.”
“We tend to ask for forgiveness and not permission,” she chuckled. “We went rogue.”
Donner said her husband originally encouraged her to go out on her own, but she also found support in the community when starting her company.
“Anytime I leave this market and go to other places, it seems like people are not as open,” Donner said of the view of new business owners.
“We want everyone to succeed. There’s plenty of work here in our community,” she added. “We want to elevate others.”
Johnna Rightmyer, Owner/stylist, Juel Salon
In 2010, Johnna Rightmyer opened Juel Salon inside the Factory at Franklin.
Now, she has moved her salon across Liberty Pike to Jamison Station, where she has built a female client list of CEOs, both of households and of companies.
The salon does see a 20-30 percent male clientele, too.
With natural hair trending across the nation, “We are getting the reputation of being experts in curly hair,” Rightmyer said.
Rightmyer originally attended college for interior design.
“I never thought about doing hair for a living because I didn’t think it was lucrative,” she said. But when her mother died, she dropped out of school to pursue her real passion: cutting and styling hair.
With financial backing from business partner Ashlyn Hines-Meneguzzi, Rightmyer opened the salon, later becoming involved in EO through the Catalyst program in 2015.
Rightmyer has worked on models and celebrities as a stylist at New York Fashion Week, but she thinks Williamson County and the Nashville area a unique hub for innovation.
“There’s a lot of fashion here,” she said. “Nashville is becoming fashion forward, with culture and with restaurants.”
Could the differentiator be the support system?
“I think that’s true,” Rightmyer agreed. “Maybe it is the Southern hospitality. Maybe it is helping each other out.”