By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
COOKEVILLE – The Biz Foundry will soon expand their community by opening two new locations in McMinnville and Sparta this fall. Each site will offer branches of their entrepreneur center and coworking spaces with Gig service available.
The Biz Foundry is one of the hidden-in-plain-sight treasures of Cookeville. Many people have heard of it, but few know the impact that it has on the community and the region. Some don’t even know what it does.
The Biz Foundry is a non-profit organization working for entrepreneurs and innovators in the Upper Cumberland. They offer workspaces, workshops and events that support entrepreneurs and innovative collaboration. Some of the tools and resources that they provide include education, networking, peer support, mentorship and access to capital.
“We’re the perfect companions for business – because we don’t want to do it,” said Tiffany Anton, Biz Foundry director of operations. “We’re not going to do it for you. I don’t want to tell you how to do it, but we’ll back you, and we’ll put you in touch with the right people. We’ll cheer you on, but I’m not going to tell you what colors to paint your place or what motto to have. I don’t care about your financial statement – we’ll have resources to help you with that. We’ll root you on; we’ll be there to support you, we’ll be there to back you.”
And supporting entrepreneurs is exactly what they have done. The impact has been enormous. In the six years that they have been open, 493 entrepreneurs have been assisted, $6.1 million in private capital has been raised, 94 jobs have been created, over 360 events have been hosted and 4,029 youth have participated in various programs including the Tennessee Code Academy and the 100 Girls of Code initiative.
“Bringing people in and building the community has been important for us here, and now it’s time for us to expand our community outside of Putnam County,” said Anton. “It’s resources. Who knows what somebody has in McMinnville that somebody up here could use, and we don’t have the connections to all the resources down there as much as we should, so this will make us bring in more people.”
People keep asking why are they going to Sparta and McMinnville, but the answer is a simple one for Biz Foundry Founder and President Jeff Brown.
“Because they have been begging us to come,” Brown said. “They’ve helped us raise money, and they’ve gotten grants to help us. We have to have true partners; it can’t be just because you want us there, because we’re a non-profit. We’re not rolling in money.”
Brown said that the expansion into these new areas is the result of the hard work and determination of the local Chambers of Commerce and the elected officials.
“Those two – Denny Wayne Robinson (White County Executive) in Sparta and Marvin at the Sparta Chamber, Mandy and Katie (Warren County Chamber) and Jimmy Haley (Warren County Executive) – we couldn’t have any more support unless they went and drove nails themselves,” laughed Brown.
Brown could have used that help hammering since both locations had to be completely remodeled. Surprisingly both buildings that the Biz Foundry selected were built in 1910.
The McMinnville location is in a very historic site, City Lot #1. It was the original hardware store in McMinnville, and the original city cistern is located in its basement. It’s located right on the square, just a couple of doors down from the Chamber.
“The building is already built, the walls are done, the ceiling’s done, the floor is done,” said Anton. “It’s been completely remodeled, now they have to go in and finish out their offices. It’s just a wide-open room.”
They are anticipating that the McMinnville location will be ready in mid to late September. There will be four private offices, conference space for community access (for the community to rent for events), kitchen space and several coworking spaces.
“I had no idea until we started promoting for the Made Here Market how much McMinnville has going on,” Anton said. “Their downtown area is great. There’s a lot of great shops down there.”
“Their young professional’s organization is huge and active,” added Brown. “We had 40-something of them come to our soft opening in July. It’s just been amazing.”
Brown is planning to have the Sparta location opened by the end of the year.
“That one has been quite a story. We’re about a year behind in Sparta from initial locations we looked at, then we did actually end up purchasing the location there,” Brown said.“It will be a total remodel. The building was built in 1910.”
The Sparta location is at 21 N. Main St. It’s the first block off Bockman Way on Main Street, near the Chamber. It’s a two-level building. The first floor will be coworking and kitchen area. The upstairs will be a conference room and some offices.
The Biz Foundry currently operates out of an office located at 114 N. Cedar Ave. in Cookeville. Additional information about their services and available coworking space can be found at thebizfoundry.org or by calling 931-210-5105.