VOL. 131 | NO. 187 | Monday, September 19, 2016
Eclectic Eye Co-Founder: A Small Business Has to Start Somewhere
By Don Wade
Robbie Johnson Weinberg has a great appreciation for FedEx, AutoZone, International Paper and other large corporations based in Memphis. But when she’s traveling, the co-founder of Eclectic Eye always likes to check out the small businesses in other cities – everything from a neighborhood pub to the “funky comic book store.”
Those small businesses, like her own, which she started with husband Michael Weinberg in 2002, don’t just happen, aren’t just spoken into being because somebody has a dream and a desire to do something else. There must be an initial business plan, no matter how basic, to serve as catalyst for the steps that will follow.
“For us, the key was to just start,” Robbie Johnson Weinberg said during her keynote address at the Small Business Seminar hosted by The Daily News/The Memphis News on Thursday, Sept. 15, at the Brooks Museum.
The event, which was moderated by Daily News publisher Eric Barnes, included a panel discussion. Joining Robbie Johnson Weinberg on the panel: Meka Egwuekwe, co-founder/executive director of CodeCrew; Elizabeth Lemmonds, director of talent programming at EPICenter Memphis; and Josh Horton, founder/director of Creative Works.
EPICenter is tasked with championing entrepreneurship.
“One reason we want to be there is entrepreneurs don’t always know what questions to even ask,” Lemmonds said.
Robbie Johnson Weinberg had worked in the restaurant business for many years before she and Michael opened up their “art for the face” eyewear business in Midtown and later added a second location in Collierville. Managing the old Paulette’s location in Overton Square proved the perfect preparation.
“I learned more than any college degree could have taught me about how to operate a business,” she said.
Egwuekwe, formerly director of Software Development for Lokion Interactive, just recently committed to CodeCrew full-time. He also has been a long-time mentor in StartCo’s business and technology accelerators. CodeCrew is a nonprofit, but as Egwuekwe said, “We have to have revenue.”
Like Robbie Johnson Weinberg, he also stressed the importance of working through inevitable false starts, challenges and mistakes.
“When you fail, fail fast and get those mistakes behind you and learn from them,” he said.
CodeCrew works with young people, teaching them programming early on. The consensus from the panel was that the sooner entrepreneurial seeds can be planted the better.
“In our courses with coding we fold in entrepreneurship elements as well, hopefully getting that bug, realizing they’re getting skills they can turn into a business,” said Egwuekwe.
Horton says he often sees young adults in Memphis with creative ideas, but they are hesitant to forge ahead and strike out on their own.
“It’s more comfortable to work for someone else, kind of brood on what they want to do,” Horton said.
But Horton also knows that in the formative years is when the possibility of being an entrepreneur has its beginnings. No idea seems too big or too crazy then.
“You can do anything when you’re a kid,” he said. “Your brain is completely wide open.”
Sponsors for the Small Business Seminar included Grace-St. Luke’s School, Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP, Jackson Lewis P.C., Vistage and Triumph Bank.
The next Daily News seminar is on Oct. 11 – Memphis Newsmakers: The Transformation of Parks & Greenways. To register, go to seminars.memphisdailynews.com.