VOL. 131 | NO. 179 | Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Preparing to Start a Business Creates Opportunity, Fear
By Don Wade
Meka Egwuekwe had a nice career going as a software developer when he co-founded CodeCrew. But he had to do it.
“It was both scary and not scary at the same time,” said Egwuekwe, who is also executive director at CodeCrew. “It was scary because I was walking away from a 19-year career as a software developer, where I could have easily continued successfully and comfortably for many more years.
“And it was scary because I have a family and making sure I kept my commitments to my kids in terms of their educational opportunities and health insurance and so forth was certainly top of mind. But it was also not scary because I am passionate about moving the needle in Memphis on tech education and because a pathway to do so was increasingly clear to me.”
Egwuekwe will be one of the panelists on Thursday, Sept. 15, at The Daily News Publishing Co. Small Business program that is part of the newspaper’s ongoing Seminar Series. The event begins at 3:30 p.m. at the Brooks Museum with a wine and cheese reception to follow. Registration is $25 and can be made at seminars.memphisdailynews.com.
Other panelists for the Small Business Seminar will include Elizabeth Lemmonds, director of talent programming at EPICenter Memphis; and Josh Horton, founder/director of Creative Works. Robbie Johnson Weinberg, who is co-founder and director of operations for Eclectic Eye, will deliver the keynote presentation.
She, too, knows the exhilaration tinged with fear that comes when starting your own business. She opened Eclectic Eye in Midtown in 2002 with her husband, Michael Weinberg, who is an optometrist.
“I was somewhat prepared because I grew up in the restaurant business. My uncle was in the restaurant business,” Robbie Weinberg said. “It was still 80, 90, 100-hour weeks. We were fortunate enough to have business right off the bat, so there was cash coming in.”
CodeCrew is a nonprofit, but just as committed to making its model work. The mission: providing in-depth computer science training to kids. And that can’t start too soon.
“We do believe in exposing young people to tech early,” Egwuekwe said. “In fact, most kids in this country are indeed exposed to tech very early in their lives, regardless of economic background. The problem is that they are largely exposed only as consumers, and not producers. They increasingly need to think computationally, and the single best way to teach that is through solving problems as coders.
“As early as 5 years old, kids can begin to learn computer science basics, through both computer-based and unplugged activities where they can tinker and play. And while I do not believe it is ever too late to learn to code, I do believe that it becomes extremely difficult to get kids interested in coding as a hobby or career once they have passed the ninth grade.”
Today’s savvy young coders could be tomorrow’s tech business owners.
The Weinbergs’ two children – a 19-year-old son and a 17-year-old daughter – grew up watching them run Eclectic Eye. That may have laid the foundation for a future career as an entrepreneur or it may have given them such an intimate look at how hard it is that they won’t be interested in going into business for themselves.
“It’s interesting having kids grow up in a small business,” Robbie said, “because they see that it’s the 10 o’clock phone call and it’s every Sunday (in the early years, anyway) even though the doors are closed.”
Egwuekwe says future entrepreneurs – same as today’s entrepreneurs – do not have to follow just one path.
“I don’t necessarily believe that tomorrow’s small business owners are made before they have a high school diploma,” he said. “Success in business, or anything else, is when opportunity meets preparation. Opportunities are largely controlled by others, but you control your own preparation. That preparation does begin in school, but I’ve seen enough cases where people figure this out much later in life and still excel.
“However, I tell kids all the time that it sure is much harder that way. Handle your business while you are young – and parents expose your kids to opportunities while they are young – and things are so much easier.”
If those kids one day start a business in Memphis, Horton has a bit of advice for them, too.
“If you start a business with a community in mind, you’re doing something smart,” he said. “Whether that be Downtown, Midtown, Binghampton, etc. When you build something together with your customers and they see you participating in the community outside of your business, it builds trust and people want to invest in you.”