Learning the business of entrepreneurship

Local innovator LaKeisha Harrison is driven to improve Memphis "one start-up at a time." Offering training and grassroots networking for area entrepreneurs, she is helping people take their first step toward launching a business. 
By day, LaKeisha Harrison is an insurance broker and the newly elected president of the Memphis Urban League's Young Professionals, but her spare time is spent working to build a healthy start-up ecosystem in Memphis. As co-founder of Memphis Startup and the Memphis Entrepreneurship Academy, Harrison is on a mission to make Memphis a more innovative and prosperous place, one start-up at a time. 
In its third year of operation, Memphis Entrepreneurship Academy is an innovative program designed to turn young students into entrepreneurs using a community-centered approach. MEA began as a summer program with ten participants who developed their own product and learned the ins and outs of launching their own business -- a lemonade stand. Today, the organization offers year round Saturday camps to teach kids business skills, focusing on developing and enhancing the skills needed to succeed academically as well as become productive citizens and successful entrepreneurs. Participants develop business ideas, write their own business plans, conduct market research and pitch their business plans to the community in order to launch their own companies. 
Memphis Startup began as a monthly meet-up for potential entrepreneurs and has developed into a program designed to be the first step in entrepreneurism, helping participants lay the groundwork for a successful business before embarking on other entrepreneurial resources including accelerators.

"Entrepreneurs are critical to driving a strong local economy-- the stronger their foundations, the more likely they will succeed," said Harrison.

Memphis Startup is a two person organization, operated solely by Harrison and co-founder, Rhonnie Brewer. The meetups have become known as the Memphis Startup Nucleus. For many, this is a first step where dreamers, entrepreneurs, and business owners gather to meet and learn about business topics presented by local community leaders, aimed to assist participants in building a solid foundation for their business.

"Our 'starters' are able to interact with each other, make connections, and work together to help solve problems they have encountered in their startup journey or even beta test products during our breakout sessions," Harrison explains.
In November, Memphis Startup partnered with Cowork Memphis to host a small business conference, the Mitosis of Business, that included five Saturday classes that built upon the basics needed to start a successful business. The 25 participants learned a variety of skills, including how to go from idea to implementation and how to better use technology. The event featured speakers from other Memphis entrepreneurial resources including Leslie Smith of the EPIcenter and Al Pickett of Start Co

Next up for Memphis Startup is Memphis Startup Inception, a Saturday event where participants build a business as a team from its inception point. Teams are given a scenario and must come to a consensus regarding the type of business they should form, taking participants through all the thoughts and decisions that go into building the foundation of a business.

"A lot of times, potential business owners get caught up in their idea. Inception serves as the precursor to launching your own company, helping participants determine if they really want to be a business owner," said Harrison. 
After participants complete Inception, the next step is Memphis D.N.A. which is set to launch in the Fall of 2016. The goals of this next program are: 
1. Develop startups through a focused curriculum of business courses to create the business plan.
2. Nexus- Connect startups to programs and resources that will help them excel.
3. Accelerate the success rate of the startup through an intentional program connecting entrepreneurs to practical knowledge and resources.
To participate in Memphis Startup Nucleus, check out their Meetup page.

Read more articles by Amy Hoyt.

Amy Hoyt is High Ground News' Community Engagement Specialist, which suits her love of Memphis and its inhabitants. 
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