What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

Alexis Willis, Director of Small Business and Entrepreneurship at the INCubator


What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

It’s an oldie but goodie from Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” and one of my favorite quotes. Anytime I’m making a big decision, I hear Sandberg’s question echo in my mind. I can bet that many of the entrepreneurs that call the INCubator home have had to answer the question too. A lost job, a new addition to the family, a nagging encouragement to pursue a passion – all these have been catalysts for finally launching an idea into a business.

Chattanooga’s accessibility to entrepreneurial resources is unmatched. It’s a bold declaration, but I’ve found it to be true. In fact, a recent INC magazine article agrees that our small town with a big heart is a great place to turn a side hustle into a full-time gig, calling Chattanooga “an outdoorsy group of risk takers in the most progressive and forward-thinking part of the Southeast.”  Last May, we caught the attention of Steve Case on the Rise of the Rest Tour and we are now represented by three companies in TechStars’ Austin accelerator program – two of them, CPR Wrap and Pass It Down, are current INCubator clients.

I’ve been involved in Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial ecosystem for nearly a decade. I’ve sat across from many entrepreneurs petrified of taking a leap. Gently, I would coach them to start with why. As Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why” suggests, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Next, I remind them that they are in the best place to start.

Our ecosystem bustles with collaborative organizations like The Company Lab, the Urban League, The Enterprise Center and the Jump Fund. At the INCubator, we build CEOs. We support entrepreneurs making tough choices every day. We are over 127,000 square feet of safe space to grow a company. Alongside a stellar team and fantastic partners like the Tennessee Small Business Development Center, LAUNCH and CHATech, I’m proud to stand in the gap for the 50+ founders at 100 Cherokee.

The INCubator is home base to a spectrum of companies from Hoff & Pepper, Chattanooga’s favorite hot sauce, to One Off Engineering – a company using 3D technology to scan rock formations around the globe to create climbing walls. Cool, right? I love my job and I love supporting big ideas.

The good news is that fear doesn’t have to stop you. The bad news is that it never goes away. Around every turn, in business and in life, is a new fear. Do you accept the venture capital, hire a new employee or pivot? The key is to keep moving toward your goal. If you are at a crossroads, decide what you would do if you were not afraid. Then do it.

The INCubator on Chattanooga’s NorthShore is the largest business incubator in the state of Tennessee, and the third largest in the U.S. A program of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, you can find the INCubator in the Hamilton County Business Development Center helping entrepreneurs achieve success through a three-year, progressive development program that capitalizes on the synergy of the BDC’s unique entrepreneurial ecosystem made up of about 50 startup businesses. Clients benefit from shared administrative services, manufacturing and office space, training workshops, use of a state-of-the-art Technology Conference Center and access to free onsite business counseling from the Tennessee Small Business Development Center. Visit chattanoogachamber.com/incubator for more information.

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