Q&A with Doug Minter, Director Small Business Development for the Knoxville Chamber

As you reflect on the Propel mentor/protégé program this past year, what stands out?

First and foremost, we are proud of the entrepreneurs who are graduating from the program, completing two years of mentorship, instruction, and guidance. Their commitment shows their desire to be successful.

In 2015, we received a grant from the state of Tennessee to expand the program into the rural areas surrounding Knoxville. We felt that practicing economic inclusion was more than just the “right thing to do,” but would benefit participant growth. Hearing the perspectives of a wide range of entrepreneurs allows the business owners to think outside their own comfort zone and understand that having a diverse client base is key to growth.

In reflection, this inclusion is one of the hallmarks of Propel.

We are also pleased that this cohort of graduates has far exceeded our growth expectations, all averaging more than 10 percent growth with the class average being upwards of 18 percent annual growth.

What is the role of the mentors in the program?

We see the role of the mentor to guide the protégé, not with directives but with vision and example. The mentor/protégé relationship should be driven by the protégé.  The mentor is in place to show them how they managed success and growth so the protégé can apply those philosophies to their business.

We also have technical mentors that back up each protégé. We are proud to have the Knoxville Small Business Support Network to supplement support to our Protégés. A key partner in that group is the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC), which provides one-on-one technical mentoring to our protégés.

What makes for a good protégé in the program?

There are three things that separate successful, young firms: passion, innovation, and completion. Protégés that are passionate about how their product or service can help their customers stand out. Protégé Sandra G’s Alterations takes a service and make it an experience. Protégé Eden’s Florist has seen growth because they maintain recurring clients by demonstrating their passion.

Innovation is critical in the digital age. Protégé Prime Medical Training is constantly developing great programs for its clients such as its active shooter training, and protégé Hyperion Networks is innovating new ways that large firms should finance and think about software-as-a-service.

Completion is key to small business success. Protégés like Outlier’s Advantage are successful because they focus and follow through on details. Protégé World of Wireless follows through completely with each of their clients, and this makes their customers loyal.

What improvements and advancements have been made to Propel?

In January, I became a certified GrowthWheel Business Advisor. We were introduced to GrowthWheel by TSBDC, and we cannot thank them enough for this partnership. GrowthWheel allows us to help protégés find areas they should focus on to grow their business. The software portion of the training is invaluable and allows us to be highly efficient in providing quality coaching.

What firms are best suited to participate?

The best firms for Propel are those already producing revenue who have been in business for one to three years. This is a two-year program, so the owners must be in a position and willing to devote time to growing their business. Scholarships are available for both urban and rural firms.