Chamber’s annual meeting emphasizes entrepreneurship

Posted 11/26/20

The Chatham Chamber of Commerce held its annual meeting last Wednesday to commemorate a tumultuous year for businesses across the county and around the world.

The program was prerecorded and …

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Chamber’s annual meeting emphasizes entrepreneurship

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The Chatham Chamber of Commerce held its annual meeting last Wednesday to commemorate a tumultuous year for businesses across the county and around the world.

The program was prerecorded and broadcast virtually on YouTube TV.

Despite unprecedented circumstances, the Chamber has expanded and thrived under pandemic restrictions. It opened a second office this fall in downtown Pittsboro, renting space from Perch Coworking, and many of its programs are in greater demand than ever before.

“As you can see,” said Indira Everett, the Chamber board chairperson, “this Chamber has continued to remain busy and involved. Even in these challenging economic times, we gained new members, and have been able to hold our own. We know together we will come out stronger in the days ahead.”

In keeping with the Chamber’s mission to foster economic vitality in Chatham County, the annual meeting’s theme was “entrepreneurship and navigating through crises.” Three panelists and a keynote speaker shared encouragement and advice for creating new business opportunities despite lamentable circumstances.

The speech

“(In this pandemic) we’ve all had disruption, and we’ve all reacted to that,” said Jeff Nischwitz, a motivational speaker and the founder of the Nischwitz Group, a training, consulting and coaching company. “We’ve done what we’ve needed to do as a result of that external disruption.”

The coronavirus has changed the way businesses operate. It has changed the commercial landscape and our day-to-day lives, he said.

“If any of you have not changed something in your business or life in the last eight or nine months,” Nischwitz said, “I’d like to hear how you managed to avoid it.”

But change by itself is not progress, and adaptation is not always innovation.

“Innovation has three important traits,” Nischwitz said. “One is, innovation is purposeful. Secondly, innovation is intentional. And third, innovation requires a commitment.”

Remove any of the three, and your entrepreneurial plans will fail, according to Nischwitz.

“Adaptation only becomes innovation if you choose — intentionally, purposefully, with commitment — to carry that forward,” he said, “and it becomes part of your culture and your way of thinking and leading and doing business.”

Three panelists on Wednesday’s meeting program — an inventor, a franchise owner and a mental health specialist — each embodied the principle of Nischwitz’s mantra. From unusual circumstances, they devised solutions to their problems, and successful businesses were born of their efforts.

The inventor

“I consider myself an inventor and a talent search specialist,” said Joshua Esnard, a Chatham County transplant and one of the day’s panelists.

Esnard was born in St. Lucia to young parents with little money.

“My story went, my dad was cutting my hair as a little kid and I got sick of all his buzzcuts,” Esnard said. “So, I picked up the trimmer and started to cut my own hair as a 13-year-old.”

His ambitious plans went poorly, though.

“I ended up looking like a cheetah with bald spots all over,” Esnard said. “So, I decided to make my own invention as a kid to help me cut my own hair and ended up getting these perfect edge-ups and line-ups by making this template tool.”

Many years passed before Esnard realized that others might stand to benefit from his childhood invention.

“I didn’t really think I had anything ...” he said. “But maybe six or seven years ago I decided to patent my tool which created a company called the Cut Buddy.”

Three months later, a video of the Cut Buddy went viral, and Esnard’s simple product was propelled to fame. His early success landed him on Shark Tank where Esnard struck a deal with Daymond John. Now the Cut Buddy is widely available in stores across the country.

The franchise owner

Antonio McBroom had a different vision of entrepreneurship. To him, real estate was always the surest route to financial independence.

“It was instilled in me young to really change the trajectory of generational wealth,” McBroom said, “and real estate is one of the key things that you do in America. I had uncles that really instilled in me, ‘there’s one thing they’re not making more of, and that’s dirt. So, once you get some money, get some land.’”

McBroom grew up in Goldston, where his family didn’t have much money or land. After graduating from Chatham Central as valedictorian of his class, he left for UNC-Chapel Hill. But family responsibilities soon behooved him to find a job.

“My grandma raised me,” McBroom said. “She was getting older, and really needed me to contribute at home.”

Ben & Jerry’s on Franklin St., near UNC’s campus, was hiring and McBroom couldn’t resist.

“When I was applying, they said if you get hired, not only do you get paid, make some tips, but you’ll get a free milkshake every shift that you work,” he said. “So, I signed up immediately.”

McBroom fell in love with the company and its principles of community engagement and philanthropy. By the time he was ready to graduate, he’d resolved to buy the franchise location.

“I ended up becoming the youngest owner-operator in the company’s history when I was a graduating senior at UNC.”

Now he owns eight Ben & Jerry’s locations across the southeastern United States.

The mental health specialist

Like McBroom, Ashleigh Glover grew up in Chatham County. But the course of her life started long before her birth.

“My story starts about three years before I was born,” Glover said. “My mother lost her twin brother in a car accident. Subsequent to that, she lost five family members in a house fire. A year later, she was at her grandfather’s funeral and her dad had a heart attack and died.”

That was in 1988. In 1989, Glover’s mother met her father, and circumstances worsened.

“She had me, and her life began to spiral downhill,” Glover said. “She left me and my father when I was 3 years old. She started drinking heavily — alcohol was her substance of choice.”

Nine years later, she died from sorosis of the liver.

“My mother never had any healthcare,” Glover said. “She never had any mental health; she never had any therapy; she never went to counseling.”

When Glover was 13, her father remarried.

“My step-mother beat me,” she said, “and CPS (child protective services) missed it.”

At 16, Glover dropped out of high school. But she always intended to complete her education when circumstances allowed. Eventually she earned a GED and gained entrance to Central Carolina Community College.

Now, Glover has a Master’s degree in clinical health counseling from Campbell University and she operates Chatham Counseling and Wellness “to provide counseling services to the people of Chatham County.”

Different paths, but a shared passion

Entrepreneurship is an ambiguous pursuit. As Chamber President Cindy Poindexter put it, an entrepreneur’s journey comes with “many twists, turns and, yes, stumbles.”

But all successful business people have a dogged refusal to concede failure and a passion to fight through challenges. Those qualities are what connect Esnard, McBroom and Glover despite dissimilar backgrounds and career decisions.

“I find that entrepreneurial magic happens at the intersection of passion and what you’re actually pretty good at and what you can command some value for,” McBroom said.

The business venture that meets those criteria will vary between individuals.

“Find what’s out there for you,” Glover said.

Now may be the perfect time for it, the panelists agreed, when many have lost their jobs and are stuck at home.

“Navigating through the pandemic has shifted a lot of mindsets on entrepreneurship,” Esnard said. “... How I would navigate through the pandemic would be to put away the thought of just working for somebody and just being part of that normal, everyday wheel doing the same thing. Now we have to start thinking about addressing our problems.”

Finding solutions to one’s problems and monetizing them can seem overwhelming, Esnard conceded. But he has a solution: write everything down.

“Literally document all your problems and your complaints,” he said.

Then take steps to address them.

“In the spirit of what Josh was saying,” McBroom said, “when this pandemic started, I really embraced the wisdom of Winston Churchill. He said, in times of crisis, ‘bad companies fail, good companies survive but great companies improve.’”

In principle, the admonition applies even to budding entrepreneurial pursuits.

“It’s just about perseverance, you know,” Esnard said. “Keep trying. Solve your problems, and come up with a solution.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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