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These 4 Entrepreneurs Excel in Tennessee (and You Can, Too!)

Find out why the Volunteer State is a magnet for startups.

By Kim Madlom on July 26, 2022

Aaron “Hoff ” Hoffman and his wife, Michele, started Hoff & Pepper in 2013 in Chattanooga, TN.
Jeff Adkins

Tennessee is a magnet for entrepreneurs. With business incubators throughout the state, major research assets including the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a talented workforce, a business-friendly climate and unparalleled quality of life, entrepreneurs are creating new services and products in every corner of the state.

Meet four startups in Tennessee who are succeeding, and gain insights on how you can launch your own venture.

HOFF & PEPPER | Chattanooga

Aaron “Hoff ” Hoffman spent much of his career in the tech industry, but his heart was always in the kitchen. Hoff has a passion for food and its role in gatherings of friends and family.

In 2013, he put that passion to work, and with his wife, Michele, aka Pepper, started bottling hot sauce as gifts for family and friends. Hoff & Pepper was born.

Hot Commodity

Hoff & Pepper products are sold in more than 4,500 retail stores, and the company has grown 100% each year over the last three years.

Growth has been so significant that Hoff & Pepper is building a 30,000-square-foot production facility in its home base of Chattanooga.

Hoffman says Tennessee, especially Chattanooga, is a great place to grow the business. He credits the INCubator, a Chattanooga Area Chamber-run program, with helping him successfully launch the business. The affordable rent, utilities, commercial kitchen and loading dock, and other features helped create a good foundation for the company.

“People here want businesses to succeed,” Hoffman says.

PIVOT TECHNOLOGY SCHOOL | Nashville

Students completing one of Pivot Technology School’s boot-camp-style technology training programs can improve their career prospects in just a few months.

An EdTech startup founded by Joshua Mundy and Quawn Clark, Pivot Tech’s mission is to empower a diverse demographic to break into the technology industry.

Bright Futures Ahead

Pivot Tech offers training in cybersecurity, web development and data analytics to students from racially diverse backgrounds.

The fully remote technology education hub supports minorities interested in technology careers. Based in Nashville, Pivot Tech works with corporate partners to upskill the current workforce, train new workers and develop a talent pipeline.

The bootcamp style program allows students to keep their day jobs while working toward a new career after hours. An entrepreneurship program allows students to begin working as freelancers while enrolled.

Owners of the Brown Bag in Knoxville, TN
Corey Crister

BROWN BAG | Knoxville

Working as a manager for a national restaurant chain, Peter Brown saw a need for a better kind of catering business. He launched a company that would create tasty, healthy and affordable catered meals instead of the typical sandwiches and chips.

Brown Bag started in Peter’s home kitchen and expanded to four locations in Tennessee and one in Charlotte, each with dine-in restaurants and successful catering operations. Brown Bag has grown thanks to hard work and exceptional customer service. Matt Mincer, Brown Bag vice president, says Tennessee’s business-friendly environment makes the state the right choice to grow a company.

More than a Menu

“Food with a Purpose” is the company’s mantra, and it serves its home communities with its Brown Bag Blessing program.

As with other food-service businesses, Brown Bag was impacted by the pandemic, but it also provided an opportunity to focus more on employees.

“We were on a big growth spurt before COVID, opening a new location about every 18 months. Our employees helped us fight through COVID and come out the other side,” he says. “We’re focused on them and their quality of life. We want this business to be like a family. That’s our big vision.”

THE SEAM | Memphis

With projects that take solutions and technologies across the country, even across the globe, few places compare to Tennessee and the dynamic Memphis region in particular, says Mark Pryor, chairman and CEO of The Seam.

The Seam provides trading and technology solutions that enable agribusinesses to operate profitably and efficiently throughout a sustainable global supply chain.

“We’re close to the geographic center of the U.S., and transport links, first-rate minds and valuable relationships equally mean that Tennessee allows The Seam to be in the middle of action that matters most.”

Mark Pryor, chairman and CEO

“Roads, rail, river and runway, all essential to agriculture, help drive what we do,” Pryor says. “Among our strong infrastructure links, FedEx’s global headquarters is practically next door to us. We are also physically proximate to U.S. peanut shelling and cotton production hubs in the Southeast.”

Pryor says The Seam benefits significantly from a governing board of top players in the commodities industry, who provide invaluable insight and guidance instrumental to the development of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol and the American Peanut Council’s Sustainable U.S. Peanuts Platform – both powered by The Seam – and other responses to challenges farmers, producers and brands face.

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