Entrepreneur life is booming in Louisville. It’s easy to see why. The Louisville market is kind to small business owners and entrepreneurs. New accelerator programs, angel funds, and academic programs add momentum. Keeping the money close to home and having structural support built into the local government creates an economic landscape that supports and helps entrepreneurs sustain their businesses.
Lisa Bajorinas, Executive Director of EnterpriseCorp, GLI’s entrepreneurial support organization says, “For a city of its size, Louisville has a vibrant, engaging entrepreneurial community with anchor programs such as the longstanding Venture Connectors, the entrepreneurial MBA program at University of Louisville, and Nucleus’ Launchit, to name a few.”
Local entrepreneurs further benefit from our city’s many meet-ups such as Creative Mornings, New2Lou and Open Coffee; co-worker and hackerspaces like Story Louisville, FirstBuild and 1804; and through accelerator programs like the Vogt Awards and Code Louisville.
For entrepreneurs who are just beginning to wet their feet, EnterpriseCorp’s launched its Mentor Louisville program last year, which pairs entrepreneurs with mentors in the areas of their needs. As the name suggests, StartupLouisville is a hub for startups and high-growth companies in the greater Louisville area.
How entrepreneurs maintain a rewarding work-life balance has often remained a mystery. Until now. Louisville Distilled checked-in with Louisville entrepreneurs to find out why they made the leap and how they manage the work-life challenges of self-employment.
Amy Board Higgs
As the Owner of Write is Might Louisville, LLC, Higgs, 44, is the principal writer and media consultant. She came to the entrepreneur life to escape the corporate world and to take control of her life that had gone through a dark period.
“In the summer of 2012, I had just ended a very painful and abusive relationship; I was finishing up a huge project at my corporate job that quite literally sucked the life out of me, and I turned 40,” says Higgs. “Two things crossed my mind: One, if I could survive this, I could survive anything. Two, if I am going to work this damn hard, I am not going to do it for someone else, anymore.”
A friend encouraged Higgs to work for herself. With all of the requisite fears and apprehensions, Higgs took the leap. She began her freelance business almost five years ago and has yet to look back to corporate life.
It is a move she’s never regretted.
“Being self-employed means being responsible for my own paycheck, but time and again I am reminded that if I produce high-quality work and treat my clients well, there is never a shortage of jobs.”
This fact is one that she keeps close.
“My business is referral-based and I believe in karma. Judging by my workload, I would say the universe is pretty happy with me right now.”
When she’s not working, she spends time with her friends and family, especially enjoying the time she gets to spend with her son, Ethan.
“Work time is work time, and leisure is leisure. I don’t work weekends unless I have a client event, which is rare. It can be challenging to totally unplug, and taking a vacation is interesting because there is no one to cover for me,” says Higgs.
It’s a lesson that all freelancers and small business owners must learn.
“I’d always been attracted to doing my own thing. I was in a rock band [Hark the Herald] for about three or four years. I was the guitarist and pseudo manager of that band. We were self-funded, kind of DIY; we were all trying to create something out of nothing,” he says.
After touring with the group, “I got a job and within a year was like I need to do my own thing again.”
Pennington entered the Entrepreneurship MBA program at UofL with the intent to become his own boss. He started US Chia, which sells American grown chia to the horse industry, soon after.
His other businesses came later. Both Herelancer, a site to hook up freelancers with companies who are seeking services; and Flying Axes, a recreational ax throwing facility are just finding their legs. Flying Axes has only been open a couple of months.
Pennington keeps his work life fresh by planning how he works around how he plays.
“I actually believe in scheduling your work around your life and not your life around your work,” he says. “When you have the flexibility to choose when you spend time on things it gives you enormous freedom to say ‘this wedding is important to me,’ so I’m going to go, but I’m going to work on the airplane, in the hotel room, etc.”
If you don’t make time for play, Pennington realized, “you will burn out and your schedule will be consumed by work commitments. ”
“Also,” Pennington continues, “only work on things that are important before you start investing lots of time and energy into it.”
It’s okay, he says, to ask: Can I outsource or delay it?
Born and raised in Louisville, Tendai Charasika, 39, is the first CEO of SuperFan, a mobile fan engagement platform. A graduate of St. Xavier high school, Charasika attended the University of Louisville on a football scholarship and earned his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering and later earned an MBA from the school’s Entrepreneurship MBA, like Pennington.
A husband and father of three, Charasika was influenced to become an entrepreneur by watching his parents, one from Zimbabwe and the other from small-town Tennessee, work hard in their own small businesses. They valued hard work and education. Charasika does, too.
He finds the work challenging but keeps family priorities at the front of his mind so that work doesn’t turn into burnout
“I make it a priority to attend and be at the events of my family as much as I would try to be at work functions,” he says. “The hard part is that I love what I do, so it’s easy to get consumed in the work and the grind of it all.”
Charasika knows that work-life balance is hard but likes that his job provides enough flexibility that he can be there for his family as well as keep pace with the business.
“There’s no better joy than attending a school play or eating dinner as a family that I never see work being more valuable than those experiences,” he says. “My family is all I have and all I want.”
Trained as a psychologist, Alli Truttman never imagined she’d become an entrepreneur. In fact, when she started Wicked Sheets, a bedding company with products designed to keep the sleeper cool and comfortable, it was to find some respite from her own issues with night sweats.
“As the idea grew, so did my ability to help others like me who were suffering the physical and emotional distress of not getting a good night’s sleep. Now I have found a way to marry my entrepreneurial spirit with my degree,” Truttman shares.
Originally from St. Louis, Truttman came to Louisville to attend Bellarmine University to play soccer and attended graduate school at the University of Louisville. She later went back to Bellarmine for her certificates in personal training and medical fitness.
She also found that Louisville was just right for cultivating her entrepreneurial dreams.
“For business purposes, Louisville is a perfect fit. Our cost of living is great, our location is great, and our options for logistics are even better,” says Truttman.
That doesn’t mean the road has been smooth.
“Manufacturing has been a tough one for me to tackle since numbers and patterns aren’t my things,” she says, “but in order to be successful with our products and produce high-quality outputs, I am forced to learn about manufacturing.”
She also had to figure out the path to keeping work and life separate.
“Work and home life balance are easy for me. I married someone who is just as busy as I am and when we do get to be home together we vow not to work or check our emails constantly,” says Truttman.
New Jersey-native Suzanne Bergmeister came to entrepreneurship via the internet boom in the nineties. She came to Louisville with Chrysalis Ventures.
Today, Bergmeister owns Sunflower Business Ventures, a firm to help accelerate the growth of young businesses. Sunflower also provides education and training opportunities, as well as provides funding opportunities for other business owners.
Bergmeister, 55, has one son, a Naval Academy graduate who, at 23, lives in San Diego. Like many mothers, she recalls working while her young son slept. Once he moved out and began his own life, she found other ways to occupy her free time.
“Now, I try to make time for things that are important to me, including keeping my mind and body in shape.”
Bergmeister also serves as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of Louisville’s MBA program for entrepreneurs. It’s a role that is so involved, she’s had little time to focus on her own business. A far cry from where she started, when she was unsure of her customer and whether or not someone would pay to use her services.
“I didn’t know if anyone would pay for my expertise and advice until I started [my own business]. Then, I had more business than I could handle,” she says. “I realized that everything in business is about relationships – sincere relationships built on mutual trust and respect. So, I was glad I had built those relationships along the way.”
The life of an entrepreneur often means long hours and time away from family and fun. As the entrepreneurs above show, the benefits and freedom it brings to strike out on their own are well worth it.