Sunday Q&A: Ben MacMinn

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Director, StartUp Columbus

Why has Columbus struggled in recent decades to foster small businesses and entrepreneurship?

“There are a lot of different reasons that people have given for it. I have my speculations, which are that we’ve had a lot of really successful large businesses. For the population, we probably have more Fortune 1,000 companies than any community our size. the size of our city. While it’s an incredible thing and it speaks to the history of our entrepreneurship, it has 

created an environment where we don’t need to create small business and foster entrepreneurship. But we’re realizing we still need to create and innovate and support the people who are willing to do those things. 

Aflac was essentially a start-up.

“Yes. absolutely it was. Which is incredible. It is remarkable that we have Aflac, TSYS, Synovus, W.C. Bradley—all these large companies that started here. But, again, it was a couple of decades ago.”

Why is entrepreneurship so important in today’s Digital Age economy?

“Entrepreneurship is all about innovation and change. What’s pushing entrepreneurship forward are these new ideas and these new, innovative ways of thinking about things and doing things. Even things that are  common and known to be around for a long time, such as CRM—Customer Relationship Management systems.

There are so many innovative ways to change that and make them better for specific industries and types of organizations. If we stick with the same type of CRM system since the first one was created, then we wouldn’t be growing and progressing and moving forward the way we want to.”

What is the mission of StartUp Columbus?

“The mission of StartUp Columbus is to cultivate a thriving entrepreneur ecosystem.  We do this through our mentorship, our networking, our programming, our coaching. And now with our physical space as well.  

How will this new space help you facilitate that?

“So this new space is probably the biggest thing we’ve launched since the inception of StartUp Columbus. It’s a large space—about 3,800 square feet. It gives us the opportunity not only to hold our Cohorts in here but networking events as well—‚when the time is appropriate. Right now we’re not holding in-person networking events because of COVID.

Images courtesy StartUp Columbus Facebook page

We actually house mentors here. We’re working with organizations such as SCORE, who now uses the space. We’re going to talk to service providers and offer them office hours.

We have a collaboration of entrepreneurs working in one space. There are 5 people in the pilot program right now. Entrepreneurs who all think the same way, just have different businesses, who are now able to come in and talk about that everyday.

It’s a place where entrepreneurship can come and have all the resources they need.”

Y’all have already had several distinguished alumni come out of StartUp—a successful track record going back early on to the SlumberPods launch in 2018. Why does this program work?

 “We have so much opportunity right now in Columbus, Georgia. I wouldn’t say it’s anything we’ve done specifically. We do offer these resources, these programs, but we’ve been so far behind which we found out in the Regional Prosperity Initiative. Adding these small pieces at a time has sparked entrepreneurs and given them opportunities and opened up these small doors that allows them to flourish and be successful.

Because they’re innovative and they’re creative; they have the drive and the tenacity. It’s not anything we’re doing, per se, but rather the people we have in our community.   

Cookies prepared by StartUp alum planthustleveganbakery
were given out in celebration the space’s grand opening.

The Regional Prosperity Initiative was the study of Columbus performed around 2015 that started Columbus 2025. StartUp Columbus was started as one of the action areas under the Enterprise & Culture action area. 

We are our own 501c3, our own chartered organization, but we are still very closely connected to Columbus 2025 as well as the Chamber of Commerce.”

How have you adjusted to COVID?

“Adjusting to COVD has been, as with for everybody, a crazy time. It involves a lot pivorting. It’s a lot of throwing things against the wall to see if they stick. Trying different things out.

One of the first things we started doing these virtual happy hours. I invited our different Cohort graduates to gather virtually  on Friday and talk about things. See where they’re at, what they’re doing, how things have changed for them since COVID. We did that very early on.

And then we adjusted and tried to do some online workshops—where we discovered some difficulties but also we had some successes out of it. One person that was in our very first workshop, she rolled into CoStarters program and is now in our Incubator program. We’ve just done a lot of things virtually.

This space has been one of the biggest adjustments. It was supposed to open up in May but we didn’t open up until November. One of the reasons we decided to open up, even though COVID cases are spiking, and tell the public about this sapc is because there have been more layoffs, unfortunately, and more people losing their jobs and more people that aren’t sure what to do. So we want the community to know that owning a business and being an entrepreneur is an opportunity for you. Maybe some of these people that have been laid off from their jos have been thinking about a business idea for the past 10 years but they didn’t have that window of opportunity, they didn’t risk it, because they’ve been in that job.

We want them to know that we are here to support them and provide some of those resources to help them  get that off the ground.”

I saw where you posted on social media recently about how excited and how grateful you were for the opportunities this space opening has for StartUp Columbus. Why is your job here so personal for you?

“I do love what I do.

I have developed a kind of personal mission for myself over the last 10 years of my life that, when I go to work and when I do things, I want to help people reach their full potential. And that can be difficult. A lot of people don’t see their own potential. They don’t see the opportunities that they have. 

In some of the speciality leadership courses I’ve taken, that is where I see my passion, personally. In my previous job, I was able to see that, and rolling into this job I”m able to do that on a bigger scale. Because a lot of people are scared of business ownership. And rightfully so—it’s a scary thing, owning your own business and being an entrepreneur. 

However, I feel empowered to help people have the resources to let them see the opportunities, to connect them with service providers, to connect them with the people in town that can help them get there. It’s something I get joy from everyday, when I wake up and come in to get to work with  these entrepreneurs and see them excited about what they’re doing as well.”

ECL Editor Frank Etheridge interview with Ben MacMinn. 11.18.2020

StartUp Columbus Director Ben MacMinn inside the entrepreneurship incubator’s new space. 11.18.2020

Age: 31

Education: Master’s in Executive Leadership, Liberty University

Professional background: 6 years with Chick-fil-A before arriving at StartUp on 1.28.2019

Ideal date night for you and your wife: “If it was at night, we would go to a local restaurant, Mabella’s or 11th and Bay, maybe go hangout on the RiverWalk. During the day, we’d go hiking. If we’re hiking locally we’d head up to the Pine Mountain trail; if we could be anywhere, it’d be out West, probably Washington State somewhere.”

What you enjoy about your woodwork hobby: “Woodworking is something I fell into organically. I was fortunate to inherit a bunch of tools and started doing it during my spare time in graduate school. I started by just watching videos on YouTub. I am a learner, I love learning—figuring things out and how things work. I’m also a detail person and there’s so much detail in trying to get angles right, getting wood to mesh up without chipping out, all these different things.”

Historical figure you admire:Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a theologian in Germany during Nazi Germany.”

Traits of a successful entrepreneur: “Adaptability, innovation, and communication. You have to be able to change on the fly, you have to be able to create and think of new ideas, and you have to be able to communicate them. You have to have those personal skills—if you can’t get your message across to somebody then nobody’s going to be interested.”

Toughest challenge you’ve faced on the job: COVID

Best moment you’ve experienced as Director of StartUp Columbus:
“The grand opening of this space was pretty meaningful. I’ve been working on getting this space open  since Day 1.”

About the author

Frank Etheridge

Native son and veteran journalist Frank Etheridge is Editor of Electric City Life, a digital-media outlet documenting the news and culture of Columbus, Georgia.

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