Our lives and careers do not follow a straight line. Projects never go as planned and life goes on.
I’d say it’s the plot twists and turns that make life interesting in the first place. When we’re presented with opportunities for “big pivotal moments”…it’s our chance to put our values into action. A big turning point in our lives can be a new opportunity, a big life change/challenge… a birth, a death, a move, a new relationship, or maybe a combination of several “things” at once. .
I faced my own moment of near-death clarity in the summer of 2020, forcing a complete refocusing of my life’s work as a father, husband, artist, and entrepreneur. Thanks to the City of Knoxville Rapid Fire Department for saving my life. Let’s just say I always carry an EpiPen now – and avoid yellow jacket wasps, so I won’t be mowing your lawn anytime soon. If you would like to learn more about this day, please search YouTube for my latest Pecha Kucha lecture from November 2021.
With this big life change in mind, I interviewed several of our community’s most beloved founders about the “big pivot” moments in their lives that inspired them to become entrepreneurs and/or inspired them to change. their business significantly.
“I left Argentina for the United States over 30 years ago with my husband so that he could pursue his career. I realized that I needed to do something for myself – not just to make money, but to feel fulfilled and useful and above all, happy. As a mother of five children, I wanted to show them that the sky was the limit! – Eugenia Almeida, A New Shade
“I’ve always believed in my company’s mission to help company employees feel more engaged and connected, but when the pandemic hit I was forced to do more than just adjust course slightly. We completely changed the focus of Lunchpool overnight, moving from in-person events for large corporations to virtual events for non-profits – Alex Abell, LunchPool
“After successfully implementing vendors, strategies, partners and people to help transform a business from one set of services and industries to another, it was clear that my personal career goals were not weren’t aligned with the company’s goals. The pivotal phrase “flying too close to the sun” was once used to support those goals. I know I would need to pursue my dreams via a different course. I answered back and said that the company was underutilizing me and that was like “flying a kite indoors”, and that led directly to my path as a founder. Pee Jay Alexander, purple mouse smart home
“I worked in marketing and saw that a campaign I wrote for my employer generated over $7 million in revenue that year. When I saw that, I said I had to apply those same strategies to my own ideas, and that’s when I started taking entrepreneurship seriously.- Jasmine Ball, BTM Writing Services
“I transitioned into the private sector after serving in the Air Force, which in itself was a huge change for me and my family. I thought starting a second career as COO was going to be a major “pivot” in adjusting to civilian life, but little did I know that I was going to be yet another pivot as an entrepreneur. I became aware of the challenges associated with veteran-owned businesses in accessing capital, and felt the need to take on that challenge. Veteran Ventures Capital is the result and we continue to adapt, mature and “pivot” as we grow our fund. – Derren Burrell, Veteran Ventures
“I had the opportunity to start a new branding and communications business with two incredibly creative people, when I didn’t even consider that as an option at the time. I knew this opportunity was what I wanted my next professional chapter to look like – true personal control of my destiny. We are four years into the journey and I have never questioned my decision. –Judith Rosenberg, The Thought Bureau
“I saw and experienced the struggles of small business owners and the outdated thinking of large enterprise C-suite executives, and had one common realization: None of this was to be MY journey. I wanted to work for a company of my design that puts people first, always and in every way. So I stopped “checking myself”, I evaluated what I considered a quality and respectable company, and I started my own business with all of this in mind!” – Halee Sprinkle, Czech Yourself Marketing
“Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, I always knew that entrepreneurship was on my way, even if I shunned it for a long time. I didn’t want to leave the security that the corporate world gave me, until I was laid off, once in 2014 and again in 2018. Then I knew I could find another job or be my own boss and ensure my future. The rest is history. I started my entrepreneurial adventure and I love it here. – Tanika Harper, Harper’s Naturals and the Shora Foundation
“A year ago I quit my dream job as Chief Innovation Officer at a large, multi-billion dollar manufacturing company with a great team and a great pipeline of projects. Why? I wanted to move forward towards my vision of developing the next generation of inclusive, goal-oriented, science and engineering leaders. That year, I never thought I would create a new Amazon #1 release and a #1 bestseller for women in STEM, sell thousands of books, speak to 1600+ people at virtual and in-person events, or become a sought-after coach for business innovation leaders and hard core founders -tech. I’ve worked very hard. I’ve had successes and failures, and I’ve had incredible support from the Knoxville community. So thank you, Knoxville. – Dr. Angelique Adams, Executive Coach for Scientists and Engineers
“The year after my father died, a former supervisor told me to do a job I didn’t agree with. When I asked ‘Why?’ his answer was because “you want to keep your job”. And at that moment, I instinctively replied, “I don’t want or need a job.” I knew at that moment that “a job” was not my final goal. That simple phrase triggered a ripple effect in my mind that made me hyper aware of how I wanted to live my life. Entrepreneurship was the only path that allowed me to build a life grounded in my values, purpose, priorities and working with like-minded people. – Kandis Troutman, the creative architect
“In the spring of 2017, I had a choice. I could button up and present myself as a perfectly polished candidate for a very compelling job, or I could speak the truth and allow my truth to sit in public spaces. It was not an easy decision. But eventually, I knew I was almost dead from sweeping my pain under the rug, and I was no longer willing to present otherwise. And so, at that point, I chose entrepreneurial freedom and started what is now The Booth Andrews Company. I believe that our businesses and our dreams are more likely to thrive when we bring all of our well-being to the table. And this does not happen by chance. – Booth Andrews, The Booth Andrews Company
“Somewhere in late middle age, I had what seemed like a steady job as a columnist and editor of a popular, award-winning weekly. Then a corporation (The EW Scripps Company) bought newspaper and for business reasons shut it down Arrived on a weekday afternoon and fired all editorial staff Immediately wiped our computers, including e-mails and written stories for future issues, sent guard to watch over as we packed two decades of books and files in. I had no job or income, but I had lots of friends who wanted to help me.
“We started an educational nonprofit called the Knoxville History Project. Suddenly I was learning the intricacies of boards, regulations, and spreadsheets. With more help, we started publishing articles online and print books, as well as audio tours, video programs, and public art projects.
“I wouldn’t see that hellish storm again for a million dollars, but seven years later I’m still writing so much and finding people who still want to read about their city.” – Jack Neely, Knoxville History Project
“As an entrepreneur, one of my biggest pivotal moments was during the height of COVID in 2020. The men in the organization I oversee were struggling to find jobs, so I bought a S-10 pickup truck and a pressure washer and started what would become Hopewell’s Helping Hands I was apprehensive about the new venture – but it turned out to be beneficial for the men, our organization and the Knoxville community. – Reico Hopewell, Hopewell Helping Hands
“Ever since I was young I knew I was an outlier. I thought differently, pushed boundaries, couldn’t function in a traditional setting and always wanted to do the opposite of everyone else. However, the biggest driver of my entrepreneurial journey has been my upbringing.I am Mexican and growing up had the privilege of traveling back and forth to Mexico City.The disparities I observed were eye-opening and puzzling. As an American born into a middle class family, I felt I had to use my privilege to do something. To this day, I consider it my duty and responsibility to be a entrepreneur and solve the problems that I see harming our world.” – Tricia Martinez, investor, entrepreneur, activist
Different backgrounds, different situations, and different people — and they all share those “big pivot” moments that led to big choices and bigger lives. Did any of these stories resonate with you a bit close to home? If so, we’d love to learn more and how they made changes to your life and business. Tell your story at madeforknoxville.com, or log on to one of our social networks and let’s get to work.