To hear the stories of startups is to know that Memphis is an incubator for innovation, for entrepreneurs willing to take a risk on themselves, their products and their city. It was in Memphis that the first self-service grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, opened in 1916. It was in Memphis that Dr. J.E. Walker and his son, A. Maceo Walker, founded Tri-State Bank in 1946, and today it’s still the largest African-American run bank in Tennessee. It was in Memphis that Kemmons Wilson opened the first Holiday Inn in 1952 with a vision to reinvent the lodging industry. It was in Memphis that Fred Smith located the FedEx Headquarters in 1971, growing a business that would revolutionize logistics with overnight package delivery.
Today, Memphis is recognized by Inc. Magazine as one of the edgiest startup scenes in the U.S., and both CNNMoney and WalletHub named Memphis as one of the 10 best cities to launch a business. The Entrepreneurship Powered Innovation Center (EPIcenter) impacts hundreds of startups each year with the goal to create 1,000 entrepreneurs in the next six years. The entrepreneurs featured below put a stake in Memphis to cultivate their dreams. It’s here they offer services in a city they feel welcomes entrepreneurs with open arms.
KELLY DOBBINS, MID-SOUTH DRUG TESTING
Kelly Dobbins dared to start her own business after seeing a shift in the drug-testing industry. Even though she didn’t know where to get everything she needed, she took a gamble.
“I don’t recommend starting without capital, and I opened both offices in the same year,” said Dobbins, president of Mid-South Drug Testing. “But I always felt if I could get in front of people and educate them about our services … the business would follow.”
Mid-South Drug Testing, in existence since February 2004, recently expanded into new office space at 950 Mt. Moriah, Suite 101. There’s also a Paragould, Ark., office. Utilizing a dozen employees at the two offices, Mid-South Drug Testing emphasizes its mobility, however, not brick-and-mortar locations. “We come to you,” Dobbins said.
Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Dobbins, who holds two criminal justice degrees from the University of Memphis, worked at The Justice Network. Her responsibilities included drug testing of people on probation or parole. Years into the job, she recognized an increased demand for testing of people outside that net. Employers wanted hires or potential hires tested, and judges required divorcing spouses in custody disputes to be tested.
As she set out to start her own business, Dobbins spent time with other small business owners at various events and discovered people willing to share their expertise. She also was attracted to Memphis because of the diversity. “Everybody is getting a chance, and it doesn’t matter the capital you have or the color of your skin,” she said.
She likes drug testing “because I like people. I enjoy talking to different people,” Dobbins said. “But I would not have picked drug testing… I just walked through an open door. With belief in myself, my belief in God and my skill – I knew I could do it.”