Memphis Business Journal – by Michael Sheffield
Two new member companies at Emerge Memphis have learned that life is easier if you’re surrounded by entrepreneurs.
Gametime Athletics, a Memphis-based shoe and athletic wear company, and Valeo Design and Internet Marketing have seen first hand the benefits of being located in the incubator. Gametime currently has seven employees and Valeo has three.
The two companies join 26 Emerge companies that currently employ 127 people total. Gametime is one of nine minority-owned firms located in the incubator.
Checliss Rice, president and CEO of Gametime, says he had to be convinced to move into Emerge, but once he was there, he became a believer.
“My business manager said we should be here, but I wasn’t with it at first,” Rice says. “I thought it was going to be another bill we’d have to pay. As an entrepreneur, you’re used to being the sharpest knife in the drawer, but once I got here, I realized there were other sharp knives.”
Rice says the companies in Emerge are widely varied, but the basic business concepts are common for everyone. He says one of the biggest changes he’s had in his company is an entry into Internet marketing, specifically with Valeo.
Jamie Hutto, project manager with Valeo, says even though his company is one of at least three Web companies located in Emerge, he’s found motivation and business ideas from being there as well.
“We’re exposed to like-minded people who we can collaborate with,” Hutto says. “From the strategy and contact side, we’ve had a lot of benefits.”
Hutto says those contacts are right up the hall or upstairs at Emerge and that can lead to more business for his company.
“When you’re on your own, you’re beating the bushes for business,” he says. “If you just do Web sites, you’re always on the prowl for the next big project.”
Hutto says Valeo has had to refine its business from simple design work to true marketing for clients. He says the company’s focus is now on showing clients how a site can work for them beyond being a graphic-filled business card.
“On the Web, you can track everything,” he says. “We know where you came from, how long you were here, what page you came in on and what page you left from. Everything can be used to show the client what they need to know.”
Rice says marketing is extremely important for his customized shoe business in order to reach different markets. The company is currently partnering with former National Basketball Association great Magic Johnson and Burger King on a contest called “Design it Your Way” where students can design a shoe online. Johnson and Rice will determine the winner, who will get a two-week internship with Gametime. Gametime will also help get the winner’s shoe produced.
Rice says Gametime’s connection with an overseas manufacturer that allows it to produce “small runs” of hundreds or thousands of shoes, as opposed to tens of thousands of shoes at a time, gives it a competitive advantage that the 2-year-old company has used to its early advantage.
“We were the first to do NBA logo tennis shoes with the Grizzlies, Bucks and Timberwolves. It didn’t exist before, but then Adidas started doing it,” Rice says. “We’re innovating and if we’re doing things that we know as a small company blows Nike’s minds, we’re doing something right.”
Rice says he’s been able to initiate or take part in brainstorming sessions and meet with venture capitalists who are looking to “invest in the next big thing.”
“Along the route of making money, you have to be able to build relationships with people that can actually help you instead of just wanting something from you,” he says.
Gwin Scott, president of Emerge, says the two companies add another dimension to Emerge. Scott says both companies have had high profile successes, from Valeo’s work with the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau and Henry Turley Co. to Gametime’s NBA deals.
“Both of these leaders have illustrated that ambitious drive it takes to grow and scale their operations and in maximizing all the right opportunities,” Scott says.
Rice says the entrepreneurial community of Emerge has made him a better business man, which has helped turn a good idea into a growing company.
“When employees have issues, they can go to the boss, but who does the boss go to?” he says. “You get ideas and perspectives from people with like minds. They either have faced or will face what you’re going through. It may be nontraditional, but it works.”
President: Gwin Scott
Address: 516 Tennessee
Phone: (901) 312-7700
Web site: www.emergememphis.org
[email protected] | 259-1722