Native Nashvillian Leshane Greenhill – co-founder and CEO of Sagents and the Nashville Entrepreneur Center entrepreneur in residence in partnership with Google for Entrepreneurs and CODE2040 – built his business from the ground up by learning the value of feedback.
“The one decision that I made that had the biggest impact on my post-college career was to find two mentors,” he said.
The first, Daryl Freeman, barely looked at Greenhill’s business plan at their meeting in 2002, taking it and throwing it away in front of the young entrepreneur and offering instead to pay 90% of Greenhill’s fee for the Kauffman FastTrac– a $1,000 program focused on equipping startups with the resources and skills needed to get their entrepreneurial ideas off the ground.
“One of the first people that I went to speak with before I even started to develop Sagents was Daryl. That was in 2014 – 12 years later,” Greenhill said. “I still have a relationship with him. We still talk; he still gives me advice.”
With Freeman’s advice, Sagents started as a marketplace to help small businesses identify RFP opportunities before they are awarded. Greenhill realized that corporations don’t always have a full understanding of their current supply chain, while adding new suppliers.
Fifteen months later, corporation feedback led Greenhill to see his product in a new light, however.
“We had one product that we thought they would like, which was the marketplace to identify small business suppliers. And their feedback was ‘We love that product, but we don’t need it. We need you to help us understand who we currently do business with before we add new suppliers to our supply chain,’” Greenhill said.
Today, the purpose has evolved, giving corporations the software needed to “organize, track and report all of their spend with women and minority companies” in response to contractual obligation to spend with those organizations, Greenhill said.
Though funds were at first hard to come by – possibly due to a lack of understanding about or interest in diversity in a supplier space, Greenhill said – the company has gained traction and investors, as well as clients as Bridgestone gave their first contract.
When it comes to starting a business, Greenhill stresses the importance of feedback, whether from a mentor, a customer or a fellow team member.
“Don’t take it personal. If you’re serious about starting a business, don’t take it personal. Understand that the person that’s giving you the feedback is coming from a great place and they probably don’t want you to make the same mistakes that they make,” Greenhill said. “At the same time, you’re probably still going to do that; if you’re young like I was and dumb like I was, some of the feedback you just don’t accept and you still try to do it your way.”
Tech partners, community partners, education partners and corporate partners to diversify tech in the Nashville community and decrease the wealth gap to create job shadowing and internship opportunities for minorities in technology, to increase investments in minority-owned tech companies and to deliver resources that will allow underrepresented communities to learn about technology and how to create their own.
“Let’s take Nashville: We have four HBCUs – historically black colleges and universities. They’re not being truly represented from a technology or business standpoint, but I think they can be represented when it comes to the involvement with the resources that we have, like the EC and other accelerators in Nashville,” Greenhill said.
And the same goes for STEM academies within the Nashville public school system, he said. As entrepreneur in residence, he hopes to build relationships with both groups to foster engagement, create excitement and deliver resources, getting them more involved with the tech boom.
As Greenhill continues to build and release new products through his company and serve help build diversity in the local tech community as the Nashville Entrepreneur Center entrepreneur in residence, he said that his goal is to start a conversation through partnership.
“I’m looking forward to bringing people to the table who don’t normally speak to each other. It’s not that they don’t normally speak to each other because they don’t like each other. It’s just that they’ve never had a reason to come to the table and collaborate,” Greenhill said.
Techpreneurs is a production of Relationary Marketing. This episode was produced by Chuck Bryant and host Clark Buckner, with editing support from Jon Martz and Jess Grommet. Music by Andrew Malone. Photography by Walker Leigh Chrisman. Artwork by John Inniger. This episode is powered by the Nashville Entrepreneur Center in support of the Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Hub network.