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.
Johnny Little Jr., eLittle Communications
His first lessons about entrepreneurship were in his father’s St. Louis household. “He was the jack of all trades when I was growing up,” said Johnny Little Jr., “from carpentry to selling insurance, he was the man. I learned from him to never give up.”
With years of experience in television journalism, the younger Little reinvented himself like his father before him and became an entrepreneur, opening eLittle Communications in 2007. The public relations, advertising and marketing agency got its start in St. Louis, but last year its Memphis office opened. A graduate of Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss., Little felt good about Memphis. He’d taken many road trips to the city as a student.
“It was a good fit,” he said. “I always felt like I was at home here. The Southern hospitality – and Beale Street. As for entrepreneurs looking to grow their businesses – the mayor’s office and everyone else – they work with business owners to keep them informed. That goes above and beyond. You don’t get a chance to see that in larger cities.”
Little began his professional television career at a Jackson, Miss., news station and later worked in Birmingham, Ala. He shifted his role in communications after positive exposure to public relations people and took a job in St. Louis. He was executive director of communications for Missouri’s largest school district. He called starting his own business “a leap of faith.”
He employs four people at his St. Louis office and will be hiring in Memphis for a total of three people. He said the “e” in eLittle stands for “exceeding every expectation. We’re a small, boutique agency,” Little said, “The little engine that could … We work with CEOs to account representatives and pay close attention to details.”
This article originally appeared in the Memphis Crossroads Magazine. Click here to view the entire issue.
Story by: Toni Lepeska
Photo by: Troy Glasgow