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Thu, Dec 18, 2014

Local entrepreneurship stars shine at MTSU event

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For millions of Americans, the launch of their own businesses marks the beginning of a life-long journey to create their own future.

MTSU hosted a Friday Finale seminar on Friday, Feb. 29 as a culmination of the campus’s celebration of National Entrepreneurship Week. Students, the MTSU community, and the surrounding local community were invited to the Jennings A. Jones College of Business to hear Pamela Wright, founder and CEO of Wright Travel, Ronnie Barrett, founder and CEO of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, and Bijoy Goswami, co-founder and CEO of Aviri, Inc., and founder of Bootstrap Austin.

Pamela Wright, the first featured speaker of the seminar, started Wright Travel in 1981 as her second travel agency after leaving her career with the Tennessee Department of Corrections. Wright remembered, “Like so many people, I loved to travel, and it was a draw for me. Every penny I made, I would put into leisure and vacation travel.” Wright’s fledgling business grew from connections she made in local community organizations, where she has always been active in volunteer work. She recalls passing her business cards to potential clientele and aggressively networking.

She saw great opportunities in the field, such as few local competitors in the corporate travel agency arena. Wright said, “At the time that I opened, there were very few agencies in Nashville geared toward corporate travel. Even though there were some agencies doing corporate travel, there weren’t many, and that was a unique opportunity. That provided a window for pretty quick growth.”

Like many industries, travel grew and evolved in the last two decades. Wright Travel was forced to face new levels of national, regional, and local competition with the entrance of new agencies and the advent of travel booking via the Internet. The company maneuvered around this challenge by offering an online booking tool for corporate clients, paired with the personal touches of ticketing, trip coordination, and assistance throughout the client’s travel experience. Wright said, “The other challenge today is finding very qualified people. Because of the downside of the wave of travel business, a lot of people who were trained in the business drifted to other careers. We really look for people with years of experience.”

Wright has been the recipient of many honors during her development as a business owner. Among other accolades, she has been named Nashville’s Small Business Executive of the Year and has received the MTSU Jennings A. Jones College of Business Exemplar Award. She said, “Every award has surprised me because I consider myself very ordinary. I just work hard! I’m very humbled and honored every time I receive an award.” Her greatest moment as a business owner, however, was in giving the $1.25 million pledge to create an endowed chair professorship in the Jennings A. Jones College of Business at MTSU. Wright explained, “It’s just good to give back and be doing something for someone, instead of just ‘getting.’”

Wright hopes that those who decide to start their own businesses understand and appreciate the time, energy, and financial resources required to develop a successful venture. She clarified, “I think my advice to new entrepreneurs would be to be sure you’re ready for the commitment, because it is such a large commitment if you want it to be successful. It’s really hard to grow a business, and I don’t think it gets easier after 26 years – it continues to be hard. ”

Ronnie Barrett, who founded Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, was the second featured speaker of day. Ronnie Barrett started his business career in humble fashion, overcoming great odds to become an award-winning professional photographer, distinguished inventor, and businessman whose name is now recognized around the world.

While owning and managing a successful photography studio in 1982, Barrett also had a dream to manufacture and sell a unique .50-caliber rifle. He even believed that it could be shoulder-fired.

Being an artist, he hand-drew the design on his dining room table. He says, “I knew practically nothing about tooling, but I knew how to draw a gun and the parts to make it work, and I had an idea on how it should look when completed. While many a naysayer had said that it would never work, I just did it anyway.”

He became a self-taught engineer whose rifles are now synonymous with civilian sport shooters, law enforcement agencies, the United States military, and over 50 foreign governments considered American allies.

Barrett rifles have appeared in motion pictures, sports and military magazines, and even novels; also the topic of many national radio and television shows. Barrett’s business acumen has been written about in local, regional and national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Time and Forbes Magazine.

Ronnie Barrett is a true-to-life Horatio Alger who dreamed big when a dream was almost all he had and turned that dream into a legacy that is being perpetuated by his two children; son, Chris Barrett, and daughter, Angela Barrett, who are active in the business.

Bijoy Goswami, the seminar’s third speaker, came to the U.S. in 1991 after being raised in India, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Goswami attended Stanford University and was an Oxford scholar. His interests lay in the areas of sociology, science, and technology.

Goswami resides in Austin Texas, where he founded Bootstrap Austin, a network of entrepreneurs in the Austin area. This network has since grown to cities around the United States, and strives to help budding entrepreneurs attempting to grow their businesses using little capital. His book, entitled The Human Fabric, uses Eastern philosophies to explain fundamental energies that underlie our personalities.

The Friday Finale seminar, as well as the other National Entrepreneurship Week events, were made possible by the generous endowment by Wright Travel, along with a contribution from the MTSU Office of New Student and Family Programs’ Distinguished Lecture Committee.
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