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Memphis has changed the world… and we’re not done yet. A guide to Memphis entrepreneurs

Innovators, groundbreakers, music-makers; and world-shakers come to Memphis to bring their ideas to life and make their mark. With a supportive and highly connected business network, a vibrant academic community and an affordable cost of living, Memphis has a can-do culture that embraces social, creative, philanthropic, and business entrepreneurs.

Memphis is a city unlike any other. It has city amenities and opportunity, but with a hometown feel, making it the perfect place for up-and-coming talent to find community, build a network, and get involved. With an easily accessible region and rich higher education institutions within Memphis proper, this city is bustling with eager students and thought leaders ready to contribute.

Creating a business begins with an idea. Running a successful business depends on location. Without the right location, your business may never take off and receive the kind of exposure it deserves. It may never connect with the right audience, and you may not find the right employees to help make it happen.

You need a city that offers you a top tier of workers and yet doesn’t cost a fortune to move into. You need a city with a thriving population and yet a location where your business will stand out. You need a city like Memphis.

Memphis has positioned itself as one of the premier professional environments in the region — and in the entire country. With a young and growing workforce, you have access to every line of professional you need to help get your company off the ground, from trade professionals such as licensed electricians to young college graduates who are excited to move forward into the professional world.

Like any other city, Memphis has policies and programs in place for entrepreneurs and achievers. Unlike any other city, Memphis is committed to seeing that success become a reality and constantly makes improvements to ensure a more opportunistic environment. Don’t believe us? Here’s the proof.


Young professionals see cities like Memphis as a great place to plug and play, and that’s why Forbes recently ranked Memphis at No. 4 on its “Happiest City to Work in Right Now” list. The millennial scene in Memphis is vibrant and fun, with organizations like Choose901Undercurrent and New Memphis Institute that are committed to connecting people and building relationships.

Our Memphis workforce is young and growing—more than 1,700 millennials moved to the city in 2015, putting workers’ median age at just 35 years old. The Greater Memphis Chamber offers grants and incentives to find, hire and train local employees, while a strong educational community of colleges, universities and technical training schools provide quality opportunities for professional training and development in everything from service industries to tech.

Cost of business & living

Tennessee has no property tax or state income tax on wages and has the second-lowest local and state tax burden per capita. Additionally, Memphis’ economic development partners offer tax incentives to businesses relocating to or expanding in the region.

Aside from a business-friendly tax environment, the cost of living in Memphis is consistently at least 12% lower than the national average. This means that, in addition to your money going farther in Memphis, top talent can move here, make money, and still have the income to live the life they want. That’s why ranked Memphis third on their list of where millennials are most likely to buy homes.


Strong infrastructure is a vital component of business success, and Memphis is one of the nation’s premier supply chain hubs. Whether you require runways, railways, riverways or roadways, you’ll be able to make your mark in Memphis.

Entrepreneurial environment

With giants like FedEx and AutoZone headquartered here and direct access to water, air, and rail, Memphis is widely known as a leader in global commerce and logistics. But what you may not know is that those Fortune 500 companies and other corporate giants in Memphis continue to give back and foster a highly networked B2B community of incubators, accelerators, and start-up support programs. Epicenter is the hub of the Greater Memphis entrepreneurship movement, Bioworks is the Mid-South’s go-to organization for creating companies, jobs, and investment in bioscience and sustainability, Leadership Memphis prepares and mobilizes leaders to work together – the list goes on and on for opportunity in Memphis. In fact, Inc. ranked Memphis at the top of their opportunity index for entrepreneurs in the Nov. 2017 print issue, and Blacktech Week ranked Memphis the best metropolitan area for black-owned companies in 2017.

Memphis is also an ideal place for creatives: the local non-profit arts industry in Memphis drives $197.3 million in annual spending and supports the equivalent of more than 6,100 jobs; Memphis was designated as a ‘Maker City’ by Etsy; Creative Works, an annual conference held in Memphis, equips residents with skills needed to support a thriving creative economy. For individuals seeking a supportive, entrepreneurial environment, now is the time and Memphis is the place.

Diversity and inclusivity

A conversation about entrepreneurship wouldn’t be complete without mention of WMBEs (Women and Minority-owned Businesses and Entrepreneurs), and no city is more aware of that than Memphis. While there’s still a long way to go to achieve a level playing field, Memphis supports programs and initiatives that work towards creating a more inclusive business environment.

Memphis-based programs like the Supplier Diversity Collaborative are designed to help Memphis small businesses succeed. Through these programs, the heads of minority- and women-owned businesses learn to increase sales via corporate connections and community development, then leverage this success to engage with private-sector companies. The collaborative guides companies through the MWBE certification process, after which they are listed in the MWBE catalog—a database that makes it easier for corporations to find and buy from MWBEs.

Similarly, the MMBC Continuum is an economic accelerator that helps qualifying minority- and women-owned businesses form partnerships with major corporations. With additional support from the Chamber and City Government, Memphis has ambitious goals of increasing the number of – and, more importantly, scaling – MWBEs by hundreds on an annual basis.

To address gaps in the workforce that ensure individuals are growing and scaling alongside businesses, the Memphis business community approaches workforce development as a team. The approach is four-fold: Memphis Works connects businesses and potential workers; the Workforce Investment Network provides the training, skill development and education that prospective employees need to become part of the local workforce; the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce focuses on long-term workforce development by identifying skill gaps and creating targeted training and education; and the Mid-South Quality Productivity Center partners with Southwest Tennessee Community College to offer consulting and training services to business owners.

By tackling entrepreneurial disparity head-on, Memphis is actively creating pipelines to success for issues that cities across the nation struggle with.


Memphis is home to Start Co., a startup incubator that provides new businesses with the capital, guidance, and discipline to find the investors and facilities they need. Via three different accelerators focused on B2B, ed tech, and women-led startups, Start Co. has graduated 55 startups, with a 75% follow-on funding rate and $18 million raised in investments.

ServiceMaster, the national home services company based in Memphis, is getting in on the startup action as well. In June 2017, ServiceMaster opened the doors to Ground Floor, an Innovation Center in downtown Memphis that consolidated its offices to a single headquarters in a former mall and also created a collaborative workspace.

“Innovation often isn’t this clean, nice bolt of inspiration,” noted ServiceMaster CIO Jamie Smith. “Innovation’s more about having the grit to see that idea through into the world. I really can’t think of a place better than Memphis, the city that had the audacity to create something as disruptive as rock ‘n’ roll and to challenge the monopoly of the postal service.”

Memphis serves as a hub for innovation in highly lucrative fields, giving large corporations opportunities to plug into talent while giving back.

Spotlight: The Belltower Artisans

After University of Memphis students Micah Dempsey and Christopher Galbreath hatched their entrepreneurial plans at local concert venue Minglewood Hall, their first step was to launch an innovative summer pop-up pottery business that required them to pool their money, practice the java trade and, most importantly, gain the confidence necessary to expand. After they experienced enough preliminary success, it was time to for the Memphis entrepreneurs to raise their game from a summertime pop-up to a year-round gig.

A set of U of M mugs created at The \Belltower Artisans+The result was The Belltower Artisans, a more than 2,700-square-foot space on Highland Strip that houses the two former high school classmates’ coffee shop and pottery classes, including a space in the back for teaching the trade they developed from years of ceramics classes at Harding Academy. In the center of it all is a coffee station that literally fuels the desire to build a maker space that brings together like-minded artisans and creatives.

A boost from the Crews Center for Entrepreneurship

The duo’s business genesis started when they got hooked on pottery during their time at the Academy. It was there that they hatched the idea of going into busihness together, although their dream would not come to fruition until a number of years later. After some collegiate pursuits, Dempsey and Galbreath realized they missed feeding their pottery desire, and it was then that they began thinking more seriously about the inspiration that struck them as teens.

The fact that both Dempsey and Galbreath came from entrepreneurial backgrounds certainly gave them a leg up, as their experiences watching their store-owner parents helped the two learn what it takes to run a successful business first-hand. Still, they knew they needed help making their dream into reality, so they enrolled in the University of Memphis together and became fellows of the Crews Center for Entrepreneurship—an intensive program designed to assist students who know entrepreneurship is in their future. The center offers a $3,500 scholarship per semester for four semesters, along with business coaching, a co-working space, up to $3,000 in seed funding and access to the Memphis chapter of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization.

The center fellowship is part of ImagineU, a soup-to-nuts program that takes students from the idea phase to the marketplace by teaching them how to accomplish their business goals, serving as a business incubator, providing exposure to the Memphis business community and offering skill development. Its aim is to provide the detail and tools needed to build a “new, high-growth business venture.”

Why Belltower?

Although the two students’ time at the center was an important puzzle piece in fulfilling the dream of pursuing their love of pottery and making a living at the same time, they also had another vision: creating a meeting space for local artists looking to come together in a traffic-heavy area of Memphis. To phrase it another way, the duo was looking to make the business a belltower of sorts—a spot where, historically, townspeople would gather. And so, The Belltower Artisans’ name was born. According to Galbreath and Dempsey, the ultimate goal is for The Belltower Artisans to become a haven for after-school programs, a site for fundraisers, and a hub for local nonprofits and other community outreach.

While this vision has yet to be fully realized, the location currently hosts classes, coffee-making and even mass production of pottery, as the duo can make up to 800 pieces per order. The coffee shop has mugs and other items for sale in its retail area as well.

Entrepreneurs looking to help entrepreneurs

Memphis is a different animal from other cities. If you look at larger destinations like New York or Chicago, you need to be both great and lucky to survive. One of the reasons we love conducting business in Memphis is because you don’t need to be lucky. You just need to have a good idea and a strong work ethic. Everything else falls into place.

The city’s strong entrepreneurship community is always on the lookout to help prop up new businesses. Members of this community understand the struggles of starting a new business, and yet they also share the excitement of getting hands in the dirt and building a company from the ground up.

In Memphis, there are always other professionals out there you can bond with. Here, it’s more than professional networking. Yes, you have the ability to forge strong relationships with these other business leaders, but often it’s more than just a professional relationship that is created. There is a drive to assist wherever possible. Because business owners understand what it takes for their own company to thrive, they need others to thrive as well.

Thriving businesses bring in more workers and help to grow the community. So if you’re interested in such a business presence, Memphis is the place for you.

Let Memphis carry your professional dream

Not all cities have the ability to carry a business dream. Some don’t have the established infrastructure to do so. Others are unable to support certain industries based on the region or professionals on hand — even the weather plays a part in harnessing expansion. In Memphis, Tennessee, you have the world at your disposal. All you need to do is let Memphis carry your professional dream. It’s why professionals from around the globe are looking toward Memphis as their next business destination.

Memphis continues to shape the world

Memphis is known for its music and its food. Yet the city has so much more to offer than just entertainment and a satisfied stomach. It wants to reshape the way small businesses work. That is why the city is set up to assist people who own small businesses — the individuals who are looking to create startups fueled by long nights, coffee and passion. While every business starts with a great idea, many need help along the way to turn the idea into a reality. This is where the city of Memphis comes in.

It all begins with a location

No matter how great an idea is, a business will not thrive if it isn’t in the right location. Without the support of the local community, the budding idea will die before it ever has a chance to take off. Memphis wants to give entrepreneurs everything they need to cultivate the idea and turn it from a dream into a reality. That is why the city has become one of the premier destinations for small businesses in the entire country.

The city is already a great location for individuals looking to not only create a local business, but a regional company. With its position along the Mississippi, Memphis can be quickly reached from cities like Atlanta, Chicago and Cleveland. This makes it easier for a company to grow and thrive. Yet beyond just the geographical location of the city, Memphis itself offers more to local businesses and startups than most other cities in the country.

Resources needed to thrive

Memphis has the thriving talent pool of a large city yet offers the lower costs of a smaller community. Additionally, the state of Tennessee doesn’t have state income tax and has a low property tax rate, making it an affordable option compared to most competing states. When a business starts up, the more money it can save, the more money it can pump back into itself. Because of a number of city- and state-based grants for startups and new businesses, it is easier to get a company off the ground in Memphis than almost anywhere else.

Help Is All Around You

Any business owner will tell you there’s so much work that goes into running a business. The term “small” business isn’t exactly fair to you. While you might be smaller than the large corporations, it doesn’t represent the sheer amount of work that goes into it.

Thankfully, the city of Memphis is behind you and can offer a number of ways to help you out. You can check out the Greater Memphis Chamber to pick up information on opening a small business. Here you’ll find valuable resources to connect you with data on local laws and requirements. It can also help connect you with the right outlets for avoiding potential pitfalls.

There is the Business Development Center as well, which is run by the City of Memphis. It provides you with counseling and guidance in starting up a business. One of the best ways to run a successful company is to know someone who has run both a success and a failure as they will tell you want you should and shouldn’t do. Not everyone has that kind of access, but at the Business Development Center, you do.

You also have the Tennessee District Office and U.S. Small Business Administration located in Memphis. The SBA can help you on a state and federal level for opening a business, including connecting you with small business loans and other development assistance.

There is plenty of help around Memphis. These are just a handful of the available organizations.

Finding Your Mentor

The varying business associations around Memphis are great resources for educating you on running a business. However, there’s still nothing like having a mentor from a successful company giving you tips and insights. Memphis Score can help you with this.

The Memphis Score Organization is an outlet for small business owners looking to better educate themselves and prepare themselves for success. Through the website you can find a mentor who is willing to take you under their wing and show you the ropes.

You can also take in a workshop put on by Score, or you can even read up on the latest Memphis business news and information through the Memphis Score blog. The blog itself is a helpful tool providing you with information that is not only timely and fresh, but specific to you as an entrepreneur.

See What’s Working

One of the best ways to know how to run a business, or at the very least get a better understanding of what is working, is to get out there and take in local small businesses. Stop by and look at what generates customers. Note ideas you like or things you don’t like. You can then implement some of these ideas into your own business. One of the best times to do this is during Small Business Saturday, which is a shopping day put on at different times of the year and is designed to highlight local small businesses.

Bring your ideas

Solo practices, family enterprises, maker businesses and startups are the lifeblood of the Memphis business community, while a low cost of living and moderate home prices make the area attractive to a robust workforce. Small businesses thrive in Memphis, and we welcome you to join our network of doers, dreamers, makers, and believers.

To learn more about how Memphis supports entrepreneurs, check out our partner websites:

You might also be interested in: Memphis and millennials: The growing story



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