EntreCon 2016: The real power of entrepreneurship

  • November 7, 2016
  • /   Shannon Nickinson
  • /   entrecon

Pensacola Little Theatre will host EntreCon 2017.

Entrepreneurs are special people.

They see opportunity where others don’t and they take it. They keep their eyes on the prize, and focus with laser precision on starting, building and sustaining their business.

It’s not for everyone, but for those with that calling, it is music they hear all the time — and must dance to.

EntreCon Pensacola 2016 brought a plateful of learning and networking opportunities to downtown Pensacola. There was legal advice, financing advice aplenty, with those who have done it sharing how they built a culture of excellence and a well-loved brand.

For some entrepreneurs, there comes a moment where the vision that drove them to succeed takes a lot around and sees something they didn’t see before.

They see their business, which has been their whole world, their baby, their reason for being, as something greater than themselves.

“Growing from Success to Significance: The Mindset, Skill Set and Values Needed,” was one of the key panels on day two of the Studer Community Institute’s EntreCon conference.


The local entrepreneurs who shared their stories on the panel at New World Landing were: Susan Campbell, owner of Susan Campbell Jewelry; Collier Merrill, president Merrill Land Company and Great Southern Restaurant Group; Susan O’Connor, president of The O’Connor Management Group.

Campbell’s jewelry store is a staple of the SoGo district in the Artisan Building.

Merrill’s real estate company is a Pensacola icon, as are his restaurants, Jackson’s and The Fish House.

O’Connor is a longtime Pensacola business owner whose holdings include McDonald’s restaurant franchises.

They all shared the moments where their “couch dreams,” as O’Connor called the dream she and her husband had of owning their McDonald’s began.

Because the answer isn’t always in Atlanta, or New Orleans, or another city where Pensacola’s entrepreneurs often feel they have to go.

Sometimes you have to make the answer right here at home.

That’s why, O’Connor says, she and her husband made the decision to go from five stores to seven. Two more stores means mean more managers, more new hires, more chances for your most important resource to grow.

“Our people,” she said. “Their growth depended on our growth. It was to give them the opportunity to move up.”

It’s why Campbell says she tapped into the creativity in her staff and is thinking of ways to invite customers into the design process more. Because it may spark in someone else what that one metalworking class did for her when she was an art history major.

It’s part of the thread of Merrill’s long list of community involvement which extends from the University of West Florida Board of Trustees to Visit Pensacola and countless other agencies.

Most of those efforts have to do with getting other people to see the town he loves and grew up in the way he does.

“Every person who works for us is going to work for someone else someday, and someone will ask them, ‘what is like to work there?’” Merrill said. “Always remember that.”

“You never know who is coming into your shop. If they don’t have a good experience here as a visitor, they won’t move their family or their business here. Get involved because it’s good for the community, and the networking and business usually flow out of that,” Merrill says.

Giving back to your employees is leadership by example, O’Connor says, but it’s more than that too. It allows them to give back to the community with their own time and talents.

And that community also is your customer.

Without a healthy community, there won’t be a target audience or potential customers.

Without a community with a high educational attainment level, there won’t be customers who earn enough disposable income to go to dinner or buy jewelry. Or are able to pay their bills on time.

Without a community with a good quality of life — one that is safe, attractive, with well-maintained roads and bridges and good schools — the talent pool to hire from shrinks and the entrepreneurial pool dries up.

What this EntreCon panel showed is that the power of small businesses is in more than the brick and mortar of a jewelry store or a McDonald’s or a restaurant or an office building or condo.

The power of small and medium-sized businesses is in their connection to the community — and her people.