Chris Hanks

Terry's Entrepreneurship Program head Chris Hanks (BBA 1990) was requested to appear before the Georgia House of Representatives to tell them about the program's demand around the state. Hanks has been conducting workshops and panel discussion series; building networks for aspiring entrepreneurs, business owners, and venture capitalists; and expanding opportunities for students to get the best out of discipline of entrepreneurship. Terry associate editor Matt Waldman conducted an interview with Hanks; what follows is that conversation.

TM: How is the economy influencing the demand for the Terry College Entrepreneurship Program?
Hanks: The economy has a huge impact because of record layoffs and business owners who are struggling without access to capital. We're getting tons of requests and want to offer really seasoned, practical advice with an array of resources and networks to fill that need for information.

TM: The mayor of Savannah invited you to work with distressed business owners. What could you accomplish with this large and diverse collection of business owners in one sitting?
Hanks: They had a lot in common. They were all scared because people aren't spending money, they don't have money to spend, and they no longer have access to credit lines or banking. It prevents them from financing inventory for the next month and staffing becomes an issue. Should they cut them and if no, how do they retain them when they can't afford to pay salaries as expenses like health insurance increases?

We discussed creative marketing systems so they could methodically measure and managed their sales process and maintain the appropriate sales and revenue margins so they can survive this economy, but we also talked about customers. In this economy you can't be a “me too” business. You can't tell customers, "I offer this as well, so please hire me." You have to be so compelling and provocative that you completely stand out from the competition and there is no substitute for what you do.

TM: What kind of businesses attended and how did you structure the workshop?
Hanks: We had a diverse representation of businesses that included a printing shop, a spa, a public relations firm, real estate, home improvement, and construction. Before I got into the details, I took a moment to tell them that I know it's tough out there. I understood their worries about meeting payroll on Friday, but I wanted to congratulate them for some of the things they have accomplished as entrepreneurs. I reminded them that 72% of the people in this country want to own a business and they have achieved that.

One definition of entrepreneurship is the daily solving of problems, and entrepreneurs have to solve problems every day. But I wanted to revisit the reasons they became a business owner in the first place. As an entrepreneur you can't loose sight of that. You have to have a defining moment in yourself because I can help you with the details to fix the business, but if you're completely burned out or you just don't believe you can do it anymore, it's harder to fix.

TM: How did that carry over to the participants?
Hanks: It was the right approach and it fired them up. We went through some exercises and some of the business owners didn't realize they weren't focused completely on their customers. They were building their business and trying to force the customer to come to them. I want them to continue reinventing themselves based on the customer. You have to think how can I service that customer like nobody else? You have to resonate so powerfully with your target market and get your customers to say "Wow!"

Yes it's a tough time, but people will still spend money if the value proposition is still strong enough. It's not always an easy process to get there, but sometimes you land on something that that is really cool and doesn't cost your business any real money to do. And the feedback from the businesses owners was overwhelmingly positive. If it were up to them they would want Terry back every month. It was incredibly humbling.

TM: You are also giving practical advice with the UGA STARTUPs series. Tell us about it and why is it a safe environment for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Hanks: UGA STARTUPs is a monthly event at the Terry Executive Education Center and we put together panels of experts from contacts I have in the venture capital community. It's informal and highly discussion oriented with the goal of giving them tools and resources they need to actually launch their business without an ulterior motive to sell products and services. The feedback for our franchising session was phenomenal. We also had a great session in March where we partnered with the Georgia Inventors Association on how to take an idea and get it to the retail shelf.

TM: Speaking of collaborative projects, you are also partnering the Terry Music Business Program.
Hanks: Yeah, I moderated a panel on Entrepreneurship in the Music and Entertainment Industry with Jared Bailey, the founder of Flagpole Magazine and former owner of the 40 Watt Club who also started the AthFest Music and Arts Festival. Our panelists included experts in management and booking, online entertainment, songwriting, and record labels and production.

It has a similar model to what we did in Savannah; provide practical help to people in the music business. You name it we had someone to help them. No story telling, just addressing problems with a room of people who represent a diverse cross section of expertise. We also did a similar joint venture with the MBUS program and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences at Eddy's Attic in Decatur.

TM: Terry students have experienced past success with business plan competitions, but tell us how you're expanding the scope of entrepreneurship at the college.
Hanks: We recently completed our first UGA's Next Top Entrepreneur series, a competition open to all UGA students. Our entrepreneur in residence, Rob Bearden, gave funding to the winning team to be invested in their business.

But what is getting the most buzz on campus is the Venture Eats Program. Every two weeks I bring my lunch to a classroom in Sanford Hall and discuss entrepreneurship with anyone and everyone who shows up. The cool thing is the cross-section students attending: MBA candidates, law students, and undergrads. And they help each other out. Someone will raise an issue about a non-disclosure agreement and a law student says, "I can handle that, but I need a website," and a CIS major says he can do it.

Suddenly we're seeing signs of where this could go; a community of like-minded folks who are networking and helping each other out just from an informal meeting. Maybe some of the businesses these students are talking about now aren't going to go anywhere, but they're forging these relationships and bartering their skills and that is really valuable.

TM: Why do you find this valuable?
Hanks: The goal is to get like-minded students interested in entrepreneurship. Although sometimes we'll have guest speakers, the most valuable part of it is that we just talk. What are you curious about? Where are you struggling? What's holding you back from pursuing your idea? It harkens back to when I started my first business with my old college roommate in Russell Hall and we're still in business now.

TM: You were an undergrad at Terry, have you shared that experience with your students? Hanks: Yeah, and I think it's so great. I'm teaching an undergraduate course in the same classroom where I took Casualty and Insurance from Rob Hoyt - 304 Caldwell.

I decided to do something that's completely goofy to break the ice a bit: I played Rick Astley's "Never Going to Give you Up" on YouTube and cranked it up as they were walking into class. I asked them at the beginning of class why they thought I was playing that song.

They were all trying to tie it to entrepreneurship because they heard I once played Vanilla Ice's "Ice, Ice Baby" and tied it to entrepreneurship. I finally told them that the only reason I played the song was that I remembered being on a campus bus and hearing that song when I walked into this classroom and sat in that chair right there. Because that song was popular then and the bus would always play it. They just laughed and shook their heads.

TM: You're now teaching entrepreneurship to undergraduate students. Why is it important to reach out to them?
Hanks: Undergraduates have a lot of enthusiasm and creativity and there is a demand for it there. Sometimes the MBA classes are not as entrepreneurial as undergraduate classes because the MBAs often come here to enhance their corporate careers.

TM: So why teach MBAs entrepreneurship or anyone with designs for a corporate career for that matter?
Hanks: The University of Arizona published research that said students who study entrepreneurship make 27% more than their peers within five years of graduation. It only makes sense this is the case; those with an entrepreneurial mindset don't just take problems to their employer, they tend to research solutions and present desire courses of action. The entrepreneurial mindset in the corporate world is worth a lot more to their employers because the higher you climb, the more you function like an entrepreneur.

And if you are laid off, like a lot of these people coming to me now who were happy and comfortable within their career and never wanted to be an entrepreneur but are in the position to do it by necessity, then they feel more empowered to do it when they have the background in entrepreneurship to begin with. From a practical standpoint, their job prospects aren't as rosy as some might be thinking. Entrepreneurship becomes more of a necessity. One kid is starting a fence building company. He can make a good living from it until he gets an opportunity to pursue the career he was eyeing in a different industry. If he has to wait a year to get that job, he can build fences and make money.

TM: Now that you have started the Terry College Entrepreneurship Program, what are your goals for it?
I want the University of Georgia to be famous for entrepreneurship. I want to have a program filled with success stories that include a legacy of successful ventures that were started as a result of our efforts. Peter Drucker once said that there's no entrepreneurial mystique, it just comes down to discipline. I hear students and those around the state say "I want to do it but I just don't know how. I want to do it, but I'm scared. I want to do it, but, but, but." Let's take those buts and just cross the bridge. I want Terry to serve as that bridge to get from where they are now and cross over to the other side.