By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
7 entrepreneurs honored as Masters of Innovation
11162017 INNOVATION 4.jpg
Jim Southard, owner of SouthCo Supply and Restroom Stalls and All, smiles Wednesday morning, Nov. 15, 2017, during the annual Entrepreneurs Masters of Innovation program at the Brenau Downtown Center. Southard and six other local business owners were honored for their successes in the community. - photo by Scott Rogers

Entrepreneurship is about more than just being your own boss.

Small business owners are huge job creators and stimulate the economy in ways that transcend the bottom line.

Seven local entrepreneurs were honored Wednesday at the eighth Masters of Innovation awards and shared their advice about starting a business with students at the Brenau Downtown Center.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, small businesses have generated 64 percent of net new jobs over the past 15 years.

There are an estimated 29.6 million small businesses in the United States, which create seven out of every 10 new jobs and employ more than half of the nation’s private-sector workforce.

Masters of Innovation

Clay Adams

Business: Rustic Trades Furniture

Quote: “A lot of times people want something that has more options so they can personalize it for themselves. We’ve tried to standardize custom.”

Pap Datta

Business: Left Nut Brewing Company

Quote: “It boils down to how passionate you are about what you’re trying to do and how that needs to transcend beyond you to something of value that you can share with everybody.”

Jack Frost

Business: Memorial Park Funeral Homes and Cemeteries

Quote: “The key to our business, as with any business, is personnel – people.”

Wes Hunt

Business: HomeStar Financial Corporation

Quote: “Having grown up here and being able to build a business here in Hall County has been an amazing opportunity, and the community has served me well.”

Angel Retana

Business: Gainesville Seafood Market, Fajitas, El Carreton Taqueria

Quote: “Being part of the community is so important. Giving back is good business.”

Jim Southard

Business: Southco/Restroom Stalls and All

Quote: “One thing I learned from my previous employer was to not put all my eggs into one basket. That was just not, in my mind, a recipe for long-term success.”

Dixie Truelove

Business: Truelove Dairy Inc.

Quote: “You just have to be ready to adjust your thinking with whatever comes before you.”

Clay Adams founded Rustic Trades Furniture in 2010 out of a kind of necessity.

Newly married, Adams and his wife were expecting guests at their home but had almost no furniture available.

So Adams built a farm table and the rest, as they say, is history.

Rustic Trades Furniture specializes in custom-made furniture, but Adams has been able to standardize the construction process in a way that makes it cost-effective while retaining uniqueness in each piece.

“Every piece of furniture is customized but done in ways that makes it easier to manufacture,” Adams explained. “It’s actually been a great success.”

Adams said using social media and search engine optimization marketing practices has enabled his business to find its niche.  

“You want to create a brand that has a lasting story,” he said. “Our motto right now is celebrate life around the table.”

For decades, Pap Datta knew he wanted to start a brewery someday.

In the mid-80s, he began brewing beer at home but remained perplexed about why quality ingredients and variety in beer were not readily available in the United States like they were in Europe. Resources were few and far between, he said.

But as the culture around craft beer grew, and new breweries emerged across the country,

the time finally came for Datta to build his own brand.

He opened Left Nut Brewing Co. in the Chicopee Mill area of Gainesville a few years ago, citing Hall County as the perfect place to grow his startup.

“It boils down to how passionate you are about what you’re trying to do and how that needs to transcend beyond you to something of value that you can share with everybody,” he said.

Jack Frost, owner of Memorial Park Funeral Homes and Cemeteries, once built a sales organization that led the United States in “pre-need” cemetery lot sales.

Since purchasing Memorial Park in 1988, when the cemetery was overgrown, roads weren’t paved and the cemetery office was located in a chicken coop, Frost has added a funeral home and additions in the north and south part of Hall County.

“This was a good opportunity and I could see it,” he said. “A funny thing happened … the quality of people I met and what they were doing for this town and this community was unbelievable.”

Frost will soon open another addition to Memorial Park in Braselton.

“The key to our business, as with any business, is personnel — people,” Frost said. “The customer is always right, regardless of the circumstances.”

Wes Hunt knows a thing or two about this area, and his roots have helped him lay the foundation for a successful business.

“Having grown up here, and being able to build a business here in Hall County has been an amazing opportunity and the community has served me well,” he said.

Hunt founded HomeStar Financial Corporation in 2002. The company provides mortgage origination and underwriting, among other services.

Operations now extend throughout the Southeast, and he expects to see continued growth.

“Behind the paper we’re looking at is an individual who is waiting to close on a new home … We take that very seriously because it is a great responsibility,” he said.

Angel Retana got his start in the restaurant business washing dishes.

He later launched one of the first taco trucks in Gainesville, and some 25 years later now owns several establishments, including El Carreton Taqueria, Fajitas Mexican Restaurant and the Gainesville Seafood Market.

There have been plenty of “ups and downs” in business, Retana said, but it’s all been worthwhile.

“If you love what you do, it gets you up every morning,” he said.

Retana said it’s important for small businesses to be good stewards in the community, and he has served as a community board member for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier and Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

“Being part of the community is so important,” he added. “Giving back is good business.”

Jim Southard is what one might call a serial entrepreneur.

He said he leveraged relationships, critical to the success of any business, when he left a corporate job to strike out on his own.

Southard founded SouthCo & Assoc. Inc., now a multimillion-dollar tool supplier and professional installation company. But that’s not all.

“One thing I learned from my previous employer was to not put all my eggs into one basket,” he said. “That was just not, in my mind, a recipe for long-term success.”

Southard has added subsidiary companies, including SouthCo Supply, Restroom Stalls and All, and Hardware Doors and More to his portfolio of businesses.

He said feedback allowed him to recognize additional opportunities within his competitive market and he took advantage.

“Be stubborn with your goals but flexible with your methods,” Southard said.

Dixie Truelove is something of a household name in these parts. With her brother, she runs a second-generation dairy farm in Hall County that was first started by her father and his brother in 1954.

“Even though we’re in the chicken capital of the world, my dad and his brother chose the dairy business,” she said, adding that the payoff came quicker.

For entrepreneurs and small business owners like Truelove, work never stops. And the ideas keep coming to grow and expand.

“We continue to search for other opportunities in agriculture,” she said, including growing sunflowers and producing hay feed.

“You just have to be ready to adjust your thinking with whatever comes before you,” Truelove said.

Regional events