Although they came from diverse backgrounds, the 10 honorees who were recognized on Tuesday as Masters of Innovation all share a few common characteristics.
"Being here is extraordinary because we are affirming 10 entrepreneurs who are very courageous. They built up a business when it was difficult to do so," said Gus Whalen of the Warren Featherbone Foundation. "Today is about growth. They have things to share with us and if we truly listen, we can learn from them. Entrepreneurs help us stretch (our minds)."
The innovation awards are the latest in the Featherbone Communiversity's masters series, which started with the masters in teaching awards ceremony.
"The masters series began about three years ago with the idea that we have all benefitted from great teaching," Whalen said. "We wanted to learn from them, affirm (their work) and to also encourage others to become great teachers."
Masters of nursing is the other branch of the series.
During the ceremony at the Lanier Technical College Manufacturing and Development Center, each of the recipients shared with the audience what inspired them to become entrepreneurs.
For Mike Cottrell, who started his first business as a 9-year-old, there was never a question about being a business owner.
"I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur - I think I was born with that gene," said Cottrell, CEO of Cottrell Industries.
For David Dorsey, owner and manager of Discovery Medical Co., the road to entrepreneurship was one paved with a variety of jobs that covered the spectrum from construction to the service industry.
Dorsey, along with several other award recipients, credit their desire to be their own boss as one of the reasons they went into business for themselves.
"Nobody is gonna do it for you. Sometimes you have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off," Dorsey said.
"The saying, ‘If you can conceive it, you can achieve it,' really rings true."
The inaugural class of innovators was selected by a committee for exhibiting a number of characteristics - including persistence, passion and creativity.
"They had to be people that others could look up to - we wanted to set the bar high," said Bill Lightfoot, dean of the Brenau University School of Business and Mass Communication.
"They had to be an inspiration. Especially in this economy, we wanted people that could light a fire under us all to (help get the economy) back on track."
According to committee members, small business owners are the foundation of the American economy and ultimately the driving force in economic recovery efforts.
The communiversity plans to bestow the entrepreneurial honors annually.