Landing the Leap

Organizations & People

“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”
– Henry David Thoreau


Young Business Owners Embrace the Unknown

By Christina Davenport

Photography by Kris Hacker/Hacker Medias

Starting a business is no walk in the park. From scaling operations and hiring talented employees to marketing and management, there are many aspects of performance to stay on top of. For young entrepreneurs, the road to success is even more challenging. Uncharted waters can be met with false preconceived notions, but these leaders are living proof that passion and hard work can indeed pay off. Read on to learn about seven individuals who launched a business before their 30th birthday and landed the leap to entrepreneurship.

sierra liberty

Sierra Liberty

K9 Summit Training, INC. | Founded: 2022

No. of Employees: 6

At the not-so-ripe age of 11, Sierra Liberty set out to create a pet sitting business. With the help of her mom, this life-long dog lover was unknowingly sowing the seeds of entrepreneurship, which would eventually lead her to found K9 Summit Training. After a busy several years of pet sitting while in high school, Liberty decided to keep up the momentum and attend a trade school for training after graduation. A short stint working for another training company gave her all the confidence she needed to strike out on her own.

Today, K9 Summit Training employs an all-female team of dog trainers who are under the age of 25. These young but mighty ladies work day in and day out to help dog owners across the Scenic City better understand their faithful companions. Not only does K9 Summit Training offer obedience and aggression training, but it also trains search and rescue and service dogs.

When asked what it was like navigating business ownership at a young age, Liberty notes that it has had its challenges, but she wouldn’t change it for the world. “I’ve received a handful of the passive aggressive comments, but I’d like to think we’ve proven them all wrong,” says Liberty. “We went from a team of two to a team of six in less than 10 months and have over 100 5-star reviews. We must be doing something right!”

On a given day, Liberty can be found doing everything from creating educational and social content to managing inquiries and working with clients and dogs. As she looks back on the skills being a young entrepreneur has gifted her, Liberty finds it hard to overlook the growth that she’s seen in her professionalism and confidence.

While she still has plenty to learn, Liberty has also made exceptional strides in learning how to lead a team and empower not just her employees but her clients as well. Now that she has grown her team, she is starting to look inward for her next business (and life) lesson.

“I’m still working on learning to set boundaries with my clients,” Liberty states. “I’m definitely a people pleaser, and I’ve had to learn the hard way that you can’t always please everyone and that’s perfectly okay.”

Reflecting on the growth that K9 Training Summit has seen in just the last short year, Liberty notes that it has felt like a complete whirlwind. “The amount we’ve grown is incredible, but also mind-blowing,” she adds. “I truly don’t know what this next year will hold, but I’m definitely excited to see!”

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callie lance

Callie Lance, DC, MS, CCSP

Chattanooga Sports Chiropractic Institute | Founded: 2018

No. of Employees; 1

Ever the athlete growing up, it wasn’t uncommon for Callie Lance to find herself sitting in an athletic training or physical therapy office. From the time she was a child, she wanted to be a doctor or veterinarian, but her life experiences during her formative years set her on a slightly different trajectory.

“My aspirations changed as I discovered chiropractic care, athletic training, and physical therapy while growing into a highly competitive athlete with my own personal injuries,” says Lance, who owns Chattanooga Sports Chiropractic Institute. “I opened my own business because I wanted to have the freedom to serve the community in the way I wanted to be treated.”

Anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology all play a critical role in Lance’s practice, which offers services such as chiropractic care, dry needling, cupping, active release therapy, soft tissue mobilization, and strength training programming just to name a few.

As a one-woman show, Lance currently only sees patients by appointment, but she does hope to add more doctors in the future, which will allow her to reach more of the community. In the meantime, operating on a by-appointment basis allows her to offer highly personalized care with shorter wait times, but it does come at a price.

Lance currently meets with clients from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. four days a week, and since she oversees every aspect of the business, her time commitment to her company extends well beyond that. Regardless, Lance notes that it’s a tradeoff she’s willing to make.

“The best thing about owning my own business is being my own boss. I am an extremely hard worker but also like to play hard, so to have that flexibility is great. If I don’t like how something is being executed, it is on me to fix it and hold myself accountable,” she says. “Plus I am a fan of being able to bring my dog to work as the director of greetings!”

For budding entrepreneurs, especially young ones, Lance stresses the importance of finding mentors and cultivating a support network.

“There’s a lot that goes into starting a business and no real explanation of what is needed or how to do it. This is where proper mentorship and having the right team can play a huge role,” says Lance. “Know that having your own business is a lot of commitment, sacrifice, and hard work, but it will be worth it. Lastly, remember to take care of yourself and don’t completely lose yourself in the business. You cannot fill other people’s cups when your cup is empty.”

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shateria smith

Shateria Smith

SimplyProps, LLC | Founded: 2020

No. of Employees: 2

For Shateria Smith, owning her own business is just as much about creating a legacy as it is gaining personal freedom.

Smith founded SimplyProps ahead of her 30th birthday when she was unable to find marquee letters for a celebration she was hosting, and in only a few short years, SimplyProps has transformed into a full-service company that provides custom prop and furniture rentals, as well as event design consultation services. And while Smith notes that she does love her job for the freedom it allows, at the end of the day, it really comes down to being a good role model for family and strangers alike.

“Though I don’t have any children yet, I am an auntie to four little ones. Being able to create a legacy that teaches them that they can start a business doing what they love and not what they are taught is ‘best’ or what they ‘should do’ is the best feeling ever,” says Smith.

In addition to modeling entrepreneurship for her nieces and nephews, Smith also hopes that young girls wanting to enter the construction industry can find inspiration in SimplyProps. Smith currently hand-builds 97% of her new rental inventory and notes that she’s received curious looks on more than one occasion while going to pick up lumber or hardware.

“I think there can be a misconception that women cannot thrive in male-dominated industries like woodworking, construction, or welding, but I am here to serve as proof that women and girls can change the narrative,” says Smith. “My hopes are that if another little girl looks at me and sees that I can use power tools and build things, she will realize she can too.”

When she’s not out inspiring the masses, Smith can typically be found in the office working on consultations with clients before shifting to building and event prep in the afternoon hours. During the busy season of spring and summer, SimplyProps welcomes roughly four events per weekend, all of which Smith personally helps set up.

“I realized early that business growth would not come without a lot of sacrifice. Missing out on family events, holidays, and fun nights out with friends have all been a part of this journey,” Smith says. “I gave up a nine-to-five career to own
a 24/7 business. There is always something to do, but I love what I do. I’m still working on creating boundaries and work-life balance, but even with all of the tears (both happy and sad), it has been well worth it for what I have built.”

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robert paden

Robert Paden

Paden Tree People | Founded: 2016

No. of Employees: 6

For Robert Paden, owning a business is somewhat of a learned behavior. With parents in the small business space, Paden grew up surrounded by an entrepreneurial mindset. Add to that his love of the outdoors, and it’s only fitting that he would go on to found Paden Tree People.

“I have a history of rock climbing and using ropes, and I really love being out in nature,” says Paden. “I also like to help people solve problems, and seeing my parents’ success led to my interest in starting a business.”

Paden Tree People specializes in all things tree health, and its services range from helping with pruning and treatment plans to stump grinding, hazardous tree removal, and storm clean-up.

While Paden’s favorite part of his job is the fieldwork, he’s quick to point out that it’s only a small part of what makes his business tick. The other part of his time is often filled with estimates, consultations with potential clients, coordinating with the office manager, and a whole other host of administrative duties.

When asked what misconceptions surround young entrepreneurs, Paden says that there are fallacies on both sides – from the general public and entrepreneurs themselves.

“I think people sometimes look at young business owners and think that someone did everything for them or that it was given to them rather than the possibility that they achieved what they have through hard work,” says Paden. “Conversely, people who want to start a business can sometimes think it takes a massive amount of money to start, but that’s not always the case. You mostly just have to have confidence in yourself, have a strong work ethic, and take the leap of faith.”

For Paden, getting his business off the ground was a learning experience – especially when executing the administrative tasks – but after the initial launch, everything just fell into place. Paden focused on hiring good people and going above and beyond for his clients, and his success can largely be attributed to those two guiding principles.

“I want to encourage everyone thinking about starting a business to just pull the trigger,” says Paden. “The hardest part is taking the risk, but that is what life is all about. Risk is undermined in our society, but it is a huge part of life. Without it, we would be nowhere, so get outside of your comfort zone and put yourself out there. I want others to know that it is possible to make a living doing what you love.”

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myles patton

Myles Patton

The Whole Marketing LLC | Founded: 2019

No. of Employees: 6

Before Myles Patton was a business owner, he was a consumer. After years of seeing some of his favorite brands and businesses have less-than-stellar marketing presence, he decided he wanted to do something about it.

“Oftentimes, small or mid-sized businesses that aren’t backed by a big name or high profile leader aren’t taken as seriously as they should be,” he says. “I felt there was room in the industry to serve non-traditional entrepreneurs in a more hands-on way. I wanted to create a tailored service for these businesses that was affordable.”

For Patton, the urge to start making an impact was strong, and he jumped headfirst into entrepreneurship before he had even graduated college. Today, Patton’s company, The Whole Marketing, offers full-service print and digital marketing solutions that range from logoed pens and embroidered workwear to videography and custom websites. 

On a typical day, you can usually find Patton driving around to visit different clients and working through projects from his cell phone, and he notes that he likes to personally deliver at least 40% of the company’s orders.

When asked why he felt entrepreneurship was the right path for him, Patton says that being his own boss has given him the freedom and control to create the change he wants to see in his community. But with more freedom comes more responsibility.

“The more we grow, the more opportunities we have to help. I get nervous when I think about the growth of our team and the responsibility that carries, but it’s also exciting knowing that our organization will have a lasting impact,” says Patton. “I think some people have a preconceived notion that young entrepreneurs don’t work hard or want to avoid being told how to do their job. I have worked hard for other companies and my business, and I can tell you being a full-time business owner is 100% not the easy way out.”

Patton now has the hang of operations and the day-to-day management of the business and is instead focusing on becoming the best leader he can be. Creating a training program that is tailored to people’s different backgrounds and different styles of learning is a top priority for The Whole Marketing, and Patton notes that the company is constantly refining its processes with new learnings from each and every client.

For those thinking about striking out on their own, Patton encourages them to grow their network, ask plenty of questions, and start following their dream.

“Owning a business, especially as a younger adult, has been extremely challenging. What keeps me going is being able to push boundaries and succeeding when no one expects it,” he says.

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chris matthews

Chris Matthews

Chris Matthews Consulting | Founded: 2020

No. of Employees: 3

An insatiable urge to always be learning is just part of what kick-started Chris Matthews’ role as an entrepreneur. At the age of 25, Matthews entered the entrepreneur scene through the manufacturing and coffee production industry and has never looked back.

“For me, I always felt like there was something I didn’t know, so I became pretty addicted to going all in on ‘what is needed now’ and sticking to it,” Matthews elaborates. “I find problem solving to be fun. The only way out is through.”

While Matthews is no longer in the coffee industry, the experience did give him valuable insight as to another passion of his – helping small- and medium-sized businesses experience and track growth. Today, he owns Chris Matthews Consulting (CMC), which aids companies in creating new channels, product lines, and core offerings. In addition, Matthews also helps his clients reposition their marketing efforts when needed, and all of his services are backed by data analysis.

A typical day for Matthews starts with checking metrics and taking client calls, and he keeps his afternoons open for client meetings. In between, you can find him developing internal company processes and living a balanced life, which includes working out, grabbing lunch, and connecting with friends.

When it comes to starting a business, Matthews is quick to recommend that the biggest thing entrepreneurs can do to start off on the right foot is to be realistic about where they are starting and what their motivation is.

“You have to outwork your self-doubt. When you jump off the cliff into entrepreneurship, you must realize that you don’t know everything. When negative thoughts come up, you have to transition them into a ‘working through the problems at hand’ mindset and focus on actionable tasks,” says Matthews. “You also need to know your numbers. If you don’t know where you stand, you will never be able to move the needle in any direction but down.”

While Matthews has seemingly mastered the confidence and self-efficacy that it takes to run a business, that’s not to say struggles don’t exist. As CMC continues to grow, Matthews is constantly being challenged to let go of projects, delegate tasks, and trust that others will perform in line with the expectations that he has set for his company.

“It can be hard to give up some of that control, but if you give it enough time, everything works itself out,” he says. “People don’t talk about this enough, but in business, you really have to trust your gut. It’ll help you more than you know.”

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emily hall

Emily Hall

Savannah Taylor | Founded: 2022

No. of Employees: 8

Half a decade ago, Emily Hall wasn’t feeling quite herself. Struggling to put her finger on exactly who she was as a person, Hall learned that the challenges and tribulations that people face are often much deeper than surface level.

After emerging from what she notes was “a very challenging season,” Hall began looking for opportunities to help women rethink their identity and offer support. And thus Savannah Taylor was born.

“I wanted to help people find themselves again and encourage them on their journey,” says Hall. “I think so much of how we see ourselves is wrapped up in our appearance. I wanted to provide a safe place for people to gain back their confidence.”

Savannah Taylor is an affordable clothing boutique that offers feminine styles geared toward 25- to 45-year-old women. From getting married and starting a family to changing jobs, this period of a woman’s life sees a lot of transition, and Hall’s goal is to help women navigate that with poise and grace.

Whether it’s curating collections and accepting orders or coming up with new ways to market the business, Hall always has something to do at the shop. There are a lot of hats to wear and no two days look exactly alike, but Hall wouldn’t trade it for the world.

“Truthfully, my favorite thing is just being with people who come into the store and hearing about how they found us and what’s going on in their life,” says Hall.

When it comes to owning a business, Hall notes that the strengths and weaknesses of young entrepreneurs can often be one and the same.

“In your 20s and early 30s, a lot of people have the ability to be fearless. You just have to choose to be fearless and believe in yourself. A ‘high risk, high reward’ mindset can be really scary, but it pays off. You just have to be dead set on moving forward and never look back,” says Hall. “Starting a business young means learning to recover from your mistakes young. You’re able to fail fast and grow quickly.”

Looking to the future, Hall has her sights set on expanding throughout the Chattanooga area. Over the next four years, Hall hopes Savannah Taylor can grow to four locations and serve even more women in the community.

“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and you don’t have to choose something that nobody’s ever done before,” she says. “You just need to be passionate about whatever it is you’re doing, and you need to make it your mission to see it through each and every day.”

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