Business & Economy Georgia Impact

UGA provides business blueprint for entrepreneurs

Freddie Gavin (left) and other aspiring business owners in the inaugural Thomson-McDuffie Entrepreneurial Leadership Academy. (Photo by Charlie Bauder)

Nine aspiring business owners are set to graduate from the inaugural Entrepreneurial Leadership Academy

Freddie Gavin had the dream of building out a multimedia recording studio in McDuffie County and, with the assistance of the University of Georgia, his dream is moving closer to reality.

Gavin is among nine aspiring business owners to graduate from the inaugural Thomson-McDuffie Entrepreneurial Leadership Academy. He is currently working to expand his multimedia business, The Music Cave, into a full-service recording studio in downtown Thomson.

“I had this idea, but I never knew what it took to make it happen,” Gavin said. “Through this program, UGA gave me a blueprint for how to successfully run a business, move it forward, and lead my team.”

The UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development developed the program in partnership with the UGA Small Business Development Center for Thomson-McDuffie County, a UGA Archway Partnership community.

Brittany Adams-Pope, UGA Fanning Institute public service faculty, provided leadership training to help the entrepreneurs understand how to maximize their personal leadership skills and the skills of those around them to effectively collaborate within a business.

“Sometimes, people do not have self-awareness of who they are as a leader,” Gavin said. “This program taught me so much about myself as a leader and how I relate as a leader to others. The leadership component is so critical to this program because it helps me build better relationships, which is crucial to running a business successfully.”

Gavin also learned skills for effectively managing and leading his team and employees, he said.

“I have learned how to get out of the way as a leader,” Gavin said. “It is not about me, but about the business. I have surrounded myself with smart people and this has shown me how important it is to trust the team I have in place.”

Meanwhile, the UGA Augusta SBDC office, led by Rick McMurtrey, area director, provided training in areas such as developing a business plan, finance and marketing.

“Rick is a saving grace,” Gavin said. “He has helped me take my idea and, with his practical experience, helped me set up projections and a plan that I can take to a bank to try and secure funding to build my business.”

Gavin hopes to soon secure funding to build his studio in downtown Thomson and is also planning to become involved with the Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce.

“This program not only supports small business development, but it taps into a new audience of potential community leaders that traditional leadership programs may not reach,” said Don Powers, president and CEO of Forward McDuffie and chairman of the Thomson-McDuffie Archway Partnership Executive Committee.

Forward McDuffie, an economic and community development organization, utilized the UGA Fanning Institute’s Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative to begin the entrepreneurial leadership academy.

The Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative, launched in 2020, provides technical assistance and resources to support communities and organizations in starting or enhancing leadership development programming.

“For communities to remain vibrant, they must identify and cultivate the next generation of board members and leaders,” Powers said. “Along with our other leadership programming, the entrepreneurial leadership academy plays a key role in doing that here in Thomson.”

Leadership development is just one way that UGA has supported Thomson-McDuffie County. An Archway Partnership community since 2017, Thomson-McDuffie County was the first Georgia community to earn the university’s Connected Resilient Community designation.

Through the Renaissance Strategic Visioning and Planning Process, led by the Vinson Institute, Thomson developed a downtown strategic plan. Meanwhile, McDuffie County is also developing a plan to grow tourism and recreational activities on the county portion of Clarks Hill Lake with faculty and student support from the UGA College of Environment and Design and a plan for infrastructure improvements with support from the UGA College of Engineering.

“From filling our leadership pipeline to developing tourism and infrastructure, we have programs in place and are way ahead of where we were six years ago when started working with UGA through Archway,” Powers said.

As for Gavin, he encouraged anyone to take advantage of the resources available through UGA.

“I would encourage anyone to take advantage of a program like the entrepreneurial leadership academy or any of the resources available through UGA,” Gavin said. “They have been so beneficial to me and I know they would help others too.”