Georgia Small Business Leaders Profit from Speakers' Expertise/Experience at U.S. Chamber of Commerce Event

John Tabellione

Monday, June 17th, 2019

This past Wednesday nearly two hundred small business leaders from across Georgia had the opportunity to benefit from attending the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “Small Business Series” held in Atlanta: a notable list of fifteen, experienced peers and experts in the small business market segment shared practical advice, anecdotal narratives, and statistical information to help inspire owners, who might want to incorporate them in their business models and plans.

Hosted by Steve Patterson, a television personality from Minneapolis-St. Paul, the agenda opened with a unique, motivational speaker and small business owner: 15-year old, Beau Shell, from Athens, Georgia, Founder, Owner, and CEO of Lil’ Ice Cream Dude, which he started when he was only eight years old. His motto, “Always Forward” is exemplified in his 20-year plan for his “empire” and it expresses his desire to constantly make progress. Shell’s enterprise includes two trailers, eight carts, four freezers, and his first, newly opened, Cool World ice cream shop, which he plans to franchise eventually. His motivation and objectives include: his love of ice cream; the chance to provide jobs for the community; desire to contribute to charitable organizations; help his family financially; publish a book; purchase a dream car; graduate from college; and, become a millionaire. 

Shell has been recognized with the honor of Zagat’s Atlanta Top 30 Under 30 Award as a trailblazer and rock star in the food industry, and he’s received numerous scholarships and business awards. He markets his products at summer camps, schools, fairs, birthday parties, and tailgate events. He is also known for his public speaking engagements.


Agenda topics also included owners of four other local, small businesses, who presented practical advice for the attendees in the areas of Embracing Change; Legacy of a Family Company; Productivity; and Leveraging Social Media Marketing.

Ken and Anita Corsini – Hosts, HGTV’s “Flip or Flop Atlanta”; Owners, Red Barn Homes, LLC

The topic assigned to the Corsini discussion was “Embracing Change as a Small Business Owner,” and their business model has certainly been through several iterations since their humble start in 2005 when he began to purchase and assign property leases. Anita eventually became a real estate agent and they found themselves purchasing a lot of turnkey properties and selling them to investors, primarily from California. The house flipping slowed when the 2008 recession took hold. They felt the market shift, took some risks, yet survived by assessing and adapting to market trends and eventually bounced back quite successfully. They had slowed down hiring and placed trust in one another. Ken admitted that, although his modus operandi was “ready, fire, aim,” he has learned to delegate, and a good example is when they got into the brokerage business—Red Barn Homes—another business model modification. He and Anita have entrusted their other partners, Scott and Laura, to manage that part of their enterprise. The Red Barn Homes brand includes not only retail flipping and the brokerage, but also new construction. The couple described how a television production company discovered them on-line. Then they did an interview via Skype and had to learn the ins and outs of production. They produced a pilot show and successfully adapted to the television production of their work for two seasons on HGTV’s “Flip or Flop Atlanta.”

Sara Irvani – CEO, Okabashi Brands

Since 2017 Irvani has represented the third generation of ownership of the family’s shoe business and she discussed “Sustaining a Legacy Family Business” with Jeanette Mulvey, Content Director, CO—, “a digital platform designed specifically for ambitious, growth-minded business owners.” Irvani spoke of the importance of her father’s mentorship. She stated that her company has targeted three different brands for three distinct markets: Bloomingdale’s, J. Crew, and Target. Okabashi emphasized her business’ unique commitment to total sustainability, noting that her products are composed of 45% soy; furthermore, their shoes are also BPA, latex, and phthalate free, and are made in the U.S., thus achieving a lower carbon footprint. The company has also earned a U.S. Department of Agriculture certification for their products. Customers are even requested to return their shoes when they no longer need them so that they can be recycled, and the footwear carries a two-year warranty.

Heather Rogers – Owner, Simply Organized

Whereas each of the speakers at the event emphasized in positive terms about the upside of growth potential, Heather Rogers, Owner of “Simply Organized,” chose to deliver a different type of time management message by teaching how to “Just Say No.” The end result, moreover, can deliver positive productivity and free up time for the priorities of business and personal lives. The first response when having to say “No” is, “Let me think about it, look at my calendar, and get back to you.” If the request regards something that a person is not passionate about, if they do not have the time, and if it cause stress, it’s all right to turn down the appeal or proposal. Rogers explained how to actually express “No” politely: “I would love to but I can’t at this time.” Or, “Sorry, I’m already committed that day, week, month.” Another way might be, “The month is so crazy, I won’t have time to dedicate…I can’t add this to my plate while I’m giving so much time to other projects…”

Hailley Griffis - Head of Public Relations, Buffer

According to Hailley Griffis, Head of Public Relations for Buffer, a company whose services provide publishing of content and analysis of social media performance, when leveraging social media for marketing a small business, companies must learn to match the right audience to the right social network; and then limit them to two or three. Next she advises to set realistic goals, in areas such as brand building, customer support, and sales. Content options include, text, video, images and links, with videos being the most popular. Her guidelines are, “Aim to entertain and educate, not to sell. Get a second opinion. Remember attention spans are short. Create content for mobile.”


Courtney Robinson – Financial Inclusion Lead, Square, Inc.

Ms. Robinson from Square, Inc. spoke about how to access the right capital for expansion, equipment, operations, or other purposes. She noted that 49% of small business owners say that cash flow keeps them up at night. She cautioned not to use personal funds, but to try several other possible options, such as bank loans, but noted they may take months to get approved. Other sources include small business credit cards, crowd funding, and personal networks. She advised owners to always to use a formal contract when borrowing, carefully review the terms, and be sure to understand the overall costs, fees and affordability.

John Modica – Assistant Vice-President, Small and Specialty Business Strategy, MetLife Group Benefits

Modica presented key data derived by the survey of small business owners conducted by MetLife in conjunction with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce during the first quarter of 2019. Overall, six in ten owners believe the economy is in good condition. As a result there is “a war for talent,” he said. Fifty-five per cent of respondents, however, are concerned that the quality of talent is either fair or poor. Next year half of new hires are expected to be millennials, so owners need to understand their values and work traits. It is key for company owners to align values as corporate citizens, and understand that millennials prefer flexibility of work time, but by the same token, a third of them are willing to take less pay than other age groups. The three things to succeed, according to Modica, are to remember the passion to be great; treat all employees as people; and, “get the right talent. It will make a world of difference for you.”


Sarah Rettker –Vice President, Investor Engagement, Georgia Chamber

Lantre Barr – Founder and CEO, Blacc Spot Media, Inc.

Annie Eaton – Ceo, Futurus, LLC

Chris Herron – Co-Founder and CEO, Creature Comforts Brewing Company

The panel discussed and shared important “aha” moments and turning points in their respective companies; their respective funding strategies; and the outlook for future changes in their business and industry. 


Jona Van Deun – Vice-President of Small Business Coalitions and Engagement, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Jona Van Deun, Vice-President of Small Business Coalitions and Engagement for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, delivered the closing remarks and invited the audience to go to Washington, D.C. for the Chamber’s National Summit on October 16-17, 2019. She also encouraged the small business owners to enter the annual “Dream Big” competition for the Small Business of the Year Award. The competition is based upon strategic planning, employee development, customer service, and community involvement. The Dream Big program rewards and recognizes the achievements of small businesses and the contributions that they make to the country’s economy.

About John Tabellione

John Tabellione is an award-winning, professional business writer, complemented by over twenty-five years of strategic communication responsibilities as a Marketing, New Business Development and National Account Sales Executive in consumer goods and commercial industries. 

Experience with Fortune 500 companies, as well as with smaller firms and non-profits, encompassing a variety of products, including those of Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark and Stanley Works. 

John has a B.A. in English from Fairfield University and an MBA in Marketing from the University of Hartford. In addition, he has studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute at Syracuse University, and Italian language and culture at Kennesaw State University.