Member Spotlight: Andre Gist

Andre Gist is owner of BG Innovations Safety Systems and MIG Steel Fabrication. He also won our Best in the West competition in 2015 for The Lighting Bug. Learn more about his businesses and how theCO has been a resource to him in the interview below.

What do you do?
Now I have BG Innovations Safety Systems, and I still have MIG Steel Fabrication, which has offices in Nashville and Memphis, and the shop is in Lexington. Then I have another little start up: Lewis Mechanical.

How has theCO been a resource to you and your business?
The easiest answer would be the connection to West Tennessee because there is a greater need for companies here as opposed to Middle Tennessee. In Chattanooga there were no incentives. When we started here, the mayor, banks, TVA, and ECE—everybody met with us. We had a whole room full of people asking, “What can we do?”

What is one thing about you that you’d like others to know?
theCO has helped with just the networking here. We needed a video, and [CO:member] Kevin [Adelsberger] was able to do that in a couple of days. He came out here in the middle of the night because it had to be shot at night so the lights would come one to describe our product. And [theCO’s] technical help. Our very first website [CO:founder] William [Donnell] did it for us. Just the resources here in marketing—things I really didn’t have a background in because, in the automotive industry, you don’t really have to get our side to go looking for business. When you have a product that you have to sell the public, you have to learn a lot of different things.

What advice would you give other entrepreneurs or anyone who’d like to start selling their inventions?
Well, I would assume it was something they enjoy doing. It really comes  down to the basics: do you have a business plan? Are you willing to sacrifice all your time and maybe all your money? . . . You’re going to have to know how to get a line of credit and borrow money. So you have to be willing to be open and lay it out there. The bank’s going to need to know all your business. You have to be willing to struggle for a long time because most businesses take a while to get started and get off the ground and actually build a customer base—unless you’re going into franchising or something, if you’ve got a brand like McDonald’s. Everybody knows McDonald’s. But if I opened “Andre’s Joint”—well, who is that? So I have to get out and market. . . . You have got to wear a lot of hats. You’ve got to understand the accounting parts, logistics, marketing, and packaging—unless you can afford people to do that for you. But if you’re going to own it, you really need to get a pretty decent understanding of it. You don’t have to be an expert in everything to be able to have access to those things.

Anything else you’d like to say about theCO?
I would recommend a place like theCO to any new startup. [My business partner] Marcus Boykin and I tried to work out of Panera Bread for a year and a half. [laughs] . . . You have all those interruptions. But here you’ve got everything you need. If you want to print, you can print. You’ve got a conference room. If you want to have other people come, you’re not trying to pull people together. I can’t work at home; there are too many distractions. You have a little bit of everyone here who can help you. You get feedback, and it’s inexpensive.