Every town has a story, a history shaped by the people and institutions that live there. But who tells that story? Athens has a new nonprofit that has spurred a revival of collaboration through something as simple as storytelling.
Athensmade is a group of local businesses and entrepreneurs that provide mentors, networking, partnerships and a bit of storytelling to promote its members and ultimately grow the business community in Athens.
Athensmade Co-Founder and owner of Fire and Flavor, Davis Knox, said the group’s growing business core works to promote ongoing collaboration and community connections, bridging gaps between local businesses, government, and education.
“Generally it leverages the combined audiences of a lot of the successful companies in this town to either attract talent or to attract more business to Athens-Clark County,” Knox said.
And since its inception, the mission of Athensmade has morphed into a vision for the future to connect the community in a self-sustaining, reputable “culture of innovation.”
“A lot of it has to do with kind of being a visioning force for the future and helping establish an ecosystem and engage the community in participating in that ecosystem,” Knox said. “I always talk about in business you need three things; you need talent, you need partnership and you need mentorship. A lot of those things can be sourced through this type of ecosystem.”
And like Athens and its growing business community, Athensmade too has its own story.
In late 2015 Knox met with a group of some 12 local business owners gathered in search of a way to give back to their community and grow business. Their first mission: to set straight what they described as an “identity crisis.”
The nonprofit began by creating a branding campaign with the help of local incubator Four Athens, who came up with the name Athensmade.
“It was just a logo to put on products that came out of Athens,” Knox said. “It’s a name that a lot of people associate with what you would call the ‘maker movement,’ people that make stuff, tangible goods, or consumer product goods.”
From that brand, Knox said it became clear that the business community wanted more.
Today, Athensmade is 150 members strong and growing and according to Knox, the group enjoys partnerships with local government and post and secondary education institutions.
A few success stories include local businesses Creature Comforts and Sons of Sawdust, among others, that contine to prove the power of collaboration.
Knox calls the group “a visioning force for the future,” adding that the goal is to “establish an ecosystem,” in Athens, a culture of collaboration.
Unlike traditional chambers of commerce, the mission of Athensmade is focused on the entrepreneur or the business owner and is considered a community development nonprofit. In fact, the local chamber of commerce is actually one of the group’s founding members and continues to work in partnership with them today.
For the past two years, Knox and the group have collaborated to tell the stories of their business community. It’s a one-stop-shop for anyone to learn about the Athens community. A visit to Athensmade.com will connect visitors and residents with the lives of the people behind the businesses.
“There is a lot of confusion in the community about who does what, so just driving home what the role is of each of these organizations and how to get involved is kind of the first step before not just for our organization, but for the chamber and other organizations that play a role in the ecosystem,” Knox said.
Athensmade has a number of collaborative projects in the piloting phase today, designed to bridge the business community to education in the area.
In the meantime, Athensmade is continuing to promote its local businesses, nurturing budding entrepreneurs and engaging the community using a model that fits the uniqueness of Athens.
“The thing that is unique about us is that we are independent minded. So kind of doing it our own way is built into the fabric of Athens already,” Knox said. “I think the model is different for every community, it’s got to be built on whatever your centers of strength are. I do think advocacy and community engagement is kind of a starting point to getting folks to participate both with their time and with their dollars.”
And for those whose stories are not written yet, Knox encourages others to reach out to Athensmade for “a place to plug in.”