Dr. Jeff Cornwall is the inaugural Jack C. Massey Chair in Entrepreneurship at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Dr. Cornwall's current research and teaching interests include entrepreneurial finance and entrepreneurial ethics.

Dr. Jeff Cornwall is the inaugural Jack C. Massey Chair in Entrepreneurship at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Dr. Cornwall's current research and teaching interests include entrepreneurial finance and entrepreneurial ethics.



Image by symphonyoflove from Pixabay

What I am hearing in the texts, emails, and calls I am getting from entrepreneurs is resolve.  They are determined to get through all of this, by doing whatever it takes.  These entrepreneurs have the resolve to learn from what we are going through. They are committed to becoming even stronger on the other side of this chaos.

Countless Stories of Resolve

One of my alums, who is a tech consultant, texted me yesterday. He told me that, in one single day, they lost all of their anchor clients.  His next comment?  He said that it is an important lesson in managing risk that he wants to share with others going forward. Resolve.

I have several alumni entrepreneurs (and several friends) who own businesses tied to the music industry.  One of them emailed me to let me know that all of her planned activities tied to live concerts were indefinitely suspended. She went on to tell me that she is pivoting her business model.  She is building her platform to help keep artists and fans connected during this time of cancelled concerts. Resolve.

Another alum told me they were temporarily closing down their operations, which are in multiple cities across the country.  His next sentence was an offer to help Mrs. C. and I if we need anything. Resolve.

Countless restaurateurs who I know are scrambling to sell gift cards, build up their take out business, or deliver prepared meals as a new service for their customers until they can open again. Customers are doing what they can to support these small business owners. Resolve.

An alum whose business is tied to live speaking events (all cancelled for next several weeks) encourages all of us to take what comes next “one day and one step at a time.”  Resolve.

We’ve Seen This Before

In looking through past posts at this blog, it surprised me to see how many have been about recessions.  I guess that happens when you’ve been blogging for 16 years.  In the early days of this blog, back in the early 2000s, I found several posts that lauded the entrepreneurs’ critical role in the expansion that had followed the 2001 recession. This recession came on the heels of the dot.com bubble bursting and 9/11.

Entrepreneurs led the recovery after the 2008 real estate collapse.  A post that stood out was one based on a talk I heard from venture capitalist Tim Draper, who founded the firm now known as Threshold.   I wrote in that 2009 post:

The genesis of the tech boom of the past decades began during the recession of the early 1980s.  Microsoft was born during the recession of 1974.  Semi-conductors first came to market in the recession of 1957.  Even during the Great Depression we saw the founding of Hewlett Packard, Texas Instruments and United Technologies.  He assured us that “innovation is relentless.”

Draper predicted we would see “pilotless electric cars,  e-education for the masses, all computing from the clouds, genetic disease prediction.” These and many other innovations Draper foresaw have all come to be over the past decade.

We know that it is the creative destruction and innovation from entrepreneurs that creates real economic growth.  Schumpeter helped us rethink the role of entrepreneurs in our economy almost eighty years ago. He helped bring entrepreneurs out of the shadows of economic theory.

My Own Journey

In reflecting about all that we are going through, I have been remembering the challenges in my own journey.  I prepared a couple of slides to share with my students.  They will get this presentation this weekend online, since that is how we will be meeting for the rest of the semester (which would have been almost impossible a decade ago).

The first slide highlights the five major economic downturns that I have experienced in my work life prior to the one we are about to experience.  The downturns are shaded in grey, and the events surrounding each are in red.

And yet, life goes on.

This slide shows how Mrs. C. and I continued to move ahead with our lives during all of these ups and downs.

After the back-to-back recessions in the 1970s we went to college.  We saw a better life ahead of us if we pursued a college education. During and after the severe double dip recession in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we got married, I went to grad school, we started having a family, and we bought our first house (with a double-digit interest rate mortgage).  The 1991 downturn came at the same time we were raising money to expand our healthcare business.  After the 2001 market crash and 9/11 we sent our kids to college.  The events in our lives around the 2008 recession involved the next generation in our family — marriage, grandchildren, homeownership, and business startups.

The resolve we are seeing among entrepreneurs will pay off for our economic future.  It will take time and hard work, but these entrepreneurs are the ones who will lead us into our next economic expansion….and we will have one!

Small Businesses Seek Cash Flow

Image by Nattanan Kanchanaprat from Pixabay

As the new realities of our coronavirus economy sink in, entrepreneurs struggle as their small businesses seek cash flow.

Kabbage Inc., which helps small businesses with working capital funding, earlier this week launched www.helpsmallbusiness.com. The model is simple, yet potentially powerful, enabling anyone to purchase an online gift certificate from participating small businesses.

Cash Now

The initiative is a way to provide a quick solution for small businesses that seek cash flow. Customers are able to redeem certificates in full after they’re issued or in the future when the crisis has subsided. Kabbage deposits all revenue generated from gift certificate sales via Kabbage Payments as soon as the next business day to participating small businesses.

Participation is Easy

In minutes, any U.S. small business can sign up for free on www.helpsmallbusiness.com to immediately seek financial support through gift certificate purchases from individuals throughout the U.S. Kabbage will also provide businesses a unique URL to easily share their personalized page with customers via text, email, web, social media or print. Consumers can purchase multiple certificates for any amount between $15 and $500. Once customers purchase certificates, Kabbage immediately notifies the small businesses, which can use free technology offered by Kabbage to scan, verify, track and fulfill gift certificates when redeemed.

Together We Stand

“The impact of COVD-19 on small businesses requires the support of a nation,” said Kabbage co-founder and CEO Rob Frohwein. “If there is a local small business that you love, they need your patronage now more than ever. Many businesses are closing and others are seeing reduced demand. The site is a means for the millions of small businesses that employ more than half of all employees in America to continue making sales and to feel your commitment to their long-term success.”

“We encourage everyone to think beyond consumer goods and consider all service providers such as local handymen, lawn care providers, dry cleaners and laundromats; they all need our support,” said Kabbage co-founder and President Kathryn Petralia. “Many weddings, birthdays and vacations are being postponed due to social distancing. Think about the small businesses you would have approached for those activities and purchase certificates to plan for future dates.”

What’s in it for Kabbage?

Kabbage will not profit from its efforts to support small businesses. Kabbage is actively working with organizations in the payments ecosystem to eliminate or significantly reduce any associated transaction fees. Kabbage’s goal is to provide small businesses with a unique solution to generate revenue during this extraordinary time.

Help for Growing Small Businesses

Owners of growing small businesses are facing unprecedented challenges due to the coronavirus.

Amplify, founded by Belmont University alum Ben Cooper, connects growing small businesses with a team of outsourced COOs.  In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, Amplify is offering two programs to help small business owners.


  1. Amplify is partnering with the Austin Shopify Meetup group to host a video conversation next Thursday night (3/26/2020): On Coronavirus: How to Calmly Navigate Through the Storm
  2. Amplify is blocking out 30 minute time slots to help e-com business owners think through and get a fundamental strategy in place for the coming weeks and months (link here)

Ben is a bright guy and someone you can trust.  I highly recommend anything he has to offer.

Making it to the Other Side

(Photo source: Image by Ralf Unstet from Pixabay)

When our world was turned upside down by the coronavirus, my mind quickly began racing through my mental rolodex, wondering how everyone is doing.  Certainly my immediate concerns were for family and friends, especially those with health concerns.  Soon my web of worries shifted to all of the entrepreneurs I know — students, alumni, and friends.  I began a steady campaign of reaching out.  First to friends and family.  Next to my alumni entrepreneurs.

What I heard from my alumni entrepreneurs was particularly heartwarming and encouraging.

Entrepreneur’s Response

First, those with employees expressed how important it is to find ways to help their staff.  We are seeing story after story of business owners doing what they can to lessen the blow to their employees. Locally, we are seeing country stars do what they can to help the employees of their bars and restaurants on Lower Broadway in downtown Nashville.  Dierks Bentley and Florida Georgia Line both committed to give each of their employees $1,000 to help them make it through the time while his Nashville bar.  Between the two establishments, this is over 200 employees.  John Rich has committed to keep paying his bar workers during the shutdown.  I am hearing the same commitment from several of my alumni entrepreneurs.

Second, I heard a consistent message of doing what it takes to “make it to the other side” of this crisis.  Reports from places like South Korea, which is several weeks ahead of the US in its outbreak, talk about a slow return to business.  This is encouraging, and supports those who predict we might see the beginning of a turnaround by early to mid summer.  The entrepreneurs I talk to are shoring up cash flow and making cash budgets that can see them through to June or July, even with little or no revenues.  These are often tough and austere plans, but they are doing what they must to keep their businesses alive.

Finally, I am hearing the indomitable entrepreneurial spirit in their responses.  They are worried, and even scared, but they are also showing hope and resiliency.  They inspired me.  Facing much more dire circumstances than I am right now, their optimism and courage reminds me that it will be our entrepreneurs who lead us out of this.  It may seem like a long, dark tunnel, but there is a light at the other side where things will improve.

The Other Side

I do want to offer a note of caution, however.  When we do get to the other side, and we will, it will look very different than the side we left.  Entrepreneurs will be tested to adapt to a new reality.  A shock to our economy, to our society, and to our culture as we are now experiencing right now will fundamentally change many aspects of our lives.  Entrepreneurs will need to be ready not only to survive during this short-term period, but to adapt over the long-term, probably like never before.  The other side will present a myriad of both amazing opportunities and significant threats.

Be ready to be more entrepreneurial than you ever have been before, and you will be alright when we get to the other side of this crisis.

And so it goes…

(Image source: Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay)

I am writing this from my back porch.  It looks like I will be spending a lot of time out here over the coming weeks.

The coronavirus is rampaging across our country, our state, and my community.  Mrs. C. and I are safe and healthy.  We have decided to hunker down and “self isolate.”  You might call it a preview of retirement!!

I had planned at the beginning of the year to get back into blogging over my spring break.  It was not a New Year’s resolution, per se, but more of something I have missed.  I am also starting up my digital work with Kane Harrison again.  More on that soon…

Little did I know that spring break would usher in something like this!

Many of us are having to adjust.  My adjustments are minor compared to many of the entrepreneurs I know.  For me it is adapting on the fly to online classes (thankfully I am a co-founder of a digital learning company!), advising via email, and mentoring alum entrepreneurs via text, phone, and email.  For many of the entrepreneurs I call friends it is finding a way to survive during the most uncertain times any of us have ever seen.

Some entrepreneurs I know have lost funding.  Many have had to close their business indefinitely to support “social distancing.” All are scrambling to manage cash flow and extend their runways just long enough to make it to the other side….whenever that happens.

On our afternoon walk, I was telling Mrs. C. about some of the stories I am hearing.  She said, “You need to start blogging again.”

So here we go. I hope this journalling around entrepreneurship, a pandemic, and an economic meltdown will be helpful.

So, You Want to be a Professor

President Calvin Coolidge once said, “Teaching is one of the noblest of professions.”  It’s also a great gig!

I have had many conversations over the years with people who feel drawn to becoming a professor.  I used to have a pretty standard spiel.  After all, higher education in the Western world remained relatively unchanged for more than a century.

However, since higher education entered its period of market disruption over the past decade, my conversation with aspiring academics has changed considerably.

Continue reading So, You Want to be a Professor

Why is Tuition the Same for Online Courses?

There will always be many families that want their children to have the campus experience. For them, the total costs beyond tuition, such as room, board, and transportation, are more than worth the price. When I meet parents after graduation, their words clearly express their satisfaction with sending their child to our university for four years of education. I love working with our students in a traditional college setting, so I am grateful that so many see value in what we offer their children.

For a growing number of other families and for many adult learners, online education offers an alternative that provides a different bundle of features that meet what they want from a university education.

Education is not a homogeneous market.

What is interesting to me is that the tuition charged both on campus and online is about the same for most universities.

Continue reading Why is Tuition the Same for Online Courses?

Who is the Customer in Higher Education?

Just who is the customer? This is a question that comes up in all corners of higher education. Is it the student? Is it their parents? Is it employers? Is it the community and the broader society?

As entrepreneur, this question leaves me more than a bit unsettled! After all, if I don’t know who my customer is, I have no chance of success in the market. How can I deliver what the customer really wants? How do I effectively communicate to the customer what I offer? How do I strategically set prices? How can I deliver the product or service to the customer the way they want it? None of this is possible if I am not really sure who is my customer.

Continue reading Who is the Customer in Higher Education?