Editor’s note: Charlotte Beat is a regular weekly feature in WRAL Local Tech Wire.
______________________________________________________________________________________Terry Thorson Cox came to Charlotte three years ago to lead what was then the Metrolina Entrepreneurial Council. Since then, the organization has changed its name to the Business Innovation and Growth (BIG) Council, successfully changed its reputation as a techie group to one that serves Charlotte’s high-growth entrepreneurial community, became part of the Charlotte Camber of Commerce in July and then went back on its own as of March 1.

Amidst all these changes, Cox, 47, has remained at BIG’s helm. While her experiences may have made her sadder and wiser, her commitment to entrepreneurs remains steadfast. In April 2003, she told WRAL Local Tech Wire: “I want to make a difference in the entrepreneurial community here. I feel passionate about it.”

And last week, she said: “I’m still doing it because I’m passionate about it. Sometimes you have to take a crooked path to get to the right place. People say you only learn through pain, and I have come to believe that.”

Before coming to Charlotte from California, Cox served in several positions with Dresdner RCM Global Investors and worked for Barclays Global Investors, Frame Technology Corporation and KPMG, plus was small business owner. She is a Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude gradate from the University of Georgia with a BBA in accounting.

Cox and BIG will remain housed in the Chamber until mid-March, and BIG’s advisory council had its first meeting March 8. Last week, she spoke with Local Tech Wire about the split with the Chamber and BIG’s plans for the future.

How will BIG be organized?

There will be two membership tiers — Trailblazers and Pathfinders. Trailblazers will be for second-stage, high-growth companies that are going from being managed by the entrepreneur/founder, to being run by professional management with more structure. They’ve gone beyond just needing capital and will have about $2-$50 million in sales. Membership will be by invitation only through the sponsorship of another Trailblazer. We want a cross section that’s as diverse as possible in terms of types of companies, ethnicity and gender.

We’ll provide them with hard-core, intense education through seminars and nationals speakers who are thought leaders. These speakers will actually roll up their sleeves and spend time with the group and help them. But we’ll also work with their management team, and will let those people tap into the education programs. That really grabs people.

Pathfinders will be start-ups that are pre-revenue or have up to $2 million in revenues. Their number one priority is raising capital. But they will include boot strappers, too — businesses that can raise money through their own capacity, either from the owner’s money or by revenues generated. They must qualify to join and will have to apply. The educational efforts would be technically oriented.

The two groups would interact. They might both hear a speaker over lunch, and then the Trailblazers would have the peer-to-peer exposure with the speaker. Eventually, I hope Trailblazers would become mentors to the Pathfinders. Every entrepreneur needs a dedicated mentor.

What kind of governance will BIG have?

An advisory council — we’re not calling it a board — will be made up of founding Trailblazers. They want to champion BIG for Charlotte and for their own companies. The fact that entrepreneurs are funding it sends a strong message to the community: not only are they focused in growing their companies, but they have an altruistic mission to promote entrepreneurism in Charlotte.

Why did BIG and the Chamber part ways?

We were not culturally aligned. They would have had to give us the liberty and freedom to execute what we needed to do — but they needed us to work within their structure. And if we did that, we couldn’t have delivered on our value proposition. And we are niche focused, while the Chamber offers broad-based programming for all kinds of small businesses.

Charlotte has always had an emphasis on big banks and recruiting big companies, rather than nurturing homegrown companies. They don’t realize the importance of small businesses — they’re not visible, the data isn’t out there about them, so you can’t quantify it. One thing I’d like to do is bring more visibility to Charlotte’s high growth companies. In a sense, if they’re not counted, they’re invisible.

On the beat:

NeuroLife of the Carolinas has hired Harry Nurkin, former CEO of Carolinas HealthCare System, to help the organization develop a long-term strategic plan and become a major player in the development of experimental therapies to treat brain tumors. Jim Palermo, formerly with Bank of America and now executive-in-residence at Johnson & Wales University, founded the nonprofit about six years ago with Charlotte neurosurgeon Tony Asher.
The Comporium Group, a Rock Hill-based telecommunications company, has received the American Psychological Association’s 2006 National Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in the medium for-profit category. The honor was presented for the company’s emphasis on the health and well-being of its employees. Nominees were evaluated for employee involvement, health and safety, employee growth and development and employee recognition.