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Nashville Business Journal | July 20, 2017

Ambition. Innovation. Fast growth. Strong teams. These are some of the things the Nashville Business Journal’s 2017 Small Business Awards winners have in common.

We revealed this year’s winners at the Small Business Summit on July 18 at City Winery, spotlighting some of the most successful small companies (those with fewer than 100 employees) in Middle Tennessee.

The winning companies come from a variety of industries, from communications to real estate to technology. To determine our 2017 winners, the NBJ solicited nominations from the public. Nominees then submitted a variety of information, including revenue, business plans and challenges they’ve overcome. An independent panel of judges scored the nominees on these criteria, and the 10 companies that rose to the top are presented here. Thanks to our judges for their effort in selecting the winners: Jeff Dobyns, of Southwestern Investment Group; Dan Moore, of Radiation Business Solutions; and Stephen Rose, of The Peach Truck.

We’re also excited to recognize our overall Small Business of the Year, which this year goes to Silicon Ranch Corp.

2017 Small Business of the Year: Silicon Ranch Corp.

Silicon Ranch develops, designs, funds, constructs, owns, operates and maintains utility-scale solar plants across the U.S. The company is among the largest independent solar power producers in the nation.

What is the biggest opportunity in Nashville for a small business? The Nashville area is an attractive home for small-business owners. The region boasts a diverse economy and equally diverse populace, with a creative culture and a well-educated workforce. …The greatest opportunity, however, is the access that Nashville’s small-business owners have to an impressive community of successful and visionary entrepreneurs who have proven themselves willing, time and again, to invest their financial and intellectual capital to support the next generation of entrepreneurs. Silicon Ranch has benefitted from this “pay-it-forward” mentality and has been fortunate to garner the support from this Nashville-based entrepreneurial community, including founders of publicly traded companies, as well as C-level officers and board members of publicly traded and privately held companies.

What Nashville business do you most strive to emulate, and why? Silicon Ranch founders Matt Kisber and Reagan Farr first developed an interest in renewable energy during their time in state government, where Kisber was commissioner of Economic and Community Development and Farr was commissioner of Revenue in the administration of Gov. Phil Bredesen. … Having witnessed the enormous impact that [HCA Healthcare Inc.] continues to have on Nashville as the catalyst for the city’s vibrant health care industry, Kisber and Farr believed they could have a similar impact on the renewable energy sector. … Like HCA before it, Silicon Ranch’s success has anchored a strong industry ecosystem and attracted companies such as Array Technologies and NexTracker to establish operations in Middle Tennessee. Today there are more than 40 Tennessee businesses operating across the solar industry’s value chain, and Silicon Ranch employees play leadership roles in the industry’s trade association.

What is the biggest priority for small businesses under the new federal administration? According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses make up 99 percent of U.S. employers and nearly two-thirds of new private-sector jobs. While the administration and the media tend to focus on the impact of companies such as General Electric or Ford Motor Co. on the U.S. economy, it’s the small-business community that truly drives it, and therefore, small businesses must ensure that their perspectives and needs are well represented when it comes to federal policies such as taxes and regulation. As it relates to Silicon Ranch’s utility-scale solar energy business, the company pays close attention to federal policy, but it also remains confident in the sustainability of its industry. The free market remains the best judge of winners and losers, and good businesses tend to find their path, even if that path is a little different than what was written in the original business plan. The fact remains that utilities, governmental agencies, commercial and industrial businesses and residential consumers are still motivated to purchase cost-effective, reliable power.

What question do you ask all interviewees, and why?“What unique attributes would you bring to our culture at Silicon Ranch?” Carefully and deliberately, Silicon Ranch has added more than 25 employees for specific roles across the organization, recruiting talented people from a variety of industries who have relocated to Nashville from … around the world. Among these strategic hires: the co-head of a Canadian infrastructure fund with more than $30 billion under management, the vice president of operations for a German [engineering, procurement and construction] firm, the global brand director for a London-based marketing agency and a retired colonel in the United States Air Force. This diverse blend of background and perspective facilitates creative problem-solving and innovative approaches to project development and design.

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