Inspiration and Business Lessons from a Local Entrepreneur – Taylor Fish Farm

Taylor Fish FarmIn my last blog two weeks ago (link), I wrote about the luncheon speaker at the Marketplace 2015 event, John Palmour who started technology company Cree and grew it to a $1.6B global business. And just as John was an inspirational speaker, I also found inspiration from a local entrepreneur and business owner who I met for the first time and who was seated next to me lunch: Valee Taylor, cofounder and co-owner of Taylor Fish Farm (link) in rural, charming Cedar Grove, North Carolina. I was intrigued, and scheduled an appointment to visit Valee and his fish business.

Entrepreneur and Taylor Fish Farm co-founder Valee Taylor standing in front of one of his large tilapia pools

Entrepreneur and Taylor Fish Farm co-founder Valee Taylor standing in front of one of his large tilapia pools

Here is a little of Valee’s story: He grew up in a rural farming family in North Carolina and was one of the first African-Americans to attend and graduate from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, despite groups like the Ku Klux Klan who were working hard to prevent Black North Carolinians from advancing. After working for several decades and retiring, Valee and his sister had a vision for starting an agribusiness near their rural farm. Valee worked for several months as an unpaid intern with the NC State University Cooperative Extension Service to learn about fish farming, and then with their assistance established Taylor Fish Farm in 2009. Valee prides himself on running an outstanding model business, providing us with the best tasting and healthy tilapia in the world. (see their sign in the first photos above.)

Taylor Fish Farm continues to operate successfully as a family-owned business and is certified by the National Minority Supplier Development Council. And Valee believes in giving back to his community by funding the nearby Anathoth Community Garden which now feeds 132 needy families. (see photos below)
Anathoth Community Garden
Here are some key business lessons we can all learn from this inspirational entrepreneur:
• In starting a new business, we do not need to do it alone. Valee aligned himself with top experts in the agribusiness field to learn the fundamentals of the business.
• As a smaller local business, Valee knew he had to differentiate himself from the mega-companies from China supplying fish to the US. He did this by developing a product using leading scientific methods that has a superior taste and that is contains only a minuscule fraction of contaminants as prescribed by US Whole Food Quality Standards. And being state-side, he can get truly fresh fish to the market quickly instead of sending it half way around the world.
• Valee reinvests his funds back into his business as well as supporting community work instead of surrounding himself with unnecessary trapping. We met in an un-airconditioned small cement block office with simple furniture. No fancy company car and ornate corporate furniture for Valee!

So, readers of this blog, when you shop for tilapia, ask your grocer if they buy Taylor Fish Farm tilapia, and seek the best taste and highest quality from this American-based supplier!

From Small Technology Entrepreneur to Large Successful Corporation: John Palmour of Cree

John Palmour, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Cree, Inc.

John Palmour, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Cree, Inc.

On May 27th of this year, I attended “Marketplace 2015,” a biennial regional “reverse” trade show event which provides small business like Total Engagement Consulting the opportunity to meet contracting officers from over 50 federal, state and local government agencies and some of their large prime contractors. The event also includes useful workshops on how to pursue government contracts as well as inspirational talks from role model businesses.

One such inspirational address was from the luncheon keynote speaker, John Palmour, Co-founder and now Chief Technology Officer of Cree, Inc. Cree started as a technology spinoff from a project at North Carolina State University in 1987 to grow into a $1.6B global business. Cree is a market-leading innovator of lighting products, LED components, and semiconductor products for power and radio-frequency applications.

Mr. Palmour, a home-grown product of North Carolina, was a down-to-earth compelling speaker with a story which can inspire any entrepreneur. Two key points he made about Cree’s and his own business success included:

• Not buying into that old saying “it cannot be done.” John actually put it as “I was too young and stupid to not believe that it cannot be done,” but honestly, I think that really demonstrates the power of sometimes defying conventional wisdom and going with your own instincts. While most other technology companies were migrating to Silicon Valley in California, John believed he could find the required talent and funds in North Carolina to grow his business. And he did!

• Cree was successful under John’s leadership to break into the federal contracting business and winning key contracts with the US Military, which helped provide needed business and capital to grow Cree’s business. But then Cree moved beyond the government contacts to diversity and find additional sources of revenue such as the residential product market.

Then John continued into discussing key challenges facing technology businesses in the USA and North Carolina today. These included:

• The ever increasing global competition, especially from Asia. Businesses in the US must stay on the forefront of technology and not get complacent and satisfied with the current status quo.

• Assuring that the quality of education in our state and the country advances. We need to continue to build strong technical expertise with a focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and the business aspects of building savvy entrepreneurs.

And then John closed with the key message that much of Cree’s success was that they combined building products and offerings using innovative technology with highly-motivated great employees.

NEXT BLOG: In two weeks, I will follow up with a profile of a successful small diverse-owned local business I met at the Marketplace Event.