August 2017

Q&A with Mentor of the Month: Anne Turner

Anne is an attorney with Baker Donelson in Jackson whose expertise lies in technology, intellectual property and asset protections

Q: What advice do you most frequently offer to budding entrepreneurs?

A: (1) If your business is built around intellectual property, be sure the business owns the intellectual property. Many times, one of the founders will bring intellectual property to the business that they created, but the founder never formally transfers ownership of that intellectual property to the business. This can create a real problem if that founder ever leaves the business, especially if the founder is pushed out or leaves on bad terms.

(2) If you are going to the trouble of operating as an entity with limited liability, respect the entity so that it protects you if something goes wrong. By “respecting the entity,” I mean adopting bylaws if you are a corporation, adopting an operating agreement if you are a limited liability company, acting through company meetings and keeping a written record of actions taken at those meetings (or acting by written consent without a meeting), and keeping all actions in a company minute book. Most importantly, the company should have a separate bank account, and company funds should be kept completely separate from personal funds. By doing these things, if something goes wrong, it is less likely that someone will be able to break through the limited liability protection offered by the entity (called “piercing the corporation veil”) to get at the personal assets of the owners. This is especially important for entities with only one or a few owners, such a single member limited liability companies and early-stage companies consisting of two, or maybe three, founders.

Q: What makes a business successful?

A: The team behind a business is one of the most important elements of whether the business will be successful. The early team or founders must be able to work together, certainly, but they also must be committed, tenacious, smart, adaptable and resilient. In addition to building a product or service, a business will also build a culture as it grows beyond its early team, and the culture of the business will be reflected in all the ways it does business, from how it treats its employees to how it treats its customers. Even if they do not pay attention to it, the founders will build the company’s culture from its earliest days, or at least from the time the company hires its first employees. For this reason, it pays to give the development of company values and culture some thought and to shape it deliberately, instead of letting a haphazard culture grow that may turn out to be detrimental.

To be successful, a business needs a product or service that addresses a market need or that solves a problem that people are willing to pay to solve. There are a lot of interesting new products that I see entrepreneurs work on for which there is simply little or no demand, and it’s difficult for even the best team to overcome an absence of demand in the long run.

Lastly, businesses that achieve success are not afraid to seek out advice and guidance. Mentors and advisors can be especially valuable. Good mentors can offer timely advice new businesses didn’t know they needed and help put those same businesses in touch with people who may open just the doors they need to open.

Q: What is something you’ve done that no one else you know, family or friend, has done?

A: I am one of the only people I know who has taken a train from Nogales (south of Tucson, Arizona) down through central Mexico. While everything felt normal and customary during daytime travel, things got unnerving in the middle of the night when the train stopped, all power went out, and we just sat in the dark in the middle of nowhere, sweltering in the hot cars. The federal police made a pass up and down the train, but no explanation was given for the delay. Rumors swirled that someone had been thrown off the train and killed. After about three hours, the train started moving again. I arrived at my destination the following afternoon after an otherwise unremarkable day of travel. The fear in the train was palpable that night, but I was never able to figure out why. I was fortunate to make the return trip without incident.

To connect with Anne Turner or find another volunteer mentor for your entrepreneurial venture, visit Innovate Mississippi’s Mentor Network page at: