EC Hall of Fame: The Class of 2015

The Nashville Entrepreneur Center has quickly established itself as a place for visionary executives and companies -- and for its hall of fame recognizing local entrepreneurs. (Our past profiles of its honorees are available here.) This year's group comprises two folks with vastly different businesses: the Rev. Becca Stevens is founder of Thistle Farms-Magdalene, a combination community and social enterprise for women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. Jon Yarbrough is founder of Video Gaming Technologies and managing director of Yarbrough Capital.

The Post commends Stevens and Yarbrough for their work, the legacies they have created and the impact they have made on their community.

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Becca Stevens is proof entrepreneurship isn't always about numbers on a ledger. Sometimes the great idea -- the "lightbulb-on, a-ha moment" -- can be about improving lives.

"Love heals," Stevens enjoys saying. And that simple, powerful message is the cornerstone of a remarkable piece of social enterprise. In 1997, the Episcopal priest started Magdalene, a community for women who are survivors of prostitution, addiction and trafficking. Four years later, out of Magdalene, she founded Thistle Farms.

Employing graduates of the Magdalene program, Thistle Farms produces a natural line of bath and body products now available in more than 400 stores nationwide. The women learn jobs skills -- from manufacturing and packaging to marketing and administration -- and can set aside a percentage of what they earn into a matching savings account from Magdalene.

Relatedly, Stevens more recently launched Thistle Stop Cafe, a tea and coffee shop and lunch spot located on Charlotte Avenue. There is also The Studios, a sewing and paper workshop. And in 2012, Stevens took the social enterprise global with Shared Trade, connecting the work and goals of Thistle Farms to women worldwide.

 Jon Yarbrough - Yarbrough Capital

The garage tinkerer hitting on a billion-dollar idea is a common trope, spurring us to wonder if it actually happens or is simply a nice story for corporate retreats and Hollywood. Sometimes, though, the story rings true. As with Jon Yarbrough, who developed his first video casino game -- yes, in a garage.

Yarbrough was always somewhat entrepreneurial. Inspired by his father, a pilot and businessman, he sold for Southwestern the old-fashioned way -- door-to-door -- while a student at Tennessee Tech.

During this time, Yarbrough loaned a Cookeville bar his foosball table, splitting the revenue 50-50. After graduation, he created an amusements company offering foosball tables and pinball machines. In 1991, Yarbrough started Video Game Technologies, which eventually grew to become the nation's largest privately owned gaming machine manufacturer and was the country's fastest-growing private company in 2004.

In 2014, Yarbrough sold VGT -- he was the lone stockholder and the company had no debt -- for $1.3 billion in an all-cash deal. Today, he runs venture capital firm Yarbrough Capital, which could take the next great idea from garage into the big time.

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