Before he was a congressman, David Trone made his mark as an entrepreneur and founder of the nationwide retail chain now known as Total Wine & More, a beer, wine and liquor superstore with more than 200 locations and an online business that has grown exponentially in the face of a global pandemic. But early in his career, before the incredible success of that venture, Trone remembers the pain of watching his father’s farming business go bankrupt and the crash of his own egg supplier business when his chickens were suddenly stricken with the Avian Flu.

Today, as the U.S. Representative for Maryland’s 6th District, Trone is laser-focused on ensuring that small businesses have the kind of financial support and resilience needed to not only survive a crisis like the pandemic, but to come out on the other end stronger – as a collective force that will help to drive economic recovery.

Trone was one of three successful entrepreneurs who headlined the recent USG Industry Roundtable, “Entrepreneurship 4.0: The Key to Unlocking Economic Recovery,” along with Tim Chi, CEO of The Knot Worldwide, and Talia Fox, CEO of KUSI Global, Inc. The virtual event, held on March 10, was moderated by David Blair, Executive Chairman of the Council for Advocacy & Policy Solutions. Blair, through his family foundation, made a major donation last year to the USG Foundation to help launch the new Lab for Entrepreneurship and Transformative Leadership at USG.

In his opening remarks, Blair explained that “start-up businesses account for virtually all net-new job growth.” He noted that this was one of the reasons he was so passionate about the launch of the new entrepreneurship lab, which provides resources and events for both students at USG and local entrepreneurs.

Chi founded WeddingWire and grew it into a major, international brand, before eventually merging with a competitor to form The Knot Worldwide. Previously, he was co-founder of multiple technology startups, such as Blackboard. He described the moment WeddingWire came to be, noting that he “felt strongly that there was a gap in terms of how engaged couples were planning weddings.” Working originally out of his living room, he and three other co-founders wanted to bridge the gap and help couples “plan a wedding that is uniquely their own.”

Now the CEO at KUSI Global, Fox said she has been somewhat of an entrepreneur her entire life, having helped her father in business when she was only eight years old. In discussing what influenced her decision to start her own business, she described the decision as one that was both “self-centered” and “service-centered.” By hiring mothers that could work from home, she was determined to “build a firm to train leaders and to train organizations how to treat people.” 

Trone recounted  the early business experiences of what he called “two failures in a row,” he says that in launching his next business he said he wanted to find a business sector that was not “competitive and backward.” Together with his brother, Robert, they started with a single beer store in Pennsylvania called “Beer World” and the rest is now retail history.

A serial entrepreneur, Chi noted that one’s personal interests can often be the catalyst for businesses, especially given today’s digital era. “As a startup entrepreneur, it’s a gift to be able to overlap business opportunities with what you’re passionate about”, said Chi.

Startups such as KUSI Global, Inc. focus on “[going] into organizations and [transforming] cultures… to help leaders think about what they can do differently to help missions that matter,” said Fox. She noted that to maintain and strengthen relationships during these troubling times, it is important to be inclusive about economic recovery. “As you hire diversity, you expand the perspective… and access to new communities and new customers,” said Fox.

As she thanked the event’s panelists in her closing remarks, USG Executive Director Anne Khademian told the group: “My takeaway, in addition to all of the great advice and business insight… is people first, in how you grow your business, build a successful business and really engage in a meaningful, thoughtful way in the world and make a difference.”

The full event is available for viewing below.