By Ed Pershing, CEO of PYA

Innov865 Week is a week-long series of events, taking place September 19-23, 2016, to celebrate and showcase Knoxville as a great place for entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses. We have partnered with the Innov865 Alliance to bring you stories of innovation born in East Tennessee. Today, Ed Pershing, co-founder and CEO of PYA, talks about his journey as an entrepreneur.

Nearly 33 years ago, two young accountants decided they could take on the world from Knoxville, Tennessee, so they left secure positions with a “Big 8” accounting firm in December 1983 and founded a local company, then known as Pershing & Yoakley, CPAs.

Today, that startup, which had three employees, has grown to be consistently ranked as one of the 20 largest healthcare consulting firms in the country and a top 100 public accounting practice. It serves clients in all 50 states and has developed a national brand, as PYA. Along the way, it has spawned a number of startups—most of them successful—with six operating today under the PYA Enterprise brand.

At the time we started PYA, Doug Yoakley, my cofounder, and I did not consider ourselves entrepreneurs. In fact, I’m not sure the word was widely used in the 1980s to describe the journey we were pursuing. Our goal was to be able to guide our own destiny rather than be part of a large, bureaucratic enterprise.

Now, as I look back over the 33-year journey, it is clear that it is a good example of entrepreneurship. We have been successful with numerous initiatives, many of which exist today as integral components of PYA, but some were not what we visualized when we launched them. Yet, like entrepreneurs are taught today, we learned from mistakes, but never stepped back from pursuing opportunities to make a difference for our clients and in our communities.

As we have founded new companies, we have frequently challenged bigger players in the marketplace. We have done so by finding exceptionally talented individuals and building the business around them. That is evident in PYA Analytics, a company we launched a little over three years ago that drew heavily on talent from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy’s largest science and energy lab.

Throughout this 33-year journey, PYA has not lost sight of the important base that we have in Knoxville even as we have established offices in many other cities. We were fortunate to have gained the confidence and support of some key Knoxville business leaders in those early years who put their faith behind us by engaging PYA to serve their businesses and the region’s hospitals. They recognized the exceptional talent and capabilities we offered and helped us establish the foundation that we enjoy today.

The word HELP is a concept that drives our firm today. We have not lost sight of the support and assistance we received as young entrepreneurs, and it is that spirit we embrace as we serve the Southern cities where we have a major presence–Atlanta, Nashville and Knoxville. From our newsletter to our involvement with entrepreneurial efforts like “Innov865 Week,” and Jumpstart Foundry, we want to help aspiring entrepreneurs succeed, just as those established business leaders helped us grow and succeed in the 1980s and 1990s.

Giving back is something that everyone should embrace.

The Innov865 Alliance has partnered with Startup Southerner, who will bring you stories of innovation born in East Tennessee prior to #Innov865 Week, September 19-23.  This inclusive media platform explores the dynamics of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the South. From community-contributed posts to in-depth articles, it strives to make information about participating in the new economy accessible to everyone.