Gail Wilson, owner of Anchor Shred & Recycle Co. LLC in Columbia, comes from a long line of entrepreneurs: her great-great grandfather, her grandfather and her father were all innovative businessmen.
Despite the fact that entrepreneurship appears to run in her blood, Wilson’s true passion lies in the non-profit sector, where she’s spent her entire professional career.
A couple years ago, Wilson, who is approaching retirement, began thinking about her future and knew she wasn’t quite ready to settle down yet. After a little bit of brainstorming, Wilson found a way to put her passion to work for her: starting her own company.
“Running a non-profit is a lot like running a small business,” she said. “The planning, the day-to-day resource management, and where the end result is directly impacted by the type of leadership or work that is being done.”
The idea of workplace recycling stuck with Wilson: it addresses a need, and it’s something that can make a difference right now.
“It’s not a really high-tech kind of a problem. It’s like, ‘Ok, this is something that we can do something about.’ It spoke to me personally in that way because I saw how passionate people were about it,” she said.
So Wilson got to work and created Anchor Shred & Recycle Co. LLC, a recycling and secure document shredding service for businesses to help make workplace recycling easier and more affordable. The company collects clean, recyclable material and then distributes it to the appropriate mills or facilities for repurposing.
Starting a business for anyone requires risks and sacrifices; Wilson had to research and learn about an entirely new industry as well as change her lifestyle to support her endeavors. Wilson managed all of this while continuing to work full-time as the executive director of City Year, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping kids stay on track for high school graduation.
“It was scary, but it was also like, ‘Wow, what a great time to jump in because there’s so much support,’” she said. “It’s the most perfect time.”
For Wilson, programs like 1 Million Cups- Columbia and the services offered through the city’s small business development office proved invaluable. Opportunities like those, along with the raw energy brewing in the Midlands, inspired her to move forward with her business.
“I saw a certain kind of growth and energy and excitement happening; I saw conditions that were supporting it,” she said. “Everyone was very accepting, because you’re bringing in an idea—no matter how old you are, what your title is, or what you do or don’t do.”
Now, Anchor Shred, while still a fairly lean company, is at a tipping point. The company has grown and now Wilson must decide more concretely where and to whom she wants to focus her company’s services. And as she sees it, it seems like Columbia is at the same place.
“The ground is more fertile and the time is right because people get that we can do something,” she said. “Whether it’s music or art or recycling, as long as we all make a commitment to those good things, then we all have a place. I don’t think it’s about competition, there’s so much need that everything is welcome if it’s well thought out and can contribute,” she said.