Though Amelia Watts may never have imagined herself in the field of commercial banking, the Franklin, TN, native certainly deserves recognition for her efforts. Diving head-first into the consumer banking world during the pandemic, she helped manage Studio Bank’s PPP loan program.
These days, as Studio Bank’s Relationship Manager, she spends her time empowering local creators and helping entrepreneurs launch their business concepts. Please welcome this week’s FACE of Nashville — the free-spirited and dynamic Amelia Watts!
Please welcome this week’s FACE of Nashville, Amelia Watts. She helps local entrepreneurs and creatives reach their goals, including an emphasis on bridging the gap for funding Black-owned businesses.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I started my career in financial services 11 years ago. I was a mortgage loan officer for a firm headquartered in Melville, NY. I worked in their local office in Franklin, TN, and spent most of my time there listening to painful stories from homeowners subjected to predatory lending practices. Determined to right the wrongs of lenders they’d worked with before, I went on a mission to educate homeowners about their options and put the power back in their hands.
I taught homeowners how to leverage their assets to accomplish their goals. This led to a successful career in the mortgage industry. I never expected to be a commercial banker, but I’m curious by nature and had been interested in the commercial side of lending for some time, so it was only a matter of time before I found my way there.
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What led you to your current role as Relationship Manager with Studio Bank?
Every decision I’ve made in my life led me to my current role at Studio Bank! It was all divine timing and purpose. My close friends and family would describe me as the inquisitive, brave, and adventurous one, so you could say I thrive on taking leaps of faith. But I also believe my life is directed by a higher power.
By what I can only describe as divine intervention, I was introduced to April Britt [Studio Bank’s co-founder and CEO] through a mutual contact. April shared the Studio Bank story and mission with me, and I felt drawn to their vision from that first meeting. A few other signs revealed themselves, and I ultimately accepted the role of Relationship Manager on their consumer banking team.
Shortly after joining the team in 2019, the pandemic changed everything as we were all thrust into economic uncertainty. I was asked to join a team April was leading to help manage the PPP loan program. PPP was new to everyone, but we quickly adapted, and that small team successfully funded over 14 million dollars to small businesses and preserved over 3,800 jobs.
In 2021, after working with commercial clients actively through the PPP loan program and other lending efforts, I accepted my current role as Relationship Manager on the commercial banking team.
Though she may never have expected a career in commercial banking, Amelia attributes her career with Studio Bank to divine timing and purpose.
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Tell us about you work with local entrepreneurs.
Every day is different, which gives me that bit of the adventure my free spirit craves. All entrepreneurs inspire me. The strength it takes to overcome fear, isolation, setbacks, and failures should inspire us all! I love listening to entrepreneurs share their stories. I want to hear about the journey of starting a business out of your kitchen while you were quarantined with nothing more than your own creativity. Or how a life event or idea was the catalyst for creating a brand. Nashville is laden with creatives; my role is to help them access the products, people, and services needed to reach their goals.
You help a lot of Black business owners get their start or expand. Can you talk to us about the funding options out there? What local mom-and-pop businesses should we keep an eye out for?
Statistically, Black women are the fastest-growing demographic of entrepreneurs in the U.S. in recent years. The number of Black women applying for new business licenses is increasing exponentially. Adversely, fewer and fewer of these business owners are applying for funding through a bank due, in part, to the historical lack of information, access to funding, and systemic racism.
Most of us know there are discrepancies, but knowing something and doing something will be the difference in bridging the funding gap in the Black community. Studio Bank is doing something about it, and as a Black woman, it feels only natural to hold the door open as I walk through it.
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One of the ways Studio Bank is working to bridge the gap is by providing funding opportunities to Black-owned businesses in partnership with The Bridge Resource Partnership Fund and Cummins Nashville Small Business Loan Program. These organizations saw a need and reached out to Studio Bank to help execute their vision.
This isn’t a grant or forgivable loan like PPP; applicants must meet program and underwriting guidelines and agree to repayment terms. It’s an opportunity for Black business owners to access the funding they’re often denied due to systemic socio-economic factors, which can derail upward mobility. If you’re a Black business owner in Nashville, and your business has achieved success, but you’re at a point where there’s a need to access capital to grow or expand your business, this could be a great opportunity for you.
This should go without saying, but Studio Bank is an equal opportunity lender, and in addition to this program, we offer options to everyone within our footprint. Our mission has always been investing back into the community we serve.
“Most of us know there are discrepancies, but knowing something and doing something will be the difference in bridging the funding gap in the Black community,” Amelia tells us.
What are some of your go-to local spots when you’re feeling nostalgic?
The city has changed so much, but some things never change. I love driving by my childhood home in Franklin. Turning into the neighborhood brings back countless memories. My first concert was at the Ryman Auditorium to see India Arie, so I’ll never pass up the opportunity to see a show there.
My dad taught me how to drive his boat on Percy Priest Lake and took me hiking at Warner Parks as a kid, so those places always bring me feelings of nostalgia. But nothing reminds me of my childhood more than a fish sandwich at the famous Ed’s Fish House.
What are your passions outside of work?
Educating underserved communities about financial health and wellness, and volunteering with local organizations in Middle Tennessee, are near and dear to my heart. My first job was volunteering at a nursing home in Franklin before I was old enough to work. I still enjoy giving back to my community in these ways.
I also love to go to live shows. I’ve seen Beyoncé at every major concert venue in Nashville. Outside of that, I love traveling; I’ve traveled to 17 countries on five continents. Learning about the world outside my bubble enriches my life in ways I never imagined were possible.
Raised in Franklin, Amelia says nothing brings back childhood nostalgia quite like a fish sandwich at Ed’s Fish House.
What books are currently on your nightstand?
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, and Equilibrium by my dear friend Tiana Clark.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Do the things that scare you.” It’s become a personal mantra. The feeling of uncertainty is never stronger than the feeling of accomplishment after succeeding in something you doubted you could achieve. When I have the mental strength to hone in on fear and direct that energy toward a mission, I always grow into a stronger, better version of myself. The feeling of overcoming a challenge outweighs that fear, and the best experiences are on the other side. Some of the best days of my life have come from pushing myself beyond my own self-doubt.
Outside of faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
My music streaming app, rice (which has always been my favorite food. I eat it almost every day!), and a thoughtful, enlightening conversation.
Thank you for all you do to support local businesses, Amelia! And special thanks to Courtney Eckdahl for the photography.
Nashville women are doing inspiring work. Meet more of them in our FACES archives!
About the Author
Jenna Bratcher is StyleBlueprint Nashville’s Associate Editor and Lead Writer. The East Coast native moved to Nashville 15 years ago, by way of Los Angeles. She is a foodie through and through and enjoys exploring the local restaurant scene bite by bite.