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VOL. 38 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 07, 2014

Southern/Alpha shares region’s tech successes

By Bobby Allyn

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While many outsiders would likely be astonished, Nashville in recent years has emerged as a Southern pacesetter in the world of startups.

With droves of newcomers come big ideas, investment and the gusto to create bottom-up, adventurous companies.

But often, it’s easy to lose touch of the community around you of other like-minded entrepreneurs. Keeping the startup community intact is exactly why Southern/Alpha exists.

Started in 2012 as a platform for tech startups to tell their stories, Southern/Alpha is both a news website and a clearinghouse for Nashville startup advocates to share what they know, compare their ventures to others in the South and swap advice.

“You hear about Silicon Valley, and Silicon Valley gets a lot of hype, but startups are everywhere throughout the country. And it’s important to tell the story of people who are starting businesses that are located in other places around the country,” says Kelley Boothe, Southern/Alpha’s editor as well as CEO and cofounder.

“And at Southern/Alpha, we’re focusing on one region that seems to be highly relevant in this point of time and seems to be something that lacks coverage.”

The publication’s original editor, Walker Duncan, is the son of venture capitalist Townes Duncan. He has since stepped down, but the company still has notable names among its ranks, including Chairman Marcus Whitney, who founded the successful social media advertising company Moontoast. Now based in Boston, it recently raised $4.5 million to fund expansion plans.

To learn more about Southern/Alpha, go to southernalpha.com.

Southern/Alpha joins a growing number of companies that exist to support the city’s booming startup economy. Among them: Jumpstart Foundry, Launch Tennessee and, of course, the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, known by many as the “front door of entrepreneurship.”

Before Southern/Alpha, however, not many were focused on creating a cohesive narrative about the people and behind-the-scenes stories of why Nashville and the Southeast have emerged as a hotbed for enterprising business ideas.

“The whole mission of Southern/Alpha is to tell the story of startups that have raised money or bootstrapped companies or who have raised venture capital. It’s about their failures and success as it relates to a national scale,” Boothe says.

“Southern/Alpha is just as relevant for someone in New York City as it is for someone in Tallahassee. We’re basically bringing visibility to the South. People are very curious about what’s going on down here.”

Southern/Alpha doesn’t see itself competing with other local and regional news outlets, though they do often break news on the startup beat. What they’re more interested in, according to Boothe, is sparking conversations and existing as “a place for the community to own the South and own what their story is,’’ she adds.

“We are competing for something different,” Boothe notes. “We’re competing for attention from investors from different parts of the country. We want Google and Yahoo to pay attention to us.”

The site spotlights trends in Nashville’s tech scene and also dedicates a column to the city’s “thought-leaders” in venture capital and startup circles.

Recent Southern/Alpha stories include a profile of Mellodi, a music streaming service launched at Vanderbilt University, and a piece about a bus load of startup people from Nashville who took off on March 3, for the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Tex. On the way there, bus goers were expected to work on startup ideas and live broadcast their efforts on the web.

Giving established investors a vehicle for dialogue has proven to be one of the site’s most valuable fixtures.

“It brings a little extra piece of value to the site to invite people to talk about what’s a good right and what’s a good wrong, she says. “We break down silos in different industries and unite people around starting a business and scaling a business.”

Last year, Southern/Alpha held a networking event at the venue 3rd and Lindsley, called Spark, that drew 400 people, which, based on its success, is going to become an annual get-together.

“It’s a chance for up-and-comers to present themselves,” Boothe says. “Nothing in Nashville brings all those groups together.”

The company is headquartered at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, located in one of a row of renovated trolley barns that sit above the Cumberland River. They have just two freelance writers write now, but nearly all their content comes from other entrepreneurs, as opposed to reporters covering the topic. They make money, according to Boothe, from sponsorships, events and partnerships with other startups.

Every Monday at 7:30 a.m., Boothe holds an open meeting at Pinewood Social, also located in one of the trolley barns at the Rolling Mill Hill site, for people interested in the startup scene.

“There are no qualifications to be a part of entrepreneurship. All you need is your own personal knowledge and a certain level of execution.”

Southern/Alpha also has an email list in which Boothe sends out daily blasts about startup advice, the lateness news and keeps subscribers up-to-speed on networking events.

“2014 is a time for scaling for us,” Boothe says. “I want to make the South famous. I want to make our startups known throughout the country.”