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VOL. 38 | NO. 17 | Friday, April 25, 2014

Accelerator programs help secure Tennessee’s image as tech hub

By Stephanie Toone

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A collective of software and consumer Internet-based accelerator programs has placed Tennessee on the map – strikingly close to the technology holy ground of Silicon Valley.

Tennessee’s nine statewide accelerator programs represent the only such network of tech incubators in the country, and they’re backed by Launch Tennessee, a public-private partnership intended to coordinate and support entrepreneurial activity across the state.

In June, Launch Tennessee will partner with Pando CEO Sarah Lacy for the inaugural Southland Conference. The three-day technology and startup conference will be the first of its kind outside of Silicon Valley.

“There’s a lot of relationship building from Silicon Valley to New York that has allowed for even greater success of our programs,” says Launch Tennessee president and CEO Charlie Brock. “Southland will be just another step up.’’

Southland Conference

June 9-11

Marathon Music Works.

Information: southlandse.com

Lacy, an author and journalist, launched PandoDaily in 2012. The daily technology news blog puts its emphasis on startups. She participated at the Southland Summit in Nashville last summer, and later decided to put her stamp on the event. She says in her blog that the tech conference will be also be associated with the Bonnaroo music festival – although no details have been released.

In addition, Pando worked with Nashville entrepreneurs through Jumpstart Foundry, raising $1.2 million in what Lacy calls, “our Series A round of funding.’’

Moneys, jobs, outside interest

Launch Tennessee’s track record speaks for itself with more than 150 high-growth potential companies that have launched through business accelerators.

Those companies have raised more than $47 million in private capital, brought dozens of jobs to each corner of the state and maximized the output of start-up entrepreneurs and investor interest in the state.

The beginnings of the entrepreneur network stemmed from the success of The Nashville Entrepreneur Center, which has helped launch health care, digital entertainment, consumer internet and apps since 2010, explains Andrew Hogin, Launch Tennessee Director of Outreach.

“It was important for economic growth to go beyond retail, food and beverage, and there was so much excitement behind technology already in Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga.”

Governor Bill Haslam and state Economic & Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty introduced Launch Tennessee in 2012 as part of Haslam’s statewide economic strategy of investing in innovation, Hogin says.

Targeted fields

The state has granted a total of $2.25 million to the nine networks.

Each accelerator program screens entrepreneur’s ideas, selecting an elite group that benefits from the funding, guidance on best business practices and, most importantly, collaborative community of expert business mentors and angel investors.

The nine tech incubators, which are stationed in Nashville, Springfield, Crossville, Martin, Jackson, Memphis, Chattanooga, Johnson City and Knoxville, so that entrepreneurs get specialized mentorship and advice from targeted fields.

“The unique thing is each accelerator focuses on a specific industry – we’ve got Springfield that focuses on automotive, and Martin with their focus on agriculture,” Brock says.

“We’ve got the best way to produce high-growth companies – through cohorts. They’ve become the front door for entrepreneurs. The mentorship and programming results in a better output.”

Due to that output, Launch Tennessee now has funding for a statewide master accelerator program called The Tenn.

There also will be a new Launch Tennessee Specialist program, which will recruit top college students studying technology, management and other fields to play a role in start-up companies.

“We hope these efforts continue to give potential entrepreneurs to say ‘I can do this. I’m going to try this,’” Brock says.

“It’s exciting, because the entrepreneurs will be leaders in their community. It’s another reason for optimism.”