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SMTEC: A Grand Design

It doesn’t matter where the idea comes from; it only matters how you apply it and how it works in the overall environment. That’s the guiding principle behind Southern Middle Tennessee Entrepreneur Centers (SMTEC).

Under the leadership of Executive Director Dan Marcum, SMTEC helps entrepreneurs by providing educational programs, mentoring opportunities, and access to capital resources. His team’s astute analysis of the marketplace continues to give industry-specific context for entrepreneurs in a variety of niches.

Since its establishment in 2011, STMEC has accelerated 27 startups and helped raised more than $7.5 million in new equity for those startups. Marcum says that another 10 to 12 startups could be launched by the end of the year.

Tennessee becomes a major player in national business

Given the state’s nascent popularity, investors are finally starting to view Tennessee as a prime location for business and commerce.

“The technology industry, so often focused upon Silicon Valley, New York City or Boston, can no longer afford to neglect the rest of the country,” Marcum says. “People are looking at Tennessee in a different way. It was once thought of as a flyover state by the investment community. I have a strong belief that one can start a technology company and build it in rural America.”

Creating new businesses in Tennessee has a number of benefits – not the least of which is the reduced expense involved with getting started.

“Compared to Silicon Valley and similar areas, we here in Tennessee can transform an idea into a investible and successful startup for roughly 10 percent of the cost,” he says. “And these startups are designed around mobility and flexibility.”

Marcum gives praise to the Tennessee state government for providing seed money and other sources of support to promote entrepreneurial leadership and economic development.

Entrepreneurs learn the ropes from experienced leaders

Marcum also credits the many individuals in middle Tennessee and across the state that serve as mentors to the team members of startups going through the accelerators.

“First and foremost, it’s important to have a team of diverse entrepreneurs,” he says. “Good startup management must be agile and pliable because there’s always a pivot necessary when you’re creating a startup. Mentors help the startup management team by offering invaluable experience and wisdom.”

Owing to his past experience as president and general manager of Micro Craft Inc., and his current role as managing partner of Venture Capital, Marcum understands the core qualities and values that make for a successful startup. He follows his own advice by making continual adjustments so that SMTEC remains firmly entrenched among the entrepreneurial community.

SMTEC has partnered with fellow accelerator Tech2020 in Oak Ridge, and recently transferred the organization’s automotive-technologies business accelerator program “autoXLR8R” to Tech 2020 to broaden the reach of the program. And in 2014, autoXLR8R hosted its first international startup, Cyberloop from Hong Kong.

When evaluating a new startup, Marcum is more concerned about their industry perspective and its value propositions rather than physical location.

“When you look at the auto industry, technology is transforming it,” he says. “The Big 3 used to be Ford, GM, and Chrysler. The new Big 3 are drive train technology, material technology, and connectivity. It’s becoming more decentralized and not simply centric to Detroit, Japan, and Germany. A scalable industry doesn’t understand borders, and this technology transformation offers exciting opportunities for rural regions, particularly in Tennessee.”

To stay ahead of the curve, SMTEC has refocused its efforts in recent months to include other industries that show potential. Law enforcement, public safety, and corrections are new sectors of concentration. Products in this vertical would be designed to protect first responders and corrections officers and give them greater ability to perform their jobs.

Startup founder show a willingness to learn

By actively engaging with the next generation of entrepreneurs and helping them gain traction in their chosen industry, STMEC serves as a steady base from which to thrive and explore.

“We have a cohort that helps them learn how to create a value proposition, how to build a team and board of directors, and how to navigate the legal aspects,” he says. “That cohort is invaluable to their success. It’s just not academic learning, but experiential learning.”

In every interaction, Marcum celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit and fosters a culture of learning and innovation.

“Entrepreneurship is an opportunity to be in charge of your own future,” he says. “It’s perfect for someone who has an interest in giving back to the community.”

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