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Training Tomorrow’s Entrepreneurs

To be successful, a region doesn’t just need startups; it needs a pipeline of talent to ensure that innovation doesn’t stall out due to a lack of skilled participants.

That’s why Launch Tennessee’s Specialist Program has been such a shot in the arm for the state’s entrepreneurial community. Since 2014, 81 people have participated in the 13-week summer program that pairs university students with Entrepreneur Centers, specialized cohort programs and individual teams so they can dig in and learn how startups work. Some participants will have the opportunity to head into the state’s more remote area, thanks to Launch Tennessee’s new Creative Communities Initiative, which provides programming and support to organizations in rural and underserved areas.

Participants have come from Tennessee colleges and universities, as well as across the United States. Many take what they’ve learned back to the campuses and communities, while others have remained behind to participate in Tennessee’s startup ecosystem.

One of those was Stephen Jenkins, a program participant at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) in 2015. The Berry College student studied economics with a minor in business administration. After graduating and some time away to pursue other opportunities, he is now back as the Rural Entrepreneur In Residence. For Jenkins, the time spent working with startup teams brought all his career goals into focus at once.

“I was fascinated with startups and entrepreneurship, and in an entrepreneur course had begun a business with some friends,” Jenkins says. “In addition to that class I had also done some market research consulting work, and through that process had learned about the power of innovation, and how much an industry could be changed by one startup. I wanted a dynamic internship focused on entrepreneurship, and this seemed too good to be true.”

The Knoxville native spent some time at Leadership Knoxville following his stint at KEC, and when the center decided to boost its efforts in the agricultural industry, he was brought back in to take part.

“I’m here to reach out to the rural community — 18 counties in total — and to be a resource,” Jenkins says. “We’re working to get an accelerator in Morristown off the ground, and I’m excited about the potential we have to be a bridge to other communities in the area.”

Many of his current duties are made much easier thanks to the training he received as a specialist, Jenkins notes, saying that the program does much to prepare participants for life in the entrepreneurial community as well as in the broader business world.

“I wanted to learn as much as I could about business, and the cool thing about working at KEC is that I could focus on every element of a business. When you’re operating a startup, nothing can be left out,” he says. “I could see all the tactical points underlying a startup, every component and how they all had to be tended. I also learned a lot about problem solving, which is coming in handy with the work I’m doing now in terms of talking to people who are just preparing to launch a startup. I know how to listen, and that’s a skill that I could transfer to any job I would want.”

Get the inside scoop

To learn more about the Launch Tennessee Specialist Program guidelines or get application information: Click here.

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