The old real estate maxim, “location, location, location” is certainly true for entrepreneurs in Northeast Tennessee. Opportunities abound, and AccelNow works to ensure those investors, educators and others in the ecosystem all have a way to seamlessly connect.
“We are the regional accelerator for the area, and our main interest is to create a dynamic entrepreneurial environment for this region, and to make sure we are facilitating and accelerating job growth and income growth,” says John Campbell, executive director of AccelNow, which LaunchTN opened in 2012.
Because the Tri-Cities area already has two incubators in Johnson City and Kingsport, and both of those have been successful for about a decade, there was no need for AccelNow to reinvent that wheel. Rather, Campbell says, the accelerator works to make sure that all the entrepreneurial dots are connected.
“People often don’t know where to go to start the process, or aren’t sure how to get to a higher level,” he says. “We want to make sure that any and all startups know what, and where, the resources are here.”
Encouraging the business of art
To that end, AccelNow has facilitated training in Co.Starters, a nine-week cohort for new businesses. Created by Co.Lab, the LaunchTN accelerator in Chattanooga, the program dovetails nicely with the springboard approach that AccelNow has, Campbell says.
To back up the cohort, AccelNow has held networking events targeting artists and their supporters. The accelerator also is working with the Flying Pig Gallery & Studios and Engage Kingsport’s Carousel Project, where volunteers are carving carousel animals out of wood.
Connecting capital to startups
Alongside the efforts to train entrepreneurs is a robust effort to find capital in the area, and then put everyone around the same table.
“AccelNow created an angel roundtable the first year it was established, and have been working to grow that,” Campbell says. “Most rural accelerators don’t’ have that kind of investor base, and so we want to grow that as much as possible so that these new businesses don’t have to travel far to find working capital.”
The accelerator also has worked with Spark Plaza, a private coworker space in downtown Johnson City, and it has been so successful that duplicates may soon pop up elsewhere in the area. Again, it’s all about location.
“We want those spaces to be common, open areas, with about multiple types of stations,” Campbell says. “We’re modeling it on what Co.Lab has done, because they have been so successful. We want to meet people there, or at our main accelerator offices, and introduce ourselves and show them how we can help. Right now we are hearing 10 or 12 new concepts a month, and that number is growing the more we have events.”
There’s also a movement afoot to grab even younger entrepreneurs before the leave the area.
“Now we’re reaching out to school superintendents, so we can perhaps begin to implement an entrepreneurial curriculum for high-school seniors,” Campbell says. “There’s great deal of interest, so we hope to have that going in about a year. There is a lot of entrepreneurial energy in this area, and we are working to expand as much as we can to capture it.”