As Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and state economic-development officials work to build on the state’s economic gains and become “the Tennessee we can be,” the for state’s business community must continue cementing Tennessee’s reputation as a terrific place to live and work.
The state’s diverse and growing entrepreneurial community already sees the tremendous growth potential here, says Launch Tennessee CEO Charlie Brock, who shares his organization’s agenda for supporting the inception and growth of Tennessee startups.
How would you describe Launch Tennessee’s impact on the state’s entrepreneurial climate? Both to date and what you see on the horizon?
Launch Tennessee has diversified the entrepreneurial landscape and generated engagement across a much broader footprint — all of Tennessee, as opposed to just the major metropolitan areas. For example, program participation went from 45% of the state’s counties in December 2015 to 81% as of February 2017. That will continue to increase thanks to Creative Communities and University Venture Challenge, two high-impact programs geared towards rural outreach that we recently expanded statewide.
How does Launch Tennessee work to make Tennessee the most startup-friendly state in the country?
We offer an aggressive mix of statewide programming that connects entrepreneurs with resources for mentoring, business development and capital development, some of which is delivered through our best-in-class network of entrepreneur centers. Startups have many requirements for success, and our goal is to create partnerships and opportunity for them here, so that they not only start in Tennessee, but put down roots and grow here as well. The business-friendly political climate and favorable cost of living are a huge help as well.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the state’s entrepreneurs, and how does Launch Tennessee offer solutions?
It’s simple: Entrepreneurs need access to capital. They need seed investment and additional sources of funding as they grow and reach market viability. Launch Tennessee addresses the need for capital in several ways:
- We worked with the state legislature to pass an Angel Tax Credit that offers incentives to early-stage investors, and we’ve already seen nearly $1M in investment into Tennessee startups just since Jan. 1, 2017.
- We launched an angel education series that includes a statewide roadshow, panel discussions with experienced angel investors and networking opportunities for potential investors and entrepreneurs.
- We continue to expand relationships with investors across the country, especially in San Francisco and New York City via regular lead-generation trips.
- We’ve grown 36|86 into the Southeast’s premier startup, tech and investing conference, and it draws more early-stage investors than any other event in the region.
How do you build awareness of Tennessee as a startup-friendly location? Do you have initiatives geared towards increasing outside capital?
The Angel Tax Credit is having a significant impact. It has raised our profile with a new group of investors, as well as shown capital suppliers with whom we have existing relationships how serious we are about aggressively pursuing new ways to connect Tennessee startups with the funds they need.
How do your programs show a national audience some of the exciting things happening in Tennessee?
We see strong interest in our companies from around the country, thanks to our TENN Master Accelerator. Business development trips to New York City and San Francisco, as well as around the state, generate a lot of press and financing interest, which exposes outside capital to a different aspect of our entrepreneurial ecosystem.
On the programming side, we are working to launch an Energy Network, which would resemble the successful Life Science Networks. That partnership with Life Science Tennessee offers life-sciences startups access to corporate customers, research partners and other stakeholders who can offer mentoring and additional opportunities they otherwise would not have had. Tennessee’s robust energy community, which includes major governmental and private-sector players, is a huge asset in our startup-recruitment plans.
Finally, 36|86 technology conference continues to grow in size and scope. Village 36, our pitch competition, brings the nation’s best, most innovative startups to Nashville, which drives interest from investors. In fact, the number of investors grows every year; we had more than 200 in 2016. 36|86 highlights not only what’s happening in Tennessee today, but also where we’re going and what we can offer tomorrow. We think that’s pretty exciting, and if initial ticket sales are any indication, we’re not the only ones pumped about 36|86 in 2017!
What were Launch Tennessee’s biggest “wins” in 2016 against that impact goal?
The growth of 36|86 has helped to cement the state’s reputation as a great place for entrepreneurs, and that’s really our most important goal. More startups are looking outside of New York City and San Francisco for a place to start a business and put down roots, and 36|86 gets a lot of those “new recruits” here to look around and see why the grass really is greener.
What are some of Launch Tennessee’s priority initiatives for 2017?
We must build a stronger path to sustainability. That means continued growth in all our mentoring and capital networks, as well as developing post-acceleration programs for the companies coming out of our entrepreneur centers. We need to ensure that when we graduate a company, they still get the support they need in those critical early months of market presence.
The differentiator in making Tennessee the most startup-friendly state in the country is that we will help entrepreneurs at all stages of their company’s lifecycle. Not many other places can claim that.
How does 36|86 reinforce your goals and intended impact for the state?
The conference is our marquee event, so it offers a glimpse into everything we do through the lense of real people in the startup trenches:
- Members of The TENN cohort join, talking about the roadshows and the value those provide to them through connections, deals and investments made.
- Startups that have engaged with our regional entrepreneur centers are there, so investors and others can see and hear from the diverse talent pool we have the joy of engaging with every day.
- Speakers and panelists discuss the Southeast’s growing role as an entrepreneurial hub, so attendees see firsthand why Tennessee is the place to be now and tomorrow.
What do you want to say, in December 2017, that you were most proud of accomplishing this year, either for the state or for Tennessee founders?
We want to show the state’s business and legislative leaders that Launch Tennessee is a strategic driver of economic growth across the state. We do that through our mix of education, hands-on mentoring, a pipeline to capital and anything else that startups need. High-level adoption and support of this message yields more resources for us that we then turn around and invest into programs that will help founders the most.
Want to learn more about Launch Tennessee’s programs and events?
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