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10 Wishes for the Tennessee Entrepreneur Scene

 Written by Charlie Brock

As I complete my tenure as CEO of Launch Tennessee, I want to share my hopes for the continued development of our state’s entrepreneurial landscape.

Much progress has been made, and we now have significant infrastructure in place to support startups. As we look to the future, how can we accelerate our progress and become the most startup-friendly state in the nation? Here are some items on my wishlist, in no particular order.

1. Opportunity Zone Funds & Impact Investing
Opportunity Zones and our Impact Fund are new tools with the dual power to create new sources of capital for entrepreneurs and economic opportunity for low-moderate income areas. We need investors, entrepreneurs, real estate developers and community leaders to collaborate and develop multi-pronged strategies that maximize investment in Opportunity Zone tracts within and across communities. If we get this right, Tennessee has the chance to become a national model renowned as the impact investing state.

2. $1B exit that pours money into the startup scene
You know the saying “success begets success.” While we have had some enviable exits, particularly in the healthcare industry in Nashville, we are still waiting for the unicorn exit of a tech startup and the resulting influx of resources and energy into the startup community. There are a number of promising startups across the state that are well positioned for a large exit so long as our ecosystem continues to support their journey.

3. Tennessee corporations become customers
The best form of capital for a startup is top-line revenue. And the quickest way to accelerate entrepreneurial success is for established corporations, both large legacy companies as well as SMB’s, to use the products and services of our startups to source innovation and solve business challenges. This is not charity, this is just good business and good for the state we all call home.

4. Representation & reach into rural communities
While the startup scene in our four largest cities is rapidly growing, this is not the case in many of our 95 counties. To achieve our mission and be the kind of state we all desire, we need to ensure that entrepreneurs everywhere have access to resources from across the state.

5. Broadband access for all
One of these crucial resources is broadband access. In the digital age with flexible and distributed workforces commonplace, the internet should be the great equalizer for job opportunities. Affordable broadband access along with appropriate education is paramount to realize this potential.

6. Tennessee becomes a magnet for talent
Many of our companies, large and small, struggle to attract the talent needed to scale. While Nashville is attracting lots of tech, sales, and business talent, we need to up our game in other areas of the state. Thanks to Governor Haslam and the state legislature, we have set a national standard with our TN Promise and TN Reconnect programs. With this infrastructure in place, how do we more quickly develop pathways from high school to postsecondary to job placement for the knowledge workers of the future?

7. Culture
Our entrepreneurs are imbued with a “pay it forward” mentality to support the next generation of founders with their time, talent and resources. Successful entrepreneurs and business leaders open their wallets, “Google contact lists” (sorry if you still have a rolodex) and calendars. I hope we continue to earn this reputation as a place where Southern charm and grit combine to drive innovation.

8. Public / private model
I have been fortunate to witness examples of successful public-private partnerships in my hometown of Chattanooga and lead a statewide organization in LaunchTN that has become a national model. As we tell our startups, once you find product-market fit, pour on the gas to grab available market share and realize your full potential. Now is that time for entrepreneurial support in Tennessee.

9. Commercialization
We have some of the country’s greatest institutions related to research and innovation. How do we maximize these assets that produce transformative innovations and create economic prosperity? ORNL’s Innovation Crossroads program gives us a great example to build from–but we can do more.

10. Collaboration
Anyone who has heard me speak over the last several years could guess this one was coming. The way we win in Tennessee is to bring multiple stakeholders to the table and collaborate. We may not lead in capital support or talent acquisition, but we can collaborate better than anyone in the country. After all, we are Volunteers, it’s who we are.

It has been a pleasure listening and collaborating with you all over the last six years and I look forward to our continued work together!

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