Sharing the Tennessee entrepreneurial story with policymakers statewide
The 2020 Legislative Reception took place during the last week of February, at the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in downtown Nashville. It marked the beginning of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Week, an annual event giving entrepreneurs and their supporters an opportunity to meet with Tennessee legislators and discuss issues most relevant to business growth.
That night in February, Tennesseans had not yet experienced the tragedy of the tornadoes that ripped across Middle Tennessee. Nor had the impact of the coronavirus begun to affect lives throughout the US.
That night was all about celebration.
As she took to the stage to greet the packed room, Marget Dolan, LaunchTN’s President and CEO, reflected on the growing statewide partnerships striving together to make Tennessee the most startup-friendly state in the nation.
“Everyone in this room is a partner in this work,” she said. “Innovation and entrepreneurs are the key to economic growth across our state in all 95 counties … . It is the ecosystem in Tennessee that makes us powerful, and a competitor nationally and internationally.”
Gathered before Dolan were nearly 200 of Tennessee’s ecosystem builders and policymakers, all working together to create thriving entrepreneurial communities across the state. “We embrace the opportunity to work with you … and we hope you join us in this effort,” she said.
We’re in this together
Brian Moyer is President and CEO of the Greater Nashville Technology Council, one of the reception’s co-hosts. “I really love this night. I love the group that we pull together and the collaboration that exists,” he said. “With us tonight is the Memphis IT Council, Chattanooga Tech Council, and the Knoxville Tech Council. So for the first time at this event we have united the state with all of our tech councils, and I think that’s a great accomplishment.”
Working together statewide is crucial to the success of entrepreneurship. It’s what makes Tennessee uniquely poised to bounce back from the hardships all of us are now facing. Dolan believes it’s the legislators and policymakers whose continued investment will pay off long-term.
“We have a unique ecosystem here in Tennessee that most states do not have, and it’s made possible by this group of policymakers,” Dolan said. “And when I’m able to talk with somebody from Memphis or Jackson or the Tri-Cities and anywhere in between, and be able to tell them what we’re doing to grow business in their region, that’s what brings me joy.”
Policymaking with a purpose
The day after the reception, entrepreneurs and support organizations like LaunchTN and several other small business advocates gathered at the Tennessee State Capitol. It’s called Day on the Hill, a chance for entrepreneurs to meet with policymakers and share their stories of success.
Over the course of the day, LaunchTN helped orchestrate 37 meetings with more than 50 members of the General Assembly.
State Sen. Raumesh Akbari, who represents the Memphis area, said she was eager to connect with constituents who are working to improve the ecosystems throughout the state. “The last couple of years I’ve got to meet entrepreneurs who had an idea and who were connected to a network who could bring that up and then actually bring it to market,” she said. “It’s exciting, and I think it’s completely necessary, and I think it really is going to help move our city forward.”
“We believe that entrepreneurs are some of the most influential people to lawmakers because they create jobs, which creates voters which creates taxes, which creates all of the things that it takes to run a city, or a state, or a municipality,” said Marcus Shaw, CEO of the Company Lab (CO.LAB), a Chattanooga-based entrepreneur support organization.
“What I really want to talk about with the lawakers are things important to entrepreneurs,” he said. “It’s everything from health care and taxes to education and access to capital.”
State Rep. Bob Freeman of District 56 in Davidson County participated in Day on the Hill for the first time. “It has been a great honor to do this,” he said. “It takes significantly more time than I could ever have guessed, but it’s extremely important and it matters.”
If there was one take-away from Day on the Hill, it’s that Tennesseans have a lot to be proud of. Thanks to the dedicated support organizations, legislators, and innovators working together, the ecosystem of entrepreneurship here has made Tennessee one of the most start-up friendly states in the nation.
Days before the event, the Wall Street Journal named Nashville the “second hottest job market” in the nation. In its inaugural study, FitSmallBusiness.com editors said half of the best states for African American entrepreneurs are concentrated in the South, with Tennessee ranking №7 in the nation. And data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Kauffman Foundation’s 2017 Index for Startup Activity revealed that Memphis is among the top three cities where black-owned businesses are thriving.
Entrepreneurs like Shani Dowell, CEO of Nashville-based Possip, is an example of how ecosystems empowered by support organizations like LaunchTN make all this possible. In 2019, Possip raised over $1 million in investment funding, a feat that earned her a spot as one of the first 40 women of color across the country to raise that amount and the first woman of color in Tennessee to do it.
“LaunchTN was a huge part of that, both as we participated in 36|86 and were able to receive investment capital through that, but then also the ecosystem more broadly that helped us,” Dowell said. “It’s a really neat thing to bring together all of Tennessee with the power of entrepreneurship.”
“We’ve got an incredible tailwind behind us in major cities like Chattanooga, Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, Cookeville, Jackson, and all places in between — both from rural and urban sense,” said CO.LAB’s Shaw. “There’s a lot of positive momentum happening in the state, and I want us to keep moving that forward.”
Co-hosts of the 2020 Week on the Hill Legislative Reception included The Biz Foundry, Cookeville; theCO, Jackson; CO.LAB, Chattanooga; EO, Nashville; Epicenter, Memphis; Knoxville Entrepreneur Center; Nashville Entrepreneur Center; Nashville Technology Council; and Sync Space, Tri-Cities. Partners that participated on the statewide level were Bunker Labs, Life Science Tennessee, and the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council.
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