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Tennessee receives three federal EDA Regional Innovation Strategies grants

LaunchTN, AgLaunch, and Epicenter to receive funds to help TN startups

Nashville, Tenn. – Launch Tennessee (LaunchTN), a Nashville-based public-private partnership that fosters entrepreneurship across the state, along with Memphis-based nonprofits AgLaunch and Epicenter, were announced today as winners of the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Regional Innovation Strategies competition.

AgLaunch, a multi-state organization headquartered in Memphis, and LaunchTN will receive federal funding in the amount of $750,000 and $500,000, respectively, in support of each organization’s innovation strategy programs. Epicenter will receive $289,500 in federal funding to support the operations of two early-stage capital funds. All of the grants require a local match, for which each organization has commitments.

The federal grants are made annually under the Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program competition, but 2019 marks the first time that Tennessee has received more than one grant in a given year, and the first time since 2016 that a Tennessee organization has received an EDA grant.

“The fact that three Tennessee organizations were awarded EDA grants is a strong testament to the ecosystem we’re building,” said Margaret Dolan, president and CEO of LaunchTN. “It puts our state on a national stage as innovative and collaborative in our approach to building a state-wide network that supports entrepreneurs at every stage of development.”

Now in its sixth iteration, the EDA program is providing a record $23 million in federal investment to 44 organizations including nonprofits, institutions of higher education, and entrepreneurship-focused organizations from 28 states. With more than $26 million in community match, a total of nearly $50 million is being awarded in overall project activities.

With the i6 grant, LaunchTN will enhance its existing Mentor Networks program, expanding into the automotive and agricultural sectors with technology and programming to add company capacity, enrichment activities and alumni support. AgLaunch and Epicenter, both based in Memphis, compiled strong regional teams in their applications.

“This support from EDA allows AgLaunch, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, to build a more robust network of farmers providing proof-of-concept support to agtech startups,” said Pete Nelson, Executive Director, AgLaunch Initiative. “Additionally, it lets us expand the Digital Acre with our partner Agricenter International, which provides startups access to necessary farm-level data.”

At Epicenter, the investment from the EDA adds resources that enable the organization to launch and scale more high-growth startups. “Expanding our region’s portfolio of early-stage capital and increasing local entrepreneurs’ access to that capital are central to our vision of creating a vibrant and thriving Memphis economy,” said president and CEO Leslie Lynn Smith. “With the EDA’s Seed Fund Support Grant for operating two early-stage capital funds, our community can more effectively deploy capital into the hands of entrepreneurs, which will attract and retain new businesses and jobs in our region. These leveraged resources also help de-risk early-stage investments, paving the way for additional venture capital investment into Memphis-area companies.”

Launch Tennessee extends thanks to partners across the state in building the Mentor Network program, including the University of Tennessee (particularly the University of Tennessee Research Foundation and Institute of Agriculture), Oak Ridge National Laboratory,  the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Eastman Chemical Company, Life Science Tennessee, Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council, TennSMART, Innova, and the St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

About Launch Tennessee
Launch Tennessee is a public-private partnership that supports entrepreneurs from ideation to exit, guided by a vision of making Tennessee the most startup-friendly state in the nation. Partnering with Entrepreneur Centers in six regions, Launch Tennessee creates collaboration among entrepreneurs, the private sector, capital sources, institutions, and government to offer entrepreneurs what they need to succeed and stay in Tennessee to build companies and create jobs. Visit LaunchTN.org to discover what makes Tennessee a great state for startups.

About Epicenter
As the nonprofit hub of the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem, Epicenter strategically connects and expands the network of support for all entrepreneurs in the Memphis region. In order to create a just, inclusive and growing economy, Epicenter pilots bold, new solutions and collaborates with partners to ensure entrepreneurs have equitable access to the programming, capital, markets and talent they need to launch and thrive locally. More information is at epicentermemphis.org.

About AgLaunch
AgLaunch is revolutionizing the way that innovations in agriculture and food are brought to market by bridging the present and future to grow a more diverse and sustainable farm economy and provide healthy food for all. AgLaunch leverages its distributed network of farm incubators, entrepreneurial farmers, aligned capital partners, research consortia, technical consulting, and best-in-class accelerator programming to effectively challenge the status quo and thoughtfully create value for farmers and the communities they serve. The AgLaunch vision is a transformed regional agriculture and food economy centered around farmers, innovation, and prosperity. Visit www.aglaunch.com to learn more.

About the U.S. Economic Development Administration
The mission of the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) is to lead the federal economic development agenda by promoting competitiveness and preparing the nation’s regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy. An agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, EDA makes investments in economically distressed communities in order to create jobs for U.S. workers, promote American innovation, and accelerate long-term sustainable economic growth.

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