Thanks to the energy, ideas and commitment of many people across our state, Tennessee is establishing itself as a haven for entrepreneurs. Here’s my 10-point wish list to build on this momentum in 2014:
• 1. A direct flight to San Francisco. Tennessee’s capital must be connected to the center of the startup universe — Silicon Valley — which is why a direct flight to San Francisco is vital. The good news is that the Tennessee Department of Economic Community Development, Nashville Chamber, Mayor (Karl) Dean’s office, Metro Nashville Airport Authority and other organizations are working on this problem, including circulating an online petition that calls for a non-stop BNA/SFO flight, which you can find at bna2bay.com.
• 2. More mentors in Tennessee’s startup accelerators. Tennessee is thriving with a network of nine startup accelerators — the only network of its kind in the nation. But these accelerators need volunteer mentors to fulfill their mission. We need more: 1) successful entrepreneurs who can share lessons from their journey, 2) industry experts to vet business concepts and open doors and 3) consultants, such as attorneys, accountants and marketing professionals to share industry specific knowledge.
• 3. A blockbuster 2014 Southland conference. Our first Southland tech conference in 2013 was a huge success, and there is more in store for 2014. We’ve partnered with Silicon Valley news site PandoDaily, which will enable us to attract more nationally renowned tech leaders and investors as speakers.
• 4. Deeper connections between Tennessee’s leading corporations and startup companies. Several of our state’s major companies — such as HCA, FedEx, Eastman Chemical, Scripps Networks, BlueCross Blue Shield, First Tennessee Bank and Nissan North America — have discovered the benefits of engaging with the entrepreneurial community. We need more of this. It makes a huge difference to a startup’s success — and allows corporations to tap into the excitement and ideas coming out of the startup community.
• 5. Reduced funding gaps for Tennessee’s entrepreneurs. The good news is that new angel funds have recently formed in Nashville, Chattanooga, Memphis, Knoxville and the Tri-Cities. But we need more early-stage funders to keep up with the stream of new companies emerging from accelerators. We also need more “Series B” funding, which is the second round of capital that growing companies need to reach their full potential. One of Launch Tennessee’s main goals is attracting out-of-state investors to fill this gap.
• 6. A fully-invested INCITE Co-Investment Fund. The INCITE Co-Investment Fund is a venture capital fund administered by Launch Tennessee that, to date, has leveraged $19 million in public funds with $50 million in private investments to provide $69 million in funding to high growth companies in Tennessee. It has been a tremendous success story, and in 2014 we’ll be using INCITE’s final $9.8 million to encourage more private funding — from both in-state and out-of-state investors — of entrepreneur-led companies in Tennessee.
• 7. Increased coding and software education. Forbes recently ranked Nashville No. 4 in tech job growth. Nashville, and Tennessee as a whole, needs more talented technology professionals to keep up with this growth. The Tennessee Code Academy, Nashville Software School, Nashville Academy of Computer Science and Code for America are helping to address this need. We need more efforts like these to increase production of the quality tech talent.
• 8. More entrepreneurial activity across the state. In 2013, there were more than 650 entrepreneur-centered events held across Tennessee. We need to build on this success with more networking events, venture matches, conferences, demo days, commercialization workshops and other activates that spur creative interaction and funding opportunities within Tennessee’s entrepreneur community.
• 9. More media exposure about entrepreneurship in Tennessee. Tennessee cities like Nashville and Chattanooga have been getting a lot of love recently in the national press as great places to live. The next step is to generate more publicity about Tennessee as a great place to start and run a business. When this happens, and I am confident it will, we will be drawing talented people and well-funded investors here from throughout the country.
• 10. More commercialization of research. Oak Ridge, Vanderbilt, UT, FedEx Institute of Technology and others — Tennessee is extremely advantaged with many outstanding research institutions. They are storehouses of innovative technologies. We need to unleash this power by providing entrepreneurs with more opportunities to access this technology and build companies around it.
Charlie Brock is CEO of Launch Tennessee, a public-private partnership focused on supporting the development of high-growth companies in Tennessee with the ultimate goal of fostering job creation and economic growth.