Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is BusinessMakers USA, brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. And I have what I think is the top guy in Entrepreneurship in Tennessee, none other than Mr. Charlie Brock, the President and CEO of Launch Tennessee, the organization that puts on 36/86 and has been doing it now for 10 years?
Charlie: 5 years.
Russ: 5 years. I never get close.
Charlie: It feels like 10 years sometimes, but just 5.
Russ: Okay, so 3686 2017 took place about 6 weeks ago, a month?
Charlie: 2 months ago actually.
Russ: 2 months ago.
Charlie: June 4th 5th, 6th, 7th.
Russ: And everything I heard was real positive. How did you feel about it?
Charlie: It was great. It was one of those things Russ, there’s so much that goes into it and it’s really a year round thing now. It is nice, for a little while anyway, to have it in the rearview mirror – although we’re already very busy planning for 2018, but the pressure’s not on yet, right? But it was fantastic. The team does such a great job and it really is a team lift to put this thing on – and not just Launch Tennessee team, but other folks in the community and certainly the entrepreneurs and speakers and everybody that we bring in and play such an important role and it was fantastic. So we’re ready for it to arrive and then when it’s over there’s such a feeling of fulfillment.
Russ: Well I knew several of the keynotes. You had Fred Smith, the FedEx Founder, who we’ve had on the show before. You had Steve Case, the AOL guy; you had others too, right?
Charlie: Yeah, we did. We started off Steve was the first – we had 2 days of main stage programming; Steve was the opener in that Fireside Chat with Steve. And then we ended it with Fred Smith with the governor, Governor Bill Haslam who has a rich business background and his family is a great entrepreneurial story and he was the moderator with Fred Smith. So that was a fantastic way to end it after Steve started it the day before, and in between we had just some other great folks like Bill Frist who is a healthcare icon not only here in Nashville but across the country. We had Jeremy King, who is the CTO of Walmart, Executive Vice President and has been a real key for them as they moved into the digital world and spent about $4.5 billion over the last 18 months on acquisitions for Jet.com and Mod Cloth and others; and just a slew of other folks. We had about 50 speakers in all.
Russ: What did the Walmart guy talk about? Has he told the Walmart story, the conversion to digital?
Charlie: Really that was it and how they’re doing that and what that means in terms of not only the opportunity on the product side and the distribution side where now you can get free pick up at Walmart. So we can order from Walmart, have Walmart employees out there stokcing our goods in our car and we never have to get out of the car, and they’re soon getting ready to offer where Walmart employees will bring you your goods for your home. He talked about that but also really interesting he talked about culture; and that’s a huge cultural change from a Bentonville, Arkansas based organization and Jeremy runs Walmart Labs out in Silicon Valley. So the folks he’s hiring out there are the same people he’s trying to pull from Google or Apple or whomever, so it was really interesting to hear him articulate a lot of that.
Russ: Well definitely, it’s such a transformative time right now, particularly in retail with what Amazon’s doing. I mean I kept hearing things about how Walmart was adjusting to it but not that specifically. So to the event again, Nashville is such a happening city and your event would be the happening event for us, but does it even impact what’s going on? Do other people in Nashville know it’s going on or is there so much other traffic?
Charlie: There is so much going on in this town period and that week is particularly in that CMA Music Fest is going on. And we’re intentional when we started this so timing it around the same time as CMA and Bonnaroo. This year the crazy factor and the Downtown mayhem was heightened even more because the Predators were playing, so they were in the Stanley Cup. SO our main stage programming was that Monday June 4th and the Predators had a home game that night and we always have a street fair or street party at the end of the programming and so we adapted.
We’re entrepreneurial, we had to make changes, so got a big screen in – big LED screen in, moved up the street party in terms of the music and some of the other things and then showed the Predator’s game. And there were so many people, thousands of people Downtown. It’s one of those things where you’re competing, you get lost in a lot of the noise that’s out there, but we’ve got a lot of folks who’ve been to our event before and know the kind of quality that we put on and the kind of speakers we have in so it was a record attendance for us this year.
Russ: Well that’s what I was going to ask too not knowing at all, that’s cool. So the entrepreneurs that presented, were there some extraordinary new models coming out that you saw?
Charlie: Yeah, just some great companies; we had 36 companies from across 9 different states in the Southeast as well as D.C. in a range of industries. And this cohort if you will was the most mature we’ve had in the 5 years, they had already raised $37 million pre-event. We have a cap on there, no team can have raised more than $5 million; so we’re getting them at the early stage, seed stage kind of thing. But collectively they had raised $37 million, since 36/86 they have raised about $25 million more. I’m not saying that was just because of 36/86, some of that was obviously in the works, but it doesn’t hurt.
Russ: I wonder if any of them turned down money right before 36/86 so they wouldn’t be disqualified?
Charlie: It’s interesting you say that because it is at time of application. So when they apply if something happened between then and the event that’s fine, we don’t kick them out for that.
Russ: Well as you know we’ve been spending a lot of time in Nashville interviewing entrepreneurs and we’ve got a trip scheduled for here again, I would love for you to connect us with some of those guys and we’ll have them on the show too.
Charlie: That would be great, we’ve got some incredible entrepreneurs. And what’s happening here, and really across the state, is that a lot of the early stage work that was done 3 and 4 and 5 years ago we’re seeing some of those companies mature now and are attracting more capital, not only from instate but from the coast and from folks across the country. Tennessee has led the Southeast in terms of our percentage growth of early stage capital from when we first started tracking this in 2012 through 2016. So we want to keep building on that so the deals that we’re getting done now where we’re seeing some $40 and $50 and $60 million deals in this state and certainly in this town, we weren’t seeing those 4 and 5 years ago.
Russ: And you can probably attribute a lot of that to Launch Tennessee.
Charlie: Well there are so many people with their shoulder to the wheel. I appreciate that and I appreciate your earlier comment but we’re just a cog in the wheel. We love the role that we get to play in being a connector for entrepreneurs and investors, innovators across the state, but there’s a lot of other folks writing checks and doing great work and most importantly there’s entrepreneurs building real businesses. So we’re glad to play the role that we do to help all that.
Russ: Last time we talked about this we were talking about how you patterned 36/86 somewhat after South By Southwest; are you just finished doing that now because you’ve got your own machine running?
Charlie: No, actually we were looking – one of my colleagues Lindsey, we were looking at the schedule for South By even earlier this week; they just announced – they came out with their initial tickets. That is a fantastic showcase of so much so we’re always looking after we finish an event, and particularly 36/86, and saying what did we do well? What do we need to think about tweaking? How do we want to keep getting this bigger and better? And South By has more of a festival feel over many, many days and multiple tracks going so we’re actually looking at that right now and talking to different partners in the city to say how do we build on this and make this even bigger and better, not just for Nashville and for Tennessee but a real showcase for the Southeast.
Russ: Meaning more multiple tracks yourself?
Charlie: Yeah, we did have this year all of the main stage programming is all in one venue, it was all the main stage. We had a few multiple tracks at the end of the day where we had AMA – Ask Me Anything – sessions going, but for the most part everybody is in the main symphony center at the same time versus South By is very, very different.
Russ: Oh yeah.
Charlie: So we’ll always look at that and say is that the right format for us to continue to grow this or do we mix it up a little bit next year? So we’ll see, more to come on that. We’re busy in a lot of those discussions right now and we’ll be coming out with a plan by the end of September that says here’s what we’re doing for 2018.
Russ: Well and that’s what I wanted to talk about is 2018. So it’s going to happen right?
Russ: Okay, do you have a date yet?
Charlie: No we don’t. We’re actually have a meeting with the city tomorrow because we’re talking about does it make sense for us now, with the growth of our conference and with CMA and of course now with the Predators – who knows if we’ll make the Stanley Cup again.
Russ: There might be another eclipse coming on.
Charlie: That’s right, who knows; all kinds of things happening. But is that the right time for us to do it? It really made sense when we were getting it going 4 or 5 years ago to have some things to tag onto, help create additional buzz. Now is that the right time to do so or there’s obviously music events and a lot of things happening around music in Nashville throughout the year, do we maybe tag in with another group that’s doing some other things in Nashville? We’re also looking at the calendar if you will for other startup events. Great news about the Southeast is there is so much more activity around the startup world and so many more events like this now than when we started 5 years ago, so that’s a testament to the good things going on here. But again it makes you look at it every year and say okay, what’s the best dates for us? Is it early June or some other time pushing back later in the summer or early fall so we’ll see.
Russ: Well we want to know when it’s scheduled.
Charlie: Well you will absolutely know and we want you back here for it.
Russ: Well Charlie I really appreciate you spending time with us again.
Charlie: Thank you Russ, appreciate what y’all are doing.
Russ: You’re almost a regular guest.
Charlie: Well I appreciate that and we appreciate what y’all are doing to help shine a light on entrepreneurship in Nashville and across the state and region.
Russ: Thank you very much.
Charlie: Thank you.
Russ: You bet, you bet. And that wraps my discussion with Charlie Brock, President and CEO of Launch Tennessee and this is BusinessMakers USA.
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