Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper and this is BusinessMakers USA coming to you today from Nashville, Tennessee, and my guest today Charlie Brock, President of Launch Tennessee. Charlie, welcome to the show.
Charlie: Good morning, thank you for having me.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about Launch Tennessee.
Charlie: So Russ, we’re a public private entity that’s 4 years old now. We were set up by the Governor and by the State Economic Community Development – basically our state commerce department – to be an entity outside of the state government who really wakes up thinking about entrepreneurship every day. So our charge is to make Tennessee a great place for entrepreneurs, for innovators, for investors to succeed so we’ve been hard at work on that for 4 years now.
Russ: Well we’re impressed with how dynamic Nashville seems. I mean I think we had high expectations but boy, all the new architecture, the new building going up and the whole culture seems vibrant.
Charlie: It’s an amazing time and we’re fortunate to be doing what we get to do in terms of economic development for entrepreneurs at a time when Nashville is just going crazy. I mean you look around here – and some people might not like this – but right now there’s about 28 cranes in the sky of Downtown Nashville as we look out the window here and it’s been incredible. So really across the whole sweep of economic activity in real estate from the entrepreneur’s side on up to large companies relocating here, expanding, it’s all very much on the up and up right now so it’s an exciting time to be here.
Russ: So you’ve been doing this now for several years, is it enough time that you’re actually seeing some success that made its way though?
Charlie: I don’t know, you might have to ask my boss; no I think we’ve come a long way, we’ve actually set records in Tennessee for each of the last 2 years in terms of capital investment and we track that for companies who are getting investment under $50 million and so we’ve had 2 record years in a row. We’ve also set up really what’s something that is unique across the country with a statewide network of entrepreneur centers that are really focused on high-growth companies.
And through the course of the year we run about 13, 14 different accelerator cohorts focused on key industries where Tennessee has strength, whether it’s logistics in Memphis sponsored by FedEx or whether it’s here in Nashville they run an incredible healthcare accelerator program and a music tech program called Project Music which has got support from Sony, from CMA, from others. So we’ve been really working to get more corporate engagement in what we’re trying to do and that’s key to helping entrepreneurs build businesses.
Russ: So specifically what are some of the successes?
Charlie: Really across the state the network started just over 4 years ago – the companies that have come through our accelerator programs have raised about $140 million collectively and so that’s a big win. Now just because they raised the money doesn’t mean that they’re going to be successful, but oftentimes they’ll have a shot at it with now raising the money. We have had some companies who’ve had some exits out of there; we had one out of our Chattanooga Entrepreneur Center who came out of a – even before we had started the accelerator program we had just started our Entrepreneur Center and we had a 48 hour startup weekend event and we had a company that started there that was doing an app to manage waiting lines for restaurants and they actually ended up selling to Open Table a couple years ago.
Russ: Oh wow, that’s cool.
Charlie: Yeah, and we’ve got some incredible things happening in the 3D printing world we’ve had another company that came out of – several in the healthcare – you’re also in the healthcare category, particularly in healthcare services – so the Entrepreneur Center here has done a great job with their healthcare companies and some companies like InQuicker and Change Healthcare that have gone on to raise capital and then to sell to other companies; so we’ve had a number of successes there. So I think over the next 2 to 3 years it’ll be really interesting to see more of these come to either achieve success whether that means IPO, acquisition or continue just to scale and add more employees.
Russ: Absolutely, real cool. I wish we had had that restaurant app when we were trying to eat at what was it called? The hot chicken place?
Charlie: That’s right, they need that.
Russ: Well I’m impressed with the diversity of the program too because so many places that operate accelerators or incubators are so focused on the digital world, which is really a happening thing but it’s just kind of software and social media stuff, but man, it sounds like you get to do everything.
Charlie: Yeah and we’re doing – we’ve got some of that for sure, but we’re really trying to say where can we be different? Where do we have strengths again, where we have assets in terms of corporations and whether those corporations can serve as mentors, as programmatic supporters, also as investors into the companies that are in the program? We just finished a digital media program in Knoxville sponsored by Scripts, down in Chattanooga we’re running 3D printing and we’ve got the fastest internet in the country in Chattanooga so we’ve got incredible corporate support there for companies that are doing incredible things that take advantage of the bandwidth that we have in Chattanooga; where they can test things that you can’t test anywhere else in the country.
Russ: So before we started you were telling me about yesterday for you which included a trip to Austin and Atlanta and maybe some other cities along the way too but…
Charlie: It was a day and I don’t have a plane or helicopter so I…
Russ: All right, so you even started talking about events and you were sort of comparing it to South by Southwest that you guys are doing something here.
Charlie: Yeah, we started something it’s called 3686 which actually are the coordinates of Nashville, but we really talk about it in terms of a meeting place on the map where Southerners come together to celebrate the best of entrepreneurship and culture. And so call it our very mini South by Southwest if you will; we had about a thousand people at this last one. We actually feature startups from around the Southeast so we do pitch events around the south in the spring qualifying companies to be part of 3686 here in June
So it’s a great time and we want to give our guests a real taste of Southern culture here as well. And as you said, you were down on Broadway last night, there’s music everywhere – you are in Music City, USA so we have music, we have hot chicken; we may even sneak in a little tasting of Tennessee whiskey for the attendees. So it’s a great time and a great time to celebrate what’s happening here.
Russ: Well you seem to sort of be passionate about what you do and liking it, am I reading that correctly or are you like that all the time anyway?
Charlie: No, I’ve only had one cup of coffee this morning so it’s not the coffee. No again, I get to be around smart people doing cool things and it’s an exciting time to do it. And we’ve got the support of – we’re primarily funded by economic community development, so we’re public private; we’ve got to raise private funds as well but the state of Tennessee has said we want double down on this, it’s important. So it’s nice, my boss is an entrepreneur who is the Commissioner of ECD, our Governor Bill Haslam is an entrepreneur, comes from an entrepreneurial family; so it’s fantastic when you’ve got support up and down the line and people who understand the importance of building businesses.
Russ: Well Charlie I really appreciate you sharing Launch Tennessee with us.
Charlie: Well thank you, I appreciate the opportunity to do so.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Charlie Brock, the President of Launch Tennessee, and this is TheBusinessMakers USA.
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