Tennessee startups working on 'front door'

Tennessee startups working on 'front door'

November 18th, 2011 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

The loosey-goosey world of Tennessee entrepreneurs is about to get organized, thanks to the coordinated efforts of Startup Tennessee, said Michael Burcham, president.

Burcham told Chattanooga Rotarians on Thursday he will organize a loose confederation of self-starters into a coherent force, after nine regional hubs received about $500,000 each in state and local grants to create a "front door" for Tennesseans looking to start a business.

"When I was a child, the dream was a little house with a white picket fence," he said. "Today, the dream is to be in charge of our own economic destiny."

The self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur and former Hospital Corporation of America executive said the goal is to unite the disparate efforts currently under way, bringing access to capital and national attention to Tennessee's burgeoning startup community.

"Together, we speak with a much louder voice," Burcham said. "We need to have a system that's strong enough so that outsiders see that Tennessee represents a great opportunity."

The Company Lab, Chattanooga's startup accelerator, has been charged with using its half-million dollar grant to expand from Hamilton County to the 10-county region.

Company Lab executive Sheldon Grizzle and Charlie Brock, who will split time with his current position at Four Bridges Capital, will lead the effort to establish a "front door" for entrepreneurs in the area, Grizzle said.

"We're going to stay pretty lean," Grizzle said. "We've got a great group of volunteers."

Brock, who also is a founding partner at the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, brings relationships from the world of capital investment, while Grizzle is coming fresh off the 48-hour launch startup event and several years of small business experience.

"The foundation they laid here is fantastic," Brock said.

The two-phase plan to organize startup accelerators in Chattanooga, Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville should be complete by mid-2012, while plans already are in motion to coordinate industry events.

The practical result will be more training, more mentoring and more investing, Burcham said. "In today's market, it's very important that we organize together," he said.