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Charlie Brock

For the past 20 years I have started, built and invested in early-stage companies and worked to create healthy, sustainable ecosystems for startups across Tennessee. I am often asked what differentiates success from failure and what I prioritize as an investor.

While there are many aspects I consider before making an investment, two areas that rise to the top are leadership and timing.

About leadership, you consider various questions: Does the leader have the capacity to create a bold vision, set lofty goals, think strategically while acting tactically and measure everything? Does he or she have the credibility and charisma to persuade others to join them? Once the team is assembled, does the leader treat them with respect and integrity? Is there relentless energy and drive to work passionately, investing long days, nights and weekends to achieve the vision? And, importantly, does he or she have courage to make changes when things are not working and be transparent about the progress made against the goals?

As the timing question is assessed, there are several key considerations. Sometimes ideas are great but the market opportunity has passed by or is not quite ready. Additionally, often there are outside market dynamics, economic trends or changing consumer tastes that mitigate — or amplify — the opportunities for success.

Now let's consider these areas related to the proposed increased investment in public education.

» Leadership

In Superintendent Bryan Johnson, we have the leader that we have long sought for our school system. In the two years since he assumed his position, the school system has made substantial progress, developing Future Ready Institutes and other priority programming, engaging numerous corporations throughout the region and building a strong executive leadership team. Graduation rates have improved and test scores are up. Management, in conjunction with the Board of Education, has developed a bold, five-year strategic plan with quantifiable performance targets that link each budget item to measurable goals. In short, Johnson exhibits each of the primary attributes we should be assessing as we consider future investment.

» Timing

From my work on the entrepreneurial economic development front at Launch Tennessee, I know first-hand that the question about developing in-state talent is a huge concern. Whether outside companies looking to relocate or expand to the state, or West Coast venture capital firms considering investment in our high-growth startups, they want to know about our education system. When Gov. Bill Haslam enacted the Tennessee Promise program that provides two years of free tuition, the tenor of the talent conversation changed considerably. For too many years in Hamilton County, we have not been able to use our education system as a selling point to outside companies or investors. This is our opportunity to change that discussion, in the same way Tennessee Promise has done for the post-secondary level.

Tennessee has experienced tremendous success on the economic development front over the past decade, in large part due to our business climate and quality of life. However, in a hyper-competitive global environment and with the accelerating pace of change in the digital economy, what got us there in the past will not work for the future.

Some have suggested that we postpone approving an operating budget increase until the release of the report on the district's facilities. However, given the expected size of the capital and maintenance needs, that is likely to be a lengthy community discussion that will entail a long-term financing plan. Let's not make our kids, teachers and principals wait to address the pressing needs in the classroom for another two to three years while we develop and approve a capital plan.

It's been 14 years since we approved an operational budget increase for the school system. With strong leadership and the job market demanding higher quality talent, now is the time to make this investment to enable a better future for many young people and our community.

Charlie Brock is CEO of Brock Partnerships, an entrepreneurial advisory and investment firm.

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