Alex Lavidge focused on “fostering energy” around entrepreneurship, STEM education and new company
By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was written before a lunch discussion on Friday with Alex Lavidge about some fairly recent developments and future plans. We’ll reveal those over the next several weeks.)
Alex Lavidge is a Knoxville native who had the opportunity to experience first-hand the excitement that occurs in the Silicon Valley and along Sand Hill Road, the street noted for its concentration of venture capital firms.
As a result, he has repeatedly asked the question, “How can we foster the same energy here in this region?” His answer has been involvement in a variety of initiatives – from founding and serving as President of Knoxville Overground to playing a key role in a recent initiative called the Entrepreneurial Growth Group. He’s also been a consistent evangelist for entrepreneurship with anyone who wants to engage in a discussion.
More recently, however, he has taken the cause to a new level, joining with Stan Duncan to launch their own company called Syner-G.
In an interview with teknovation.biz, Lavidge said that there is not an official link between the new company and 10-year old, Knoxville-based Strata-G, although he says that Dan Hurst and the Strata-G team “have been helpful in incubating us.” The two are co-located in Strata-G’s space off Hardin Valley Road.
“Creativity and innovation thrive in a structure and with a process,” Lavidge says, referring to the concept for Syner-G, although his philosophy could as equally apply to many of his efforts in entrepreneurial evangelism and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.
The new start-up is focused on helping “stakeholders develop and implement strategies that save time, money, and promote new revenue streams.” In fact, Syner-G bills itself on its Facebook site as a “stakeholder management agency” that “leverages the collective intelligence” of a group to make positive things happen.” (http://www.facebook.com/SynerGStakeholderMgmt#!/SynerGStakeholderMgmt/info)
“How do you maximize a meeting,” Lavidge asks, and then quickly answers that “it helps if everyone reads the memo.” That simple statement explains the core philosophy behind Syner-G – facilitating communications and ensuring buy-in.
Theory, practice and passion came together earlier this year when Syner-G was engaged to help plan and deliver a major STEM conference in Tullahoma that had the stated goal of “bringing together participants . . . to share best practices, expand the ‘toolbox’ of ideas for engaging the Tennessee STEM community, and identify solution outcomes.”
Lavidge explained that Ed Swallow, Vice President of Business Development for Northrop Grumman, introduced him to Andy White, who heads the Aerospace and Defense MBA Program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). White “called on us to help set-up the event.” The planners wanted to “make it more than a standard networking event,” he explained.
For Syner-G, this was a perfect opportunity to showcase its capabilities at the “Workforce Development Conference” held in Tullahoma. The event was sponsored by the Aerospace Industry Association and National Defense Industrial Association and included leaders from the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network (TSIN).
Syner-G incorporates software, such as Google Moderator, and several Social Media apps, “to facilitate conversations (among the participants) before, during and after events.” Lavidge explains that the pre-event “conversations” are frequently focused on setting the agenda, meeting parameters and desired outcomes. During the event, the tools are used to discuss challenges and possible solutions, leading-up to decisions and actions.
“When attendees leave, they continue the discussions using Google Moderator and other Social Media tools,” Lavidge said.
While he’s passionate about defense and aerospace, he admits that “it’s not the only sector we want to address.” Lavidge mentions cybersecurity, automotive, healthcare, technology transfer, and not-for-profits among potential future targets.
Ultimately, it’s about how Tennessee can effectively address its STEM challenges.
“We want to create more events across the state,” he says, adding that “we’re already putting together events for industrial sensor-focused companies . . . helping them understand the market.”
Syner-G has three service offerings – event planning, the software that it incorporates, and development consulting.
Thus far, Lavidge and Duncan have self-funded their company. This is not their first collaboration. The duo organized a conference for the Baker Center at UTK and developed, but did not launch a LinkedIn-type platform for STEM professionals.
Lavidge remains passionate about his hometown and its potential.
“We have a unique opportunity as a region to look around and integrate a number of programs perfected elsewhere,” he says, citing Chattanooga and the work that Sheldon Grizzle and his colleagues have done at the Co.Lab as a good model. “They get it.”
Lavidge believes that the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region “needs a focus,” but he also cautions against “putting all our eggs in one basket,” citing Detroit and automotive as a classic example.
He left us with an intriguing statistic – one-third of today’s workforce is self-employed. “Many could or will become entrepreneurs,” Lavidge says. “Understanding their needs is a real opportunity.”
As the Syner-G team pursues its vision, Lavidge says there are several key developments on the horizon. We’ll learn more about those later. In the meantime, we can expect that his growing passion for STEM education and its impact on the region’s future will be a continuing thread in his endeavors as will start-ups. Syner-G was one of the sponsors of this year’s “Entrepreneurial Imperative” conference hosted by Tech 20/20.