By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
It was the inaugural rebranded celebration of Southern start-ups and culture, but all indicators were extremely positive as Launch Tennessee hosted the “36|86 Conference” in Nashville the past few days.
As a board member emeritus of the organization, I have more than a passing interest in the success of the event. My conversations with a number of participants from the teknovation.biz target geographic area showed enthusiasm for the conference.
Enoch Elwell of Chattanooga, the guru behind the “CO.STARTERS” program, described it as “feeling like a big family reunion.” Others cited the positive energy in the room, a strong focus on entrepreneurs, and a great balance between start-ups and investors.
Registered attendees numbered 871, about 200 above last year’s “Southland” event that was co-sponsored by Launch Tennessee and PandoDaily.
“This is a wonderfully improved focus on the Southeast audience,” said Lynn Youngs, Executive Director of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Tennessee.
His thoughts were clearly aligned with those of Jian Huang, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Survature.
“This year is way more focused on start-ups,” he said. “This shows the Tennessee and Southeast ecosystems are caring about the right things.”
Jonathan Sexton, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) and Founder of Bandposters, echoed Huang’s sentiments.
“It’s been fantastic,” he said. “The topics are relevant to the community. It feels more educational than entertaining.”
Antonio Montoya of Rocket Hatch in Huntsville echoed Sexton’s observation.
“I like the fact there are more start-ups and the focus is on start-ups from the Southeast,” he said, adding, “I see a lot more people from Alabama and Georgia.”
For former Knoxvillian Alex Lavidge who now serves as “GIGTANK” Director in Chattanooga, it was the success in showcasing start-ups across the region and the values of the Southeast.
“It’s all about culture,” he observed. “When you ask about our culture, this is what it is.”
Another key value of the “36|86 Conference” to start-ups was access to investors. Launch Tennessee’s Charlie Brock said there were about 120 individuals from 86 investment firms, with 54 being from outside the state.
“I’ve met a ton of investors,” Sexton said.
Jeff Brown, Executive Director of The Biz Foundry in Cookeville, is always looking for ways to connect start-ups and those with capital.
“I like the flavor of a much broader investor group to showcase Tennessee,” he said.
For Jim Biggs, KEC’s Executive Director, it was the total package.
“Launch has done a fantastic job of pulling together speakers and panelists providing a wealth of information and celebrating what is happening in the Southeast,” he said. “I was very impressed.”
Perhaps the best description we heard came from Eric Dobson, CEO of The Angel Capital Group, who observed, “The speakers are less colorful but more relevant.”