By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
“Preds Fever,” as Nashville’s first-ever Stanley Cups finals is being described, was not lost on Steve Case during the opening session of Launch Tennessee’s “36|86 Conference” that kicked-off yesterday just after noon.
“Things are on fire in Nashville . . . the Preds (Nashville Predators), cranes, CMAs, and 36|86,” the Founder of Internet legend AOL said during a fireside chat moderated by Jon Shieber, Senior Editor at TechCrunch.
The venue for the conference – the Schermerhorn Symphony Center – is just a block from the Bridgestone Arena, and Downtown Nashville was awash in fans dressed in gold even as rain peppered the area.
Case is well-known in the entrepreneurial community for his “Rise of the Rest” initiative that was launched several years ago to underscore start-up ecosystems in cities other than on the coast. Ironically, he visited Nashville on the tour almost three years ago.
More recently, Case has authored a book titled The Third Wave that is described as taking “an insightful look into the future of start-ups and entrepreneurs in our ever-evolving technological world.” The first wave was “taking the idea of the Internet and making it real,” Case said. The second wave added services and apps. The third wave integrates the Internet into the everyday lives of individuals in some very disruptive ways.
After reading the book, Launch Tennessee’s Charlie Brock said Case became his top speaker choice.
“Nashville and, more broadly, Tennessee have done a good job,” Case said in response to a question from Shieber about ways to better connect with and attract the attention of Silicon Valley and its vast investment community.
That said, he offered three suggestions:
- Find ways to create more “network density” of the people-to-people kind. “Conferences like this help,” Case said, adding that the more communities connect the dots and breakdown the silos, the more success they will have.
- Develop a strategy to get capital off the sidelines and engaged through initiatives like micro-funds.
- Do a better job of championing your city and celebrating the success of its start-up ecosystem.
“You’re seeing a lot of momentum . . . in Tennessee and the Southeast,” Case observed. Using Nashville and its healthcare reputation as an example, he added that “you’re going to have to marry technology with domain expertise.” Doing that through partnerships will help accelerate innovation.
Case explained that there will always be surprises in the ecosystem, referring to very successful start-ups that do not have ties to the strengths of the local community.
Midway through the fireside chat, Knoxville’s Jay Rogers, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Local Motors, joined Case and Shieber for a spirited discussion that also touched on the role of government – federal, state and local.
As many of our readers know, Rogers relocated his family from Arizona to take advantage of 3D printing/additive manufacturing technology being developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
“I saw a need, went to find the (right) technology, and found it in Knoxville,” Rogers said in reference to work underway at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. Now, Local Motors has one of its micro-factories located just across Pellissippi Parkway.
“Government needs to continue funding basic research,” Case said. “Government should not be in the business of direct investing.” Instead, he said the government’s role is to create the right climate, policies and regulations to stimulate the private sector.
Rogers underscored the point, noting the importance of the support he has received from Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett.