By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
With a theme of “Where Entrepreneurs and Technology Meet,” it was only natural that speaker after speaker at this week’s “Tennessee Valley Corridor National Summit” at Tennessee Tech University (TTU) in Cookeville focused on some aspect of the topic.
The specifics varied:
- U.S. Congressman Phil Roe talked about the negative impact of government regulations on new business starts, citing some troubling statistics that compared the most recent economic recovery with the two previous ones.
- Charlie Brock, Chief Executive Officer and President of Launch Tennessee, cited his organization’s new initiatives in rural entrepreneurship while also calling for more multi-county and even multi-state activities to spearhead entrepreneurship.
- TTU President Phil Oldham discussed the importance of spreading the impact of the TVC’s technology centers – Oak Ridge and Huntsville – to the more rural areas of the region.
There were special presentations from three start-ups in the five-state region – Robotics Technology of Tennessee (Cookeville), MomSource Network (Knoxville), and Branch Technology (Chattanooga). Each is at a different stage in its development with Robotics Technology (RTT) being the oldest, founded in 2007 by a TTU Professor and one of his former graduate students.
Steve Glovsky, RTT’s Executive Vice President, described the company that produces mobile, automated welding, inspecting, and cutting platforms for a variety of customers ranging from the Tennessee Valley Authority to General Dynamics, EPRI, and the U.S. Navy.
“We bring factory-type automation to non-factory environments,” Glovsky explained as he described RTT’s initial product – a robotic crawler developed to inspect coal-fired power plants. Not only was the technology safer, but it also provided additional benefits.
“We have great ROI because we eliminate steps,” Glovsky said.
MomSource Network announced earlier this week its expansion to two more cities – Austin and Tampa, while Branch Technology recently took the top prize in Launch Tennessee’s “The TENN.”
During a time-compressed panel discussion moderated by John Morris, a Partner in ClearPath Ventures, several trends were discussed with the Internet being at the top of the list.
“The Internet has changed everything,” David Kingsbury, Vice President of Client Services at Huntsville’s BizTech, said. Others agreed, including Monsi Roman, Program Manager with NASA, who observed that “one person is now empowered to start a business.”
Other themes discussed by the panel included:
- Collaboration – “It used to be one person, one idea,” Kingsbury said, “Now, it’s collaborative which reduces risk.”
- Culture – “Acceptance of the entrepreneurial culture (and the fact that) a 25-year old can build a successful business is a battle in rural areas,” Jeff Brown, Executive Director and President of Cookeville’s The Biz Foundry, observed.
- Failure – “It’s OK to fail,” Vig Sherrill, Co-Founder of General Graphene, emphasized. “If you don’t think you’ll ever fail, you’ll fail really big,” Brown added.
- Capital – To be successful, Kingsbury believes there must be a good match between the entrepreneur and the investor. He also suggested that it is acceptable for entrepreneurs to interview prospective investors before making a decision.
- Management Team – Sherrill reminded everyone that “it’s not just about getting the capital, but also about having the right management team.”
- Customers – “The easiest way to not have to worry about raising money is to raise customers,” Brown said. “Even early stage investors are looking for traction.”
UPDATE: With walk-ins, the Summit registration reached 325 attendees.