By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
The state’s newest start-up accelerator is also the only one of its kind in the country that has a combined focus on law enforcement, corrections and public safety.
The initiative, appropriately named JusticeXLTM, is now accepting applications through August 14 for the program that launches September 8 at the Southern Middle Tennessee Entrepreneur Centers (SMTEC) in Tullahoma.
“We want to have up to a dozen companies in our inaugural cohort,” SMTEC Executive Director Dan Marcum told us last week. “We think we already have five or six good, vibrant technologies interested.”
He says that interest thus far includes Tennessee-based start-ups as well as entrepreneurs from as far away as Arizona and Baltimore.
We caught-up with Marcum, his wife Fran, and JusticeXLTM Program Director Jerry Wright at the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association (TSA) annual conference in Sevierville. They were doing what any new organization does – interacting with potential customers to gain their insights while also marketing the new initiative.
“It’s sort of a reverse pitch,” Dan Marcum said, adding the team wants to understand the needs of law enforcement.
“The JusticeXLTM program has great potential,” TSA Executive Director Terry Ashe told us. He served for years as Sheriff in Wilson County and is a long-time collaborator of ours from an earlier professional life.
For the JusticeXLTM team, their motivation stems from several different realizations. It includes societal factors, a dynamic technology sector, and a market where there are not any dominating players.
“It’s a very vibrant industry,” Dan Marcum says in describing his views on the justice sector and opportunities for start-ups. As far as the market opportunities, Wright noted the diversity of companies in the TSA exhibit hall including a mattress provider adjacent to Motorola.
Yet, the team’s motivation in launching JusticeXLTM is more than just the business side.
“There’s a contradiction today in our communities,” Dan Marcum says. “There is support for the military, but questions about police,” suggesting that improved technologies can play a key role in helping address some of the existing perceptions.
He also cites an alarming statistic for minority populations.
“One in three African American males born today is destined to be in prison,” Marcum says. “This might be our last hurrah to do something to reverse that fact.”
JusticeXLTM is a 12-week program focused on helping entrepreneurs accelerate efforts to develop tactics and strategies that are effective, efficient and economical in improving public safety, reducing crime, increasing case closure rates, and transforming the corrections system.
The Marcums and Wright cite the dramatic evolution in areas like wearable sensor technologies, crime forecasting analytics, body cameras, and biometrics. They also note the increasing threat from drones that can be purchased inexpensively and used in a variety of ways to hamper law enforcement and make deliveries behind correctional facility walls.
“We want to help transform these emerging technologies into investible ideas,” Dan Marcum says. “We have some very smart people that have solutions that might not be the final solution, but are at least minimally viable products.”
During our visit, we also met John McConnell, Director of Pulse Technology Partners in Brentwood. The serial entrepreneur showed us one of those emerging technologies – the PulseMINITM, a form factor radar device the size of an iPhone that has a one-half mile range. His company just started shipping the device in the last month.
When JusticeXLTM launches, it will include residential activities in Tullahoma for the entrepreneurs as well as a distance learning component.