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July 07, 2013 | Tom Ballard

autoXLR8R’s Nichols has helped start many companies in the sector

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The autoXLR8R cohort is visiting Oak Ridge National Laboratory today as another stop on its visit of automotive research centers in the South.)

Mike Nichols has founded or co-founded more than a dozen companies, mostly in the automotive sector.

“I’m a serial entrepreneur . . . (who) has started businesses since I was a kid,” he told in a recent interview. His latest undertaking is serving as Program Director for the inaugural autoXLR8R class spawned by the Southern Middle Tennessee Entrepreneur Centers (SMTEC).

The 13-week program – many people refer to them as start-up boot camps – was launched May 13 in the former Saturn corporate headquarters in Spring Hill. Ten teams were invited to participate. The goal is to identify, commercialize and fund promising new technologies applicable to the automotive industry.

“Wherever I was, I’ve always viewed myself as a coach,” Nichols told us, noting that he is a long-time youth football coach. “It’s what I do that makes me happy.”

In his role as Program Director, Nichols says simply, “I want to help people realize their full potential.” He adds that “it is like a calling.”

Nichols brings significant start-up experience to autoXLR8R. As Director of Operations for Moto Motors, he “wrote the playbook and put operational things in place” for strategic partners including and eBay Motors, later conceiving and co-founding Control Box which was a strategic partner for

How Nichols got to Spring Hill is testimony to the persistence of Dan Marcum and the SMTEC team as well as the importance of networks. It starts with the Global Accelerator Network, an organization launched by two co-founders of TechStars who wanted to connect the top mentorship-driven, seed-stage accelerators around the world.

Nichols had been involved previously with TechStars 2012 through RollSale, a St. Louis-based start-up that he co-founded.

“They referred Dan to me,” Nichols said. After a meeting in Memphis, he was sold on the opportunity, even though Nichols admits the South is “new territory to me.” He’s never lived here.

Nichols is passionate about the autoXLR8R undertaking, noting several common characteristics of the 10 teams.

“Few of these companies have grassroots aspirations,” he says, explaining that they all want to grow to be national or even global players.

“The path is longer, and the overall stakes are higher,” Nichols explains. “These are very small teams taking huge amounts of risk.”

“We’re helping innovators turn their ideas into highly investible companies that will make a real impact in the automotive industry,” Nichols says.

One of the unique features of autoXLR8R is the fact that the teams will “hit the road,” visiting several locations including Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research.

For more information about the inaugural autoXLR8R program, go to these previous articles on


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