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January 10, 2013 | Tom Ballard

Brock proudest of angel fund, will draw on Chattanooga experience as he leads LaunchTN

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The author is a former Vice Chair and current Board Member Emeritus of LaunchTN.)

LaunchTN, formerly known as the Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, has been without a permanent Chief Executive Officer (CEO) since mid-2010. Leslie Wisner-Lynch served for nearly two years before stepping down in May 2012, and Brad Smith has served since then.

Earlier this week, the LaunchTN Board of Directors selected Chattanooga’s Charlie Brock to be the permanent CEO. He assumes the leadership position on January 28.

We caught-up with Brock the day after his selection for a brief conversation as he drove over Monteagle Mountain.

“I’ve done more interviews in the last two days than I have done in my 48 years,” he laughingly said.

Brock is no stranger to the start-up and capital space, having played a strong role and worn many hats in the entrepreneurial resurgence underway in Chattanooga. He has been Managing Director of FourBridges Capital Advisors, a lower-middle market investment bank; Executive Entrepreneur and CEO of CO.LAB, Chattanooga’s accelerator that runs the city’s widely acclaimed “Gig Tank” program; and a General Partner in the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, a local angel investment group.

He also helped found Foxmark Media in 1998 and grew it through two rounds of private financing into one of the nation’s largest mall advertising companies before selling it in 2006.

Brock has been peppered with questions about his plans and priorities for LaunchTN and has said that he wants to take time before being too specific.

So, instead of going in that direction in our interview, we asked two questions about his Chattanooga experience – what gives him the greatest satisfaction and what lessons has he learned from those experiences.

Brock quickly responded to the first in citing the establishment and success of the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund.

“We’ve never had a formalized angel group in Chattanooga,” Brock explained, adding that “there were a couple of attempts in the past.”

He and his partners started raising monies for the fund 27 months ago, and Brock recalled the skepticism that they encountered. Potential investors peppered them with a variety of questions, starting with the prospects for sufficient deal flow.

“There was a hangover from two deals done 10 years ago, particularly one that raised a lot of money and flamed-out quickly,” Brock said.

He finds it “really gratifying” that the Renaissance Fund will finish what the partners expected to be a three- to five-year investment timeframe in less than three years. Brock adds that he’s “excited about the portfolio of companies” in which they have invested and is pleased that one start-up has already exited.

“We have exceeded our expectations,” Brock said.

On the second question about lessons learned that will serve him as he takes the helm at LaunchTN, Brock cited a principal in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – begin with the end in mind.

He says, “I love asking the question, ‘What does success look like to you?’ It forces communication and conversation.” In Brock’s case, he adds that it also helps him better understand opportunities, because he “loves being part of win-win situations.”

He said the second philosophical lesson learned is that “perfect is the enemy of good.” For Brock, 80 to 90 percent is good enough as a starting point. “Let’s get it (a new product) out there and let the market talk,” the opponent of analysis paralysis and initial perfection explained.

As the Vice Chair of LaunchTN last year, I was one of the individuals who tried unsuccessfully at the time to recruit Brock to the position he has now agreed to take. I felt then that he had the broad experience, solid understanding and servant leadership qualities to be a great leader for LaunchTN. The state’s entrepreneurial community is fortunate that he has agreed to take the CEO position now.

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