Burcham’s keynote speech at “Economic Summit” in Johnson City features some grits

The Southern food specialty “grits” played a prominent role in the keynote presentation that Michael Burcham, Executive Director of The Entrepreneur Center in Nashville, gave at yesterday’s county-wide “2012 Economic Summit” at the Millennium Centre in Johnson City.

The event, now in its tenth year and attended by an estimated 250 people, was coordinated by the Washington County Economic Development Council on behalf of the three local governments – Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County. The theme of this 2012 Summit was “Accelerating and Celebrating Entrepreneurship.”

Burcham spoke during the opening session, while East Tennessee State University (ETSU) President Brian Noland keynoted the lunch.

Burcham, who has traveled frequently across Tennessee speaking about the topic, said that “entrepreneurial grit” is a vital characteristic that successful entrepreneurs must have. He chose to make the word plural and described for the audience what each letter represented.

Starting with the letter “G,” Burcham said entrepreneurs must “have a well-articulated goal,” something frequently characterized as the 20- to 30-second elevator speech. “R” stands for resilience, “I” underscores the ability to innovate, “T” is the all-important trust factor, and the added “S” represents the importance of sharing success.

“Doing well and doing good are not the same thing,” Burcham said in urging those in the audience to be great mentors to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Jon Smith, Director of ETSU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, presided at the opening session. After Burcham’s presentation, he noted that “grits are more than a food . . . they’re kind of a spiritual concept.”

Earlier in his presentation, Burcham praised the leadership of AccelNow, the Northeast Tennessee regional accelerator.

“You are building your entrepreneurial ecosystem” regionally with the help of AccelNow, he said. “Entrepreneurs have already shown us that they can transform a community.”

Burcham outlined what he called the “10 critical steps in building an entrepreneurial community.” They are:

  • Committed leadership with a champion;
  • Engagement of all stakeholders in a conversation about “what you want that is unique and special to the community”;
  • Alignment of community vision for success;
  • Community support, both time and money;
  • Establishment of a front door for entrepreneurship in the community;
  • Concentrated efforts focused on the most important ingredients for success such as access to capital, training and mentors;
  • Support for growth-oriented companies;
  • Acceptance by the community of the entrepreneurial culture that is a “contrarian activity”;
  • Development of a plan to connect and create a funding pipeline to capital wherever it exists; and
  • A strategy that connects start-ups to large companies in the region with the expectation that the latter will be the first customers of the start-ups.

During his luncheon address, Noland presented a set of sobering statistics on how Tennessee compares to the country in educational attainment, a critical factor if the state is to prosper in a knowledge economy. He also cited some of the ways that ETSU is helping entrepreneurs through the now 10-year old Innovation Lab and ETSU-Valleybrook where IPE, Inc. is located.

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