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February 01, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Entrepreneur Center Outlook | Sync Space

Heath Guinn reflects on accomplishments in 2023 and outlines several key SyncSpace goals for 2024.

Even as he continued to reflect on accomplishments made during 2023, Heath Guinn, Founder and President of the Sync Space Entrepreneur Center in Kingsport, was clearly focused on opportunities for 2024 when we chatted recently.

“A major focus of ours in 2023 was access to capital, and it was fantastic that the inaugural investment from Launch Tennessee’s ‘InvestTN’ fund went to a Northeast Tennessee start-up,” he said. “That demonstrated how the fund is truly statewide and catalyzed our partners.”

The $300,000 investment was made in Personality Pool, a company founded by Lauren Glass that uses advanced technology and artificial intelligence to help employers screen entry-level job candidates based on their personality traits. One-half of the funding came from “InvestTN,” the other half from local investors.

Building on that momentum, Guinn has set a goal to finalize a micro-venture fund in early 2024, raising about $1.5 million to invest in start-ups across the region that Sync Space serves. Sync Space’s Founder and President is also touting the success of companies that the entrepreneur center has mentored that combined were generating north of $10,000,000 annually in revenue.

“Northeast Tennessee also has amazing entrepreneurs who just like to stay out of the spotlight but have built incredible businesses meeting demands of the regional economy,” Guinn said.

He also touted what might seem like a routine occurrence but required considerable effort. It was the “Northeast Tennessee Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Map,” unveiled in December (see article here). It is a visual roadmap showcasing the region’s Entrepreneurial Support Organizations, programs, and other vital opportunities for entrepreneurs and the small business community.

More than 35 organizations were involved in helping develop the map which Guinn describes as a “regional foundation that is pretty important for the future.”

While he was not ready to divulge details of several likely private-sector collaborations in 2024 – the I’s are not dotted and the T’s are not crossed, Guinn did have several programmatic priorities that he could share as the year began.

“We are expanding our efforts to our more rural counties,” he said.

A central part of that expansion involves a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) under its READY Nonprofits program that is a community capacity-building initiative. Sync Space was one of three Northeast Tennessee recipients announced in late December, each awarded about $25,000. The others are FoundersForge in Johnson City and the Appalachian Resource Conservation and Development Council, also in Johnson City.

In making the announcement, ARC said Sync Space would use the funds for its “Training Local Entrepreneurship Facilitators in Rural Counties” project which expands programming and resources to eight of the most rural counties it serves in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. The expansion includes training in-county facilitators and supporting them with resources to implement Sync Space programming to community members. The project will enable the organization to have greater and more consistent programming and communication within the eight counties, allowing community members and entrepreneurs to benefit from Sync Space programming, thereby increasing long-term sustainability for the organization.

“We’ve already trained 12 facilitators and will be adding another 10 this year,” Guinn said.

Sync Space has also forged two other strategic alliances outside Northeast Tennessee.

  • One is with the Nashville Entrepreneur Center which will bring its Twende program to the region. Twende, which stands for “let’s go” in Kiswahili language, is a six-month accelerator program helping founders of color grow their professional network and scale their businesses. Seven Northeast Tennessee residents will participate in the mostly virtual program, supported by a local facilitator. Sync Space will also offer a minority-focused version of the CO.STARTERS program.
  • The other involves opening a joint office with the Tennessee Entertainment Commission to capitalize on what Guinn describes as an “oversupply of digital and other media” talent in the region. “There are 1,000 current media students or recent graduates of East Tennessee State University,” he says, noting that the school has been ranked #1 in Tennessee and # 7 nationally among schools offering an animation-related B.S. degree in the 2023 Animation School Rankings.

Other 2024 plans include: (1) helping with an expansion and upgrading of the maker space in Kingsport’s Innovation Village; (2) support for two pitch events, one led by Believe in Bristol in Bristol and the other in Johnson City organized by FoundersForge; and (3) expansion of the Sync Space board to add more individuals from the private sector.

“Our support from the community is growing,” Guinn says. “We continue to focus on      bringing people and organizations together who have not previously had opportunities to collaborate with each other.”

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