(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of a two-part series focused on this year’s “Tennessee Valley Corridor National Summit” and its theme of entrepreneurship. Tomorrow’s feature will spotlight thoughts voiced by entrepreneurs who participated.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
It was a day of firsts on day one of the annual “Tennessee Valley Corridor (TVC) National Summit” yesterday in Cookeville.
It was the first time any TVC event had been held in the Upper Cumberland Plateau city, the first time Tennessee Tech University (TTU) was so prominently displayed, and the first time the event theme was focused on entrepreneurship.
About 250 pre-registered for the two-day conference hosted on the TTU campus with a theme of “Where Entrepreneurs and Technology Meet.”
The importance of economic development partnerships was a topic voiced by almost every speaker, starting with the Summit’s host.
As TTU President Phil Oldham emphasized in a recent two-part series on teknovation.biz (Part 1 and Part 2), he has placed a high priority on the university being a major contributor to the region’s economic development.
“We have an opportunity to make a difference, and it is through partnerships,” Oldham told the attendees yesterday. “We sometimes get relegated to workforce development, but it is much more than that.”
He noted that TTU has more than 1,000 students who graduate annually in one of the STEM disciplines – science, mathematics, engineering or math. Oldham wants to help ensure that the Upper Cumberland region can create the types of jobs that will allow those graduates to stay there if they want to do so.
“It’s the students’ energy and creativity that drives it all,” Oldham said of the partnerships where TTU is helping recruit new industries to the region, support existing businesses, and providing “education with a purpose,” as he describes the university’s curriculum.
One of the areas that he emphasized during his presentation was the “Eagle Works Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition.” More than 200 students have competed in the annual event in the past three years, including a multi-year winner in Gigamunch, a company previously profiled on teknovation.biz. Another of the student entrepreneurs Oldham cited was Charlie Jordan who has launched two start-ups including Wait Saver, the subject of this article.
Other speakers on the opening day included three members of Tennessee’s Congressional delegation – Chuck Fleischmann, Diane Black and Phil Roe; Malcolm Portera, Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Alabama System; and a number of individuals who are entrepreneurs in the region or involved in supporting entrepreneurship across the five states that are part of the TVC region.
Portera, who also served as President of Mississippi State University, echoed the importance of partnerships during his luncheon address.
“The competition for federal and state dollars for public universities will increase in the future,” he observed. “The number of people sitting at the supper table will increase. We must grow a larger pie (and that’s) through economic development.”
Portera has a strong reputation for the key leadership he provided in both Alabama and Mississippi on large recruitment projects such as the Nissan plant that was located outside Jackson, MS.
He underscored his emphasis on partnerships with some subtle humor and a double entendre.
“An attitude of we, not we and they, will build success,” he said, adding, “A rising TIDE raises all boats.”