Economic development organizations in the East Tennessee region are working together in an unprecedented collaborative effort to accelerate the growth of new companies and the creation of jobs in the area.
This view is held by a number of individuals including Lynn Youngs, Executive Director of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Tennessee (UT), who is serving as leader of the new initiative involving more than 40 public, private and non-profit organizations across the 16 East Tennessee counties.
Working under the name “East Tennessee Regional Accelerator Coalition” (ETRAC), the effort is funded in part by a grant from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD). The local group is one of nine alliances or organizationsaround the state that received initial grants of $250,000 each from ECD to launch region specific strategies to accelerate new business start-ups. (See previous post about the ECD regional plans.)
“I believe this is an unprecedented collaboration among people and organizations who do well at what they do,” Youngs said. “We are working better today (as a team) than we ever have before.”
The ETRAC goal is to achieve exactly what the name implies – speed-up a young company’s entry into the marketplace through targeted, more intense assistance. The ETRAC effort is not intended to replace existing services already available to start-ups. Instead, it is intended to bring additional resources to bear while also ensuring that companies have the best resources available for them at the stage of development where they find themselves.
Youngs said that companies can apply for ETRAC assistance at any time through the organization’s web site – http://www.etrac.org/. The existing five-person management team will evaluate applications on a monthly basis and give priority for services to applicants showing the highest potential for rapid growth. Those who do not fall into the high potential category will still be served by being connected to resources best matched to their needs.
Youngs said that companies not viewed as high growth initially might be able to demonstrate that potential at a later date and reapply.
An important ETRAC success factor will be the organization’s ability to match seasoned mentors with ETRAC clients. Youngs said that “we will screen mentors to match expertise and need.” More mentors are needed, and applications to serve as a mentor can also be found at http://www.etrac.org/.
Youngs said the state funding opportunity “came along at a perfect time to help focus our regional strategies in ways that we were already pursuing.”
He cited as keys the nearly four-year old Innovation Valley Inc. (IVI) effort with its technology and entrepreneurial component and enhanced emphasis on technology transfer at UT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (OPNL) and the Y-12 National Security Complex (Y-12).
Youngs also noted that the Anderson Center is conducting a study to help UT and ORNL develop new strategies to accelerate successful commercialization of technologies in the region. This effort includes a series of benchmarking trips to successful communities like Salt Lake City, Utah and Columbus, Ohio.
“People look at this region as a technology rich area,” Youngs said. While acknowledging its tremendous technology and research assets, he also noted that at least four clusters not known as high technology sectors have emerged, including food (baked beans), transportation (travel centers), manufactured housing, and movie theaters.
“Our efforts to grow jobs will include both technology-based and other start-ups, as we’ve seen successes in both categories” Youngs said.
He is particularly proud of the fact that only one proposal was submitted to serve the 16 East Tennessee counties, and it came from the ETRAC coalition that includes all of the area chambers, education institutions, and local and regional economic development organizations. He is also pleased with the “increasing level of interest from the private sector” in helping make ETRAC successful.
ETRAC’s management team is led by Youngs and includes Teri Brahams of Pellissippi State Community College, Doug Minter of the Knoxville Chamber, John Morris of Tech 20/20 and Geoff Robson of 3-Degrees, LLC. In addition to the organizations they represent, other initial partners include Claris Networks, Entrepreneurs’ Organization – East Tennessee Chapter, Entrepreneurs of Knoxville, IVI, In10sity, ORNL, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, Roane State Community College, Tennessee Veterans Business Association, UT Extension, and UT Research Foundation.