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June 08, 2016 | Tom Ballard

Final reflections offered on “36|86 Conference”

36-86 v2By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Here are some final reflections from two days spent at this week’s “36|86 Conference” hosted by Launch Tennessee.

It Takes a Great Deal of Effort

As anyone who has ever coordinated conferences knows, these events take a great deal of planning and execution. Kudos to the Launch Tennessee team, particularly Courtney Corlew, who was repeatedly singled-out for her work in coordinating the event. That said, it was clearly a team effort, so congratulations to everyone on the team.

East Tennessee Was Well-Represented in the “Village 36” Finale

Wonder just how strong the East Tennessee entrepreneurial ecosystem is? The conference started with seven of the 36 teams that participated in “Village 36” coming from Chattanooga, Johnson City or Knoxville. That’s almost 20 percent. After the audience votes in the preliminary rounds to select finalists, the region had two of the five finalists – 40 percent. They were Knoxville’s Vendor Registry and Chattanooga’s Torch. The other three teams came out of Atlanta. And, in the end, Torch took the top prize and $50,000.

You Need to Support the Effort

Kudos to the Chattanooga, Cookeville, and Knoxville entrepreneurial ecosystems for their support of the “36|86 Conference.” There were numerous angel and venture investors, other entrepreneurs beyond those participating in “Village 36,” and individuals from the respective entrepreneurial support organizations who came, networked, and provided considerable support. As the old saying goes, “It takes a village,” and the residents of those cities turned-out to show their support.

This Was Jason Denenberg’s Finale

The “36|86 Conference” was Jason Denenberg’s swan song with Launch Tennessee. The Director of Entrepreneurship and Capital Formation is leaving to devote full-time to NourishWise, his healthy eating start-up. Denenberg said it was time to give the new company the energy that it needs to move forward.

Best Fireside Chat

It was a close competition, but our favorite was Jim McKelvey, Co-Founder of mobile payments start-up Square. The animated, engaging, funny and insightful computer scientist started his fireside discussion by noting that there was not a fire for the chat. So, the entrepreneurial McKelvey retrieved his laptop and produced a picture of a flaming fireplace on the screen. Next, he found a stick and a bag of marsh mellows and started toasting the latter on his screen-based fire when the marsh mellow suddenly caught fire.

Having totally captured the audience’s attention. McKelvey proceeded to impart some good information.

“My attitude toward technology is this stuff will do anything,” he said while holding his iPhone. “Sometimes you have to invent, but most times you don’t. So much has been invented, but so little has been applied.”

McKelvey’s area today is financial technology, which he described as different than most technology start-ups. For the latter, he said you need a great team, a great idea and financial resources. A fourth – permission – is needed in FinTech. This relates to credit card companies and other financial institutions that will allow you to work in their systems.

On the often cited challenge of the South being a flyover area, McKelvey noted that start-ups based in Silicon Valley absolutely have to recruit the best talent and incredible amounts of financing. He even cited one thus far unfilled position at Square with a starting salary of $10 million.

“Very few companies need to play at that level,” McKelvey said. “If not, it’s much better to start where the talent base is stable, living is affordable, and lives are more normal.” That describes the South.

McKelvey is a glassblower, and he used his experience in this sideline to offer some interesting concluding insights. First, he noted that you cannot hide imperfections. Second, as glass is heated, the properties change, so those who practice glassblowing need to be sure they can make something better before they heat the glass.

“Timing is so important,” McKelvey said. “You can do the right thing but at the wrong time.” To put an exclamation point on the message, he told the attendees that they should “respect both the how and when” to get the results they want.

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