Launch Tennessee selects KEC, TennSMART to manage new mentor network programs in ag, automotive

The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, which just completed its latest “AgLaunch Bootcamp” in partnership with the AgLaunch organization, is joining forces with the Memphis-based entity as part of an expansion of  Launch Tennessee’s “Mentor Networks program.

The expansion, which doubles the number of industry sector-focused mentor programs, was announced yesterday during the sixth day of the “36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival.”

“KEC is very excited to be expanding its long-standing partnership with both Launch Tennessee and AgLaunch to increase mentorship opportunities for agritech entrepreneurs throughout Tennessee,” said Jim Biggs, the organization’s Executive Director. “Agriculture and forestry have a huge economic impact that touches all 95 counties. By further investing in our 5-year collaboration with AgLaunch, and building on the foundation of their existing farmer-led mentor network, we have the opportunity to dramatically improve the likelihood of success for innovators seeking to commercialize ag-related technologies, in turn improving lives and outcomes for farmers not just in Tennessee, but across the nation.”

In addition to the existing programs and the organizations supporting them – life sciences (BioTN) and advanced energy (Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council) and the newly added agricultural sector, the fourth addition is automotive. The TennSMART membership consortium will coordinate that sector.

Companies that are accepted into any of the mentor programs receive free support to help them develop a compelling commercialization strategy and prepare for funding and growth. The overall program is modeled after San Diego’s highly successful CONNECT Springboard initiative and was started several years ago by Life Science Tennessee.

“Agriculture and automotive companies are essential to the Tennessee landscape, but they are facing unique challenges,” said Van Tucker, Interim Chief Executive Officer of Launch Tennessee. “The Tennessee agriculture sector is a tight knit community made up of individuals who often run lean operations with little time to dedicate to seeking and vetting cutting edge solutions. Meanwhile, auto companies face a large and complex industry with multiple layers of the supply chain and regulations. By connecting these early-stage businesses with Tennessee’s greatest minds, we hope to build stronger businesses in the state.”

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