By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates. P.C.
Today is Dave Lawrence’s last day as Executive Director of AccelNow, the Northeast Tennessee start-up accelerator, and it’s a bittersweet moment for the long-time former Eastman Chemical Company executive who may have retired more times than this writer.
We caught-up with Lawrence on Tuesday during “The TENN” event in Nashville where he told us that a bad back was causing him to interrupt his latest post-retirement gig. Over the next several months, he is going to focus on exercise and therapy as he works to recover from persistent back and Sciatic nerve pain.
Having helped launch AccelNow in November of 2011, Lawrence has a particular passion for the accelerator, but he’s also philosophical about the timing of his departure and the future of entrepreneurship in the region.
“I feel good about the baseline we’ve established,” he said in citing the mentor and angel networks that were created, board members recruited, and programs launched like the monthly mixers and start-up weekends.
“It’s time for me to step aside and get an entrepreneur in as a leader,” Lawrence says. “It is easier to walk away with a new person with a different set of skills” in the position.
As we talked, it was clear that Lawrence had some well-formed views about the role and focus of accelerators. They start with the concept of just-in-time mentorship.
“Entrepreneurship is personal, and the assistance delivered has to be personal,” he said. “Entrepreneurs learn best from other entrepreneurs.”
Acknowledging that he is not a fan of a lot of classroom instruction, Lawrence did say that AccelNow and many of the state’s other accelerators “need to get more serial entrepreneurs engaged.”
Lawrence retired from Eastman after 31 years. During that time, he says he had a half-dozen careers, starting as a Lab Technician. He did stints as a Research Chemist, Sales Executive, Product Manager, Director of Strategy for Mergers and Acquisitions, and Business Director for Fine Chemicals.
After his Eastman career, Lawrence has been involved in small business activities – as a Counselor with the Small Business Development Center, Director of East Tennessee State University’s Innovation Lab and, for nearly two years, as Executive Director of AccelNow.
We expect to see Lawrence back helping grow businesses in the region after focusing his energies on getting his back better.