More than a year ago, Heath Guinn, Founder of Sync Space in Kingsport, began pursuing the answer to a key question: Would Launch Tennessee (LaunchTN) be interested in coming back to the region? He hoped the answer was yes. “We had to have LaunchTN,” Guinn said. “They bring statewide credibility.”
Yesterday, the public-private partnership that empowers a statewide network of resources supporting Tennessee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem announced Sync Space as its newest network partner. The Tri-Cities accelerator kicks off its first cohort this spring.
“On behalf of our statewide partners from Memphis and Jackson to Chattanooga, Nashville, Cookeville, and Knoxville, LaunchTN extends an enthusiastic, warm welcome to the Sync Space team,” said LaunchTN President and Chief Executive Officer Margaret Dolan. “Sync Space is an important addition to our network. Our vision is to make Tennessee the most startup-friendly state in the nation, and formally extending Tennessee’s robust network to the Tri-Cities area is a significant addition to our statewide ecosystem.”
We chatted with Guinn about his plans now that his goal is a reality.
“We will focus on things that will help entrepreneurs to be successful in Northeast Tennessee,” he told us. “We don’t want a county-by-county approach, but a unified approach across all of Northeast Tennessee. Entrepreneurship is one of those things that people can unify around a regional success.”
While Sync Space is located in Downtown Kingsport, Guinn says the organization will have satellite offices in Bristol and Johnson City.
One of the programmatic areas high on his list is community health.
“Northeast Tennessee has some of the most challenging statistics, not only in Tennessee but in the country,” Guinn says. With assets like East Tennessee State University and Ballad Health, he sees opportunities to launch pilot programs that will involve entrepreneurial initiatives to reverse those statistics.
Noting that advanced materials are the heart of Kingsport-headquartered Eastman Chemical Company, Guinn believes that advanced manufacturing, materials science and medical devices hold promise for starting businesses.
Another possible area of focus is education in a region that has some of the best and also some of the lowest-scoring K-12 schools in Tennessee.
Finally, with so much attention in the Volunteer State on rural economic development, Guinn is exploring ways to partner with the First Tennessee Development District on innovative ways to help the region’s rural communities.
From this work, Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable noted that his County Commission and Kingsport have already voted to appropriate funds to match grant funding designated for a new entrepreneurial development and recruitment program.
“Conversations are continuing on how we expand the regional support and reach for entrepreneurial development, as well as how the First Tennessee Development District might expand beyond its historical scope to encompass the additional work identified by the Task Force Action Groups,” Venable said.
Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull noted that the city has worked hard on improving the entrepreneurial ecosystem through a partnership with the Kingsport Economic Development Board that has, among other things, developing a regional maker space and working to build additional advanced manufacturing capacity.
“Kingsport believes that a key missing component in our development toolbox has been in the area of entrepreneurial support and development,” Shull said. “We are pleased to support this effort as it grows beyond Sullivan County to become a truly regional entrepreneurial development program.”
Applications for Sync Space’s first start-up accelerator close March 1. For more information, click here.