By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
The East Tennessee region and its venture development activities were well-represented in the concluding panel at last week’s “2014 Tennessee Valley Corridor National Summit” in Chattanooga.
Moderated by John Morris of Tech 20/20, the session featured the Presidents of Tennessee Technological University (TTU) and two community colleges as well as a venture capitalist and the Executive Director of the Cumberland Business Incubator (CBI).
The theme was the intersection between education and venture development. Here’s a quick summary of some of the points made.
- “You can incorporate certain aspects of creativity into the curriculum, but creativity occurs more out of the classroom,” Phil Oldham, TTU President, said. “We are creating spaces for students and faculty to explore the potential of their ideas.” He explained that he hopes to have the first of these areas open for Fall Semester. An important ingredient will be “access to mentors.” TTU is also working with about six start-ups in collaboration with The Biz Foundry.
- Roane State Community College President Chris Whaley said that about two-thirds of his student body is composed of individuals pursuing a career after receipt of either a two-year degree or a non-credit certificate. “We need to think of new and stronger ways to make those students aware that the only route for them is not just going to work for someone else,” he said in talking about the option of becoming an entrepreneur.
- For CBI’s Holly Hanson, it’s about initiating entrepreneurial education in high school or even middle school. She cited programs such as Junior Achievement that are making a difference. “There are a lot of changes we could do starting at a really early age,” Hanson added.
- Fran Marcum of NEST-TN, a Middle Tennessee venture fund, concurred with Hanson’s assessment. “It’s a paradigm shift,” she said, adding, “It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur in Tennessee.” Marcum also serves as a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents.
- “We’re building two activators, not accelerators,” Jim Catanzaro, President of Chattanooga State Community College, said.