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August 10, 2017 | Tom Ballard

PART 2: Nashville EC’s navigator concept addresses “death by a thousand coffees”

Nashville Entrepreneur Center(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a two-part series discussing Michael Brody-Waite’s vision for the Nashville Entrepreneur Center.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

To illustrate his concept for the Nashville Entrepreneur Center’s (EC) Navigator Program, Michael Brody-Waite talks about a hypothetical female entrepreneur named Jane.

“She is the victim of death by a thousand coffees,” the EC’s Chief Executive Officer says. What does that mean? Most entrepreneurs know; spend many hours having coffee with referral after referral, trying to find the right resource – mentor, customer, investor or whatever.

“We don’t have an efficient and effective framework to facilitate those connections,” Brody-Waite says. “That’s what the EC Navigation Program is . . . connecting people to the right resources.”

The concept is simple, yet he says that that after studying many organizations across the country, “no one has figured this out.” In partnership with Pathway Lending, Brody-Waite is working on what he calls the alpha minimum viable product (MVP). Yes, it will be software-based eventually, although it will start with a manual process.

“We’re doing the alpha MVP as a way to inform our strategy,” Brody-Waite says. “We’re fleshing-out the plan and raising money. I hope to start development in 2018.”

He expects development to take 18 to 24 months.

Drawing an analogy with the patient navigator model that is in vogue in healthcare, Brody-Waite says the approach he has in mind for entrepreneurs involves five stages.

  • Stage one is to assess the start-up, the industry sector, and the entrepreneur’s needs.
  • Stage two is to look for the right resource within the EC or another Nashville organization.
  • Once that is done, stage three is to make an efficient and effective introduction and connection including confirmation from both parties that they are connected.
  • Stage four, which in many respects might be the most important, involves monitoring progress so an intervention can occur if another referral is required.
  • Finally, with machine learning and algorithms in mind, the final stage is to learn so that the system can be constantly improved.

“We’re taking responsibility for the outcome, not the activity,” Brody-Waite emphasizes. The initial goal when the manual system is rolled out is to serve 1,000 entrepreneurs annually; the longer term goal is 10,000 people served each year when the software is developed.

“We will use existing software, if we can find it, but we will build it ourselves if we have to do so,” he adds. “Execution is everything.”

Looking to the future, Brody-Waite says the model could be adapted for others areas of the entrepreneurial ecosystem such as capital navigation.

“We are doing this from a servant leadership perspective,” he adds. After all, when you successfully navigated a “last ditch effort” to save your life, giving back to others seems so natural.

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