(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third article in a four-part series where Charlie Brock, until recently the President and Chief Executive Officer of Launch Tennessee, discusses his nearly six years with the statewide public-private partnership.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
“The TENN” was a major initiative that Charlie Brock brought to Launch Tennessee based on his experience running CO.LAB in Chattanooga.
“Sheldon (Grizzle) and I saw the need for a master accelerator based on our first ‘GIGTANK’ and the needs the teams had for additional help,” he explained. “It was also a great way to build our (Launch Tennessee’s) brand plus help the accelerator graduates.”
For those not familiar with “The TENN,” it was a program that started in late August after the regional accelerators held their “Demo Days” and ended in March. Participants had to be graduates of one of the regional accelerators. During their seven months in “The TENN,” they received additional help and could also participate in trips to New York City and the Bay Area to meet with investors and potential strategic partners.
There were two other benefits of the initiative that ran for several years. One was the annual road show where “The TENN” cohort visited five cities, meeting prospective investors and customers, in many cases individuals they would not otherwise see unless they were located in the community they were visiting.
The other benefit was less obvious.
“It was a great way to test the team to see who wanted to run hard,” Brock explained, noting the disbelief that some expressed when he first introduced the idea of launching “The TENN” soon after the then named “Southland” conference concluded.
“There was a method to my madness,” he says. “The team might have thought there was madness to my method.”
Regardless, he says “The TENN” served its purposes, raising awareness of the state’s strengthening entrepreneurial ecosystem and helping build a strong team at Launch Tennessee.
“We have a terrific staff,” he says. “We’ve been able to attract and develop great staff members. They have an amazing ability to run and execute a broad range of programs.”
As Brock looks forward, he says without any reservations that the biggest challenge facing the state and its entrepreneurs is access to capital. “We have more demand than ever on the entrepreneurial side for capital.” That is still the reality in spite of the fact that Launch Tennessee’s metrics show that the average amount of capital invested in the state has doubled since 2012.
“Early stage capital is still short,” Brock notes. “Everyone has gone a little bit upstream (later stage).”
He believes state government has a role in helping address the gap, and that’s one of the areas that Brock plans to engage in after his sabbatical. That said, there’s another area that Brock sees as the largest untapped opportunity for entrepreneurs.
“Our biggest opportunity is increasing market access for entrepreneurs,” he says. How is that accomplished? It is by getting more corporations engaged as customers and potentially a fund of funds.
While Brock says he’s still evaluating his next professional move, the Chattanoogan is emphatic in several respects about activities that will be part of his future.
“I want to stay involved in the entrepreneurial space as a mentor, advisor, and investor,” he says. “I want to reconnect with CRF (Chattanooga Renaissance Fund). I’m really interested in the new Opportunity Zones and impact investing.”
Once you’re bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, you never move too far away. With his involvement in championing entrepreneurship, first in Chattanooga and now for nearly six years across Tennessee, one can be excited to know that the servant leadership bug that bit Brock means he will still be involved in helping entrepreneurs, albeit in a different role.
NEXT: Reflections on Brock’s leadership from some of his partners.