(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a four-part series where the first three posts were Charlie Brock’s reflections on nearly six years as President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Launch Tennessee. As noted in the second article in the series, Brock was most proud of the collaborative network he helped establish. Today, several of those partners offer their thoughts on the outgoing CEO’s leadership. We share their thanks in alphabetical order.)
- Jim Biggs, Executive Director, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. The past five years have seen a surge in entrepreneurial activity across the state. More start-ups, more capital available, and more folks who appreciate the economic and social value that entrepreneurs add to our communities. So how did cities in Tennessee, indeed the state as a whole, arrive at a place where we are now being compared to the Austins, Boulders and Portlands of the world? The answer is that we work together. Support organizations throughout the state have developed world-class programming and services that are unique to their particular region or ecosystem. But the real strength of those organizations has been open collaboration among them. Over the past five years, LaunchTN has been a valued partner in that effort. In great part through Charlie’s leadership, Launch Tennessee has helped align a statewide network of accelerator programs that are driving innovation across the state. Our close partnership with Launch, and the relationships that have grown among organizations it supports, offers KEC (and the others) the opportunity to address challenges common to all, and to share resources, ideas and even entrepreneurs, all with the goal of creating more successful startups in our region. There is still work to be done, but thanks to the efforts of LaunchTN and its partners, the future for entrepreneurs in Tennessee is brighter by the day.
- Michael Brody-Waite, CEO, Nashville Entrepreneur Center. We are so thankful for the relationship between LaunchTN and the Nashville Entrepreneur Center (EC). Through the support of LaunchTN, we are able to fund programming that we otherwise could not deliver to the entrepreneurs we serve. The LaunchTN team and their ever-growing network provides tremendous value in terms of intellectual capital to make us more effective at what we do. Their team is able to see trends, create relationships, and create opportunities unique for entrepreneurs in our area, such as “36|86.” The benefit of working alongside LaunchTN is they are not only operating on the state’s behalf, but they are also one of the only networks specifically for entrepreneur support organizations. All of us, ECs, exist to surround entrepreneurs with experience, strength, and hope to increase their probability of success. Yet there are very few organizations that exist to help us, the ECs, with our own experience, strength, and hope. LaunchTN does this. They convene all the entrepreneur organizations across the state, as a network and they allow us to create best practices supporting us at a state-wide level to help us all increase our efficiency and efficacy to deliver our missions. I see a world where LaunchTN is able to create capabilities that all the entrepreneur centers in the State of Tennessee can be centralized and scaled in order to help them be more effective in delivering their mission locally. They continue to make the State of TN to be the best place in America to start a business and in doing so all of us will benefit. Charlie Brock has done an incredible job. It is a really hard job when one-half your stakeholders are politicians and the other half are local enthusiastic entrepreneurs. I could not think of two groups that would be harder to serve effectively at the same time. But LaunchTN is able to do this in a way that really shelters the ECs from the difficulty of this work while enabling what they are doing connecting us back to the policies being created to move this state forward. LaunchTN does this incredibly, and Charlie Brock personally has set an incredible tone for anyone to do this so well!
- Jeff Brown, Executive Director and President, The Biz Foundry. Charlie and the team’s work to build and connect the entrepreneur center (EC) network has been invaluable for us and our entrepreneurs. Chattanooga’s CO.LAB was our mentor as we started our organization. We currently share a lot of programs and ideas with the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, and the access across the EC network to mentors, investors and customers for our companies is priceless. I have spent a lot of time in other Appalachian and Southeast states in the last couple of years, and they are amazed at the LaunchTN network and how far ahead we are here in Tennessee. One size fits all entrepreneurship has never worked, and it never will. Charlie’s leadership to allow us all to be collaborative statewide, while acting on a local level with flexibility in programming and style is one of the keys to our success.
- Ben Ferguson, Co-Founder, theCO. We would not be here today without the guidance and support of LaunchTN and the EC network. The ability to lean on the collective resources from Knoxville to Memphis has made a tremendous difference for us and our entrepreneurs. From CO.STARTERS to mentoring resources to pitch competitions, we can help entrepreneurs from every corner of West Tennessee. The statewide network is a unique asset not only for Tennessee but also for the individual ECs. We were able to leverage that network as we implement the statewide rollout of DevCatalyst and Driving Innovation. The collaboration and networking with our peers has been invaluable in growing theCO, and its programming.
- Leslie Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer, Epicenter. Economic Development in the innovation economy is team sport. States who come together in creativity, courage and collaboration achieve greater impacts over the course of time. Those impacts include the inspiration for additional, patient investments in the work; the formalization of a policy agenda that supports entrepreneurial efforts; and a strategic leveraging of resources beyond the natural boundaries of geography. In my experience in this field, I’ve never met a professional who more fully and faithfully embodies these commitments than Charlie Brock. Over the course of my nearly four years in Memphis, I have watched the LaunchTN team engage deeply at the local level, bringing us together on a quarterly basis across the state and allowing us to get to know each other and varied communities across Tennessee. In so doing, we’ve come to trust each other and act as a collective rather than a series of individual actors. I’ve also observed Charlie’s tireless commitment to seek, receive and reflect the feedback of his partners and the constituencies he and his organization serve, even when that feedback may call into question some of the activities or decisions of the organization. His fearless commitment to the state and our economic growth is an inspiration to all of us. I am blessed to call Charlie a friend and will miss working with him on a daily basis. The impact of his courage and culture will be felt for years to come and for that I’m grateful. Onward.
- Abby Trotter, Executive Director, Life Science Tennessee. Charlie’s energy and knowledge of the inner workings of the entrepreneur ecosystem in Tennessee was instrumental in the start of the Life Science TN Mentor Network, as well as getting support for other technology innovation programs like the SBIR state matching program. His ability to discern good programs and how these new programs will be received politically has helped LaunchTN achieve great success and lifted up other organizations along with it. Today, Life Science TN is a stronger organization because of our ties to LaunchTN and its entire network.
- Cortney Piper, Vice President, Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council. The Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council has had the pleasure of working with Charlie and the Launch Tennessee team to bring the Energy Mentor Network to Tennessee. Charlie’s vision for growing start-ups in Tennessee was a perfect match for the Business Council’s founding members request to “provide some kind of bootcamp specifically for energy entrepreneurs.” Tennessee is already a leader in the $1.4 trillion global advanced energy marketplace. Our partnership has strengthened that leadership position and will have a lasting impact on Tennessee’s energy entrepreneurs. We wish Charlie all the best with his new adventures.