By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
“I’m very drawn to my generation,” Tiffanie Robinson says in describing herself and the Millennials with whom she clearly identifies.
But, unlike those who might want to just hang out with friends in their age group, she wants to make a difference in their lives and the future of Chattanooga. The goal of retaining those who are born in Chattanooga and also attracting more Millennials to the Scenic City permeates almost everything that Robinson does these days.
The Florida native wears a number of hats in her adopted hometown and has packed a great deal of experience into her still young life since graduating a little over seven years ago from Lee University with a B.A. in Communication and Media Studies.
Robinson is simultaneously Director of Operations at Lamp Post Group, a venture incubator that provides both capital and mentorship to growing start-ups; Founder of WayPaver, an innovation lab focused on bringing the best and brightest creative minds to the city and placing them in meaningful work with innovative start-ups; and a General Partner in The Jump Fund which is capitalized by women interested in investing in female-led companies.
Get the picture? She’s all about talent recruitment, retention and entrepreneurship.
We first met Robinson in early June when she was a panelist during the “2014 Tennessee Valley Corridor National Summit” in Chattanooga. Like many of the attendees from the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region, we were captivated by her presentation about Millennials and the efforts in Chattanooga.
Robinson explains that Millennials “need a flexible work style,” enabling them to do their job from anywhere. “They need to feel there is a purpose to their work . . . (that they are) solving a real problem.”
She adds that Millennials are driven toward non-profits and “like a challenging environment.” Creating new technology is a goal, but again if it has to be for a greater purpose and good.
Understanding her generation helps Robinson ask and answer the key question: “How can we keep more of them here?” One of the answers was the creation almost a year ago of WayPaver, a private sector-based initiative that is funded by Lamp Post Group.
“We can do things in a different way than a non-profit,” she says of the organizational model.
WayPaver is focused about 50-50 on recruiting talent to Chattanooga and retaining talent that currently resides there.
“We’ve launched a series of experiments,” Robinson says, citing a three-month apprenticeship program for junior software developers who are paired with more senior professionals. Another is a soon-to-be offered school for women to learn how to code.
A third is the recently announced “Innovation Delegation.” During next week’s “Start-up Week Chattanooga” (October 6-10), WayPaver will pay for 10 “highly skilled, innovative individuals” from outside the region to visit the city and interact with entrepreneurs, investors, community leaders and the city’s various start-up resources.
They will be analyzing Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem to understand its strengths, limitations and needs in comparison to aspirational cities with which it wants to compete.
“At the end of the week, delegates will present their findings and ideas to the start-up community, industry experts, and the city at an event that puts innovation at center stage,” Robinson explains.