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Southern Middle TN accelerator has multiple locations for its rural region

Public and private entities that successfully compete for investment funding do so by taking stock of their assets, stressing their strengths and finding ways to overcome their weaknesses.

This was a winning strategy for the team that came together to submit a proposal to establish the Southern Middle Tennessee Entrepreneur Centers (SMTEC), one of the nine regional accelerators partially funded by a grant from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, Tullahoma business executive Dan Marcum, who headed the team and is SMTEC’s Executive Director, described the coalition, its strategy and current work. Marcum and his wife, Fran, sold family firm MicroCraft a number of years ago and have been involved in many philanthropic activities since. They also founded one of the state’s 10 TNInvestcos – NEST TN.

“We are very rural,” Marcum said about the 13-county region. “We don’t have a principal city in the region to house an accelerator like Chattanooga, Nashville or Knoxville, so we had to be decentralized.”

The decentralized strategy that the group used resulted in two business accelerators being established – one at the old Northfield Center that was part of General Motors’ Saturn complex in Spring Hill and another in Tullahoma. There are also two “remote sites,” as Marcum describes them, at the Sundquist Center in Fayetteville and the Clifton (Wayne County) campus of Columbia State Community College (CSCC).

“We put together a coalition of educational institutions,” Marcum said, citing Motlow State Community College, Martin Methodist College, Middle Tennessee State University and the University of the South in addition to CSCC.

He praised other members of the team that include former General Motors executive Jack Sisk, former banker Brac Thoma and Tullahoma native Cameron Newton as well as about six mentors.

Marcum noted that the entrepreneurial clients are not typical of those found in more metropolitan areas. “Many are not MBA students, but older individuals,” Marcum explained, a fact that caused SMTEC to alter the traditional accelerator model where instruction is offered throughout the 13 weeks.

“We focused the classroom time upfront,” he said, with the one-on-one mentoring occurring in the last one-half of the process.

Marcum added that SMTEC “did a lot of collaborations so companies could learn from each other,” something he believes has been well-received by the 11 entrepreneurs that have very different backgrounds and disparate interests.

SMTEC launched its inaugural class of entrepreneurs on June 18 when it launched what it calls the TennesSeed Camp. Eleven companies comprised the first group, closely paralleling the investment interests of Marcum’s NEST TN. Advanced manufacturing, digital media and clean technology and energy are the NEST TN priorities. SMTEC has added automotive and aerospace, naturals given the proximity to Huntsville and the automotive companies in Alabama and Tennessee.

Marcum said that SMTEC engaged Oak Ridge-based Tech 20/20 to deliver its “Throttle-Up” program to the 11 companies.

“They are extremely competent,” he said in describing Tech 20/20’s team of instructors. “We are exceedingly pleased and proud” of what they delivered.

Marcum describes the TennesSeed Camp approach as three-phased – start-up, ramp-up and scale-up.

He also believes that having SMTEC’s core leadership being involved with a TNInvestco (NEST TN) and educational entities is “one of the keys for success of our regional accelerator.”

“NEST TN is particularly interested in earlier deal flow,” Marcum said, explaining the level of interest he has in the effort.

As an investor, however, he added that he believes each of the 11 “will be fundable and NEST TN will invest in many of them.” Other in-state venture funds and some out-of-state firms are also exploring investments.

Marcum also finds the recent Memphis “Zeroto510” initiative very interesting and wonders if the same approach could work for an automotive-focused effort in Spring Hill.

SMTEC’s inaugural companies and their specialty areas are AMP (digital media), C&C (online media services), Cortac (military and law enforcement equipment), Gayle Technologies (ultrasound products for the transportation sector), Hummingbike, LLC (electric bicycles and tricycles), Impact Dispersal Services, LLC (hydraulic impact dispersal system), Opti-Logic Corporation (commercial optical measurement products), Peahead Productions, Inc. (regional cable television programming and related services), Plaza Machine Tool Company (precision machining and fabrication), SecureWaters, Inc. (monitoring system for drinking water sources), and SeniorLiving.com (online service for senior citizens).

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