Tapping into Nashville’s Entrepreneur Ecosystem
Nashville has discovered entrepreneurs in a big way. A couple years ago, the Young Executives Council – a national organization for under-40 owners of businesses that generate at least $1 million a year – named Nashville the #2 Startup City in the nation.
But we really don’t need anyone to point this out. Just look around. For example, co-working spaces, which are dens of entrepreneurs, are springing up like mushrooms, including eSpaces, the Entrepreneur Center, Center 615, Moonbase and The Skillery. There’s even one in the building that houses our company – Deavor, which focuses on entrepreneurs in the creative arts. According to 12th & Broad (which itself is The Tennessean’s entrepreneurial venture), there were 14 co-working spaces in Nashville as of last April.
Other signs of Nashville’s fascination with all things entrepreneurial: both Vanderbilt and Belmont have entrepreneurship centers with Belmont offering a degree in Entrepreneurship; Nashville hosted two successful entrepreneurial conferences last year within the space of a few weeks – 36/86 and Pandoland; the East Coast region of The Entrepreneurs’ Organization recently held its annual conference in Nashville (with record-breaking attendance); the Nashville Post even publishes an annual “Entrepreneur” issue.
If you’re ready to jump in entrepreneurial waters, you’ll find plenty of life jackets in Nashville. (Provided, of course, that you work hard, have a viable idea for a business and are at least a little lucky.) Here are some of the best ones:
The Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO): EO is an international association of business owners whose businesses gross at least $1 million a year. The Nashville chapter of EO is one of the fastest growing EO chapters in the world – and has been my favorite entrepreneurial resource in town for eight years. EO provides three main benefits: 1) Membership in an EO Forum, which is a group of 6-10 other entrepreneurs whom you meet with monthly, in an environment of total confidentiality, to talk about the opportunities and challenges you are facing in both your professional and personal life. 2) Access to learning events featuring authors of best-selling management books and other business thought leaders. 3) Invitations to great social events where you can enjoy the company of other entrepreneurs and make valuable connections.
The Nashville Entrepreneur Center: While EO is for established entrepreneurs, the EC is for startups and very young businesses. Becoming a member of the EC provides you with such benefits as access to its co-working area and its mentoring network, free registration for workshops and networking events and free application to the EC’s Accelerator Programs, where the EC moves from providing just services to providing services and capital. There is an accelerator program for music companies, health care companies, content companies and more. Each program runs about three months, during which you’ll work with mentors to thoroughly analyze your business concept, write a business plan and present your plan to potential investors.
The TENN from Launch Tennessee: Based in Nashville, Launch Tennessee is a statewide program that focuses on growing Tennessee businesses. The TENN is its master accelerator program in which 10 startups that have graduated from one of Tennessee’s nine entrepreneur centers, including the one in Nashville, are selected for a deeper level of assistance and mentoring, including trips to San Francisco and New York to network with investors, entrepreneurs and business development opportunities.
36/86: This is Launch Tennessee’s annual tech/entrepreneur conference, during which entrepreneurs hear from some of America’s most successful entrepreneurs – as well as local luminaries like imogine + willie and Dan’s Gourmet Mac & Cheese – and network with entrepreneurs from throughout the South and investors from throughout the country.
Nashville Chamber Business Studio: This is a relatively new program that sponsors events to help small and medium-size business owners obtain the knowledge and contacts that will help them succeed. Learning sessions cover topics like marketing, social media, negotiation and other business skills, for example, the corporate culture panel discussion we hosted at Concept Technology’s offices last spring. Business Studio networking events help you connect with other entrepreneurs, potential vendors and clients. Most events are free to chamber members.
This list just scratches the surface. There are also several CEO roundtable-type organizations, such as Vistage, The Alternative Board, C12 and the chamber’s CEO Roundtable program. You can meet other entrepreneurs at the Nashville Entrepreneur Meetup Group. The Nashpreneur.com blog is a good source for tips about how to run your business and access to local resources. The Nashville Social Enterprise Alliance helps entrepreneurs who are focused in the non-profit sector.
And so on, and so on. In fact, there are so many ways to tap into the Nashville entrepreneur ecosystem that there really is no reason why you shouldn’t take the entrepreneurial leap if you feel the urge. So, get out there and give it a try.
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