Memphis Bioworks Leads New Entrepreneurship Venture

By Andy Meek

Steve Bares, president and executive director of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, said his organization is “proud to step forward and own this responsibility.”

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The Memphis Bioworks Foundation has been tapped to lead a new entrepreneurship venture in Memphis called The EPIcenter, the product of one of several so-called moon mission strategies of the Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle.

The Chairman’s Circle, a group of more than 100 business leaders focused on a handful of targeted efforts designed to bring about transformational change in the city, will contribute funding to Bioworks to hire staff for the new venture and to launch a logistics accelerator. Bioworks will also begin a capital campaign of its own to raise funds for The EPIcenter, which stands for the Memphis Entrepreneurship Powered Innovation Center and launches in August.

As conceived, The EPIcenter represents a new “front door” for entrepreneurship efforts in Memphis and adds a unifying layer on top of the handful of groups in Memphis doing similar work but which aren’t necessarily working in unison. The EPIcenter, for example, will work directly with companies and startups through existing programs in the city like EmergeMemphis and Start Co., but the new vision includes accountability and buy-in to The EPIcenter mission along with new funding and leadership.

The goal: create 1,000 entrepreneurs and 50 companies in the city over the next decade. That’s why Bioworks has been tapped to lead the new effort, since Bioworks has been one of the more successful entrepreneurship ventures in Memphis, in terms of seeding companies that have gone on to thrive.

Since 2009, together with Innova, Bioworks has helped form 60 companies and managed $53 million in equity investments. Bioworks president and executive director Steve Bares said his organization is “proud to step forward and own this responsibility.”

Bioworks, he said, already has “partnered with virtually every organization” focused on entrepreneurship in Memphis. And there will be plenty of work, he added, to keep all partners involved busy for years.

The EPIcenter will serve as a front door and a resource for all entrepreneurs in the city, leaders of the effort said in announcing the venture Wednesday, March 19, but its focus will target logistics and emerging technologies, health care and bioscience, as well the information and software technology that enables those sectors.

A summary of the new venture from the Chairman’s Circle explains that 500 new companies could bring as many as 4,500 new jobs to the city and an economic impact of $600 million.

“This vision is transformational and would make Memphis a destination for talent, companies and investment,” the summary notes. “The community now finds itself at a critical juncture, needing a strategy and infrastructure to achieve this ambitious vision for the future, and to create a scalable, repeatable process that will yield this critical mass of successful entrepreneurs in the upcoming years.

“The key to rebuilding lost wealth in Memphis and Shelby County lies in building scalable companies that pay quality wages, sell nationally, export internationally and attract investment funding to a unique or intellectual-property-based business model.”