VOL. 115 | NO. 39 | Wednesday, February 28, 2001
State technology development office opens in Memphis
By SUE PEASE
The Daily News
Another source for venture capital has opened its doors in Memphis.
Not only will more venture capital be available, but other important resources for young start-ups such as information and management, are available through the Tennessee Technology Development Corp.
The TTDC, based in Oak Ridge, opened two new offices in the state in January one in Nashville and the other in Memphis as a way to support its charge of bringing a technology blueprint to the entire state.
"We can now move forward with those goals in every corner of the state," said Tom Rogers, TTDC executive director.
"This is a really important part of our commitment. If we are going to receive an appropriation from the state, we must do everything we can to be represented across the state," he added.
Heading up the Memphis office, located in Clark Tower, is Rick Copeland, who will take the role of assistant portfolio manager. TTDC has almost completed the initial round of raising $10 million to support TennesSeed Fund, the states first early-stage venture capital fund.
"We hope this will open another source for venture capital funds to our technology companies," Copeland said.
TTDC aims to serve technology companies in their infancy. It is raising funds as a Small Business Investment Corp., which means the government will invest, as a limited investor, $2 for every $1 of private investment raised, Rogers said.
TTDC was formed in 1998, a creation of the Tennessee General Assembly as an affiliate of the State Office of Economic and Community Development.
Its charge is to forge the states role in the technology industry.
The state has experienced record economic growth over the years, but needs to focus on growing the states technology-based economy in order to sustain the success and improve national standing, Rogers said.
According to the Milken New Economy Index, the state ranks 32nd in the nation in the areas of educational attainment, research and development, new patents, business start-ups, venture capital and initial public offerings.
One issue Rogers highlighted is the concept of getting good ideas to market.
"Are you taking your best ideas and getting them to market? Were not doing real well there. That is what TTDC is all about," Rogers said.
One way to take intellectual property and move it toward commercialization in the state is through a Small Business Innovative Research Grant. TTDC hopes to run a series of seminars across the state to inform entrepreneurs about those grants.
Another area of emphasis for the TTDC is management.
"There is a feeling that our best and brightest in the state are No. 1, not going to college in Tennessee and No. 2, not thinking about starting a business for themselves," Rogers said.
To couple the ideas of keeping the best students and technology local, TTDC hopes to assist entrepreneurs to learn the tools of running a business.
"Typically, the researcher at St. Jude or UT Medical School doesnt have the skills they need to grow a successful business. We hope to grow another generation of entrepreneurs," Rogers said.
The organization also hopes to start an association of incubators and create a statewide Web-based, technology resource database, Rogers said.
TTDC is looking to begin making investments in the second quarter of this year, Rogers said.
The group also will run a statewide venture capital conference, which is planned for November in Nashville.
The new Nashville and Memphis offices will have a regional focus.
Copeland said the local office will look at technology companies in Memphis and West Tennessee.
He has been involved in fundraising for venture capital funds since 1999.
He has had roles at Global Associates LLC and as chief operating manager and administrator for Compass Intervention Center. Prior to Compass, he was a partner at Farris, Mathew, Gilman, Branan and Hellen.
From 1975 to 1990, he worked for Shelby County government, most recently as the assistant chief administrative officer. He was an adjunct professor in the political science department at the University of Memphis from 1980 to 1990.
Copeland said he expects the office will have strong relationships with local groups such as the Memphis Incubator Systems and the Memphis Area High Technology Council.
Sam Pruett, president of the Memphis Incubator, said he expects to serve as a sounding board for TTDC as the organization looks to bring funding into the area and also as a referral source.
The first collaboration TTDC will have with the Memphis Area High Technology Council is through the Tennessee Venture Capital Conference in November, said Cathy Elliott, director of technology business development for MAHTC.
"We are going to do what we can to bring our energies together to highlight and spotlight what is going on with our entrepreneurs here in Memphis," Elliott said.