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VOL. 127 | NO. 161 | Friday, August 17, 2012

Packed Week for Entrepreneurs Draws to Close

By Andy Meek

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The week that’s now drawing to a close is Exhibit A for why a national tech media site co-founder said he and his partner are relocating their operation to Memphis.

Nibletz.com co-founder Kyle Sandler said other cities made strong offers – some of them even willing to pony up more incentives than could be matched by Memphis entities wooing Nibletz, which bills itself as “the voice of startups everywhere else.” But Sandler said he wants to be where the action is, and as he sees it, the entrepreneurial and startup action is in Memphis.

The past week shows why. To a packed crowd at Grawemeyer’s Downtown, LaunchMemphis unveiled its fall season, which will include more Tech Cocktails, new workshop series, a big push toward Global Entrepreneurship Week this fall and more.

“I’m overwhelmed, but thrilled,” LaunchYourCity chief branding officer Elizabeth Lemmonds said as she looked out over the crowd at Grawemeyer’s Wednesday, Aug. 15. Some of them she and her colleagues hope will start the next great concept in Memphis and that those startups will have all of the necessary pieces, like funding and mentorship, which they need to stay in Memphis.

The day after that, on Thursday, the first entrepreneurs to go through the new ZeroTo510 accelerator, which had its inaugural season this year, made pitches to investors on “Investor Day.”

Six medical-focused startups that participated in the first phase of the entrepreneurship boot camp, launched earlier this year by Memphis Bioworks Foundation and Innova, pitched their concepts to investors in the hope of securing funding that takes them to the next level.

Dr. Steve Charles, the keynote speaker at ZeroTo510's Investor Day, encouraged the founders behind the startups not to focus on being different - rather, to focus on solving problems.

On that front, the first group to go through the program succeeded. They included ventures like Restore Medical, which has invented a surgical tool sterilization process and method that increases speed and efficacy in reprocessing sterile surgical instruments.

St. Francis Hospital is now a pilot hospital for Restore's surgical tool sterilization device. And several other hospitals already have put in a big purchase order for Restore's technology.

NanOphthalmics, which has devised a way to more effectively treat corneal abrasions, leading to faster healing and recovery time, has two sites in Memphis recruiting patients for clinical trials.

Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowtiz PC provided pro bono legal support for the accelerator.

All of that, Sandler said, equates to a lot more entrepreneurship activities than he’s seen in cities of comparable size to Memphis.

Speaking of Sandler and Memphis – not only is his company moving its base of operations to Memphis after considering a few other cities, but Nibletz also will host an annual conference in Memphis each December, starting Dec. 9-11, called “Pitchmas.”

The conference has elements similar to TechCrunch Disrupt, one of the most anticipated events each year in the technology industry. Pitchmas essentially will be a version of that, but for Middle America – for the wide swath of the tech, startup and entrepreneurial community outside of the usual hotspots on the coasts that TechCrunch particularly focuses on.

Sandler said the three-day event will bring around 800 people or so from out of town for the first Pitchmas in Memphis this December. The event will feature fireside chats, startup demos and appearances by major luminaries in the tech and startup fields.

“Since June, we’ve been back here 10 times,” said Sandler, a 36-year-old native of Baltimore. “We really like it here. Memphis is really a great place. I really like the startup environment in Memphis. While the cash incentive was lower than in other cities, there is just a lot of in-roads being made with entrepreneurs and startups here.”

Regarding the decision to bring their operation to Memphis – where it will still have a national focus in its coverage but will now tilt more frequently toward Memphis and Tennessee – Sandler said he and co-founder Cameron Wright ultimately were swayed by the startup and entrepreneurship ecosystem that’s coming together here.

Helping with the move is an investment from local entities a-m ventures and Wolf River Partners. Terms of that investment are not being disclosed.

Nibletz will be housed in the Emerge facility Downtown, and Sandler said plans include the hiring of a couple of interns, as well as new writers.

“We’ll be at EmergeMemphis on the second floor starting the first of the month,” Sandler said Wednesday.

The Nibletz guys will barely have time to unpack their proverbial suitcase once they arrive here before they’re off again. For several months, they’ve been on a “sneaker-strapped startup road trip,” which is intended to cover the startup scene outside of the traditional tech hub of Silicon Valley, and the Nibletz guys are working on a book about what they find.

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