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VOL. 128 | NO. 64 | Tuesday, April 2, 2013

LaunchYourCity Draws Lessons From West Coast

By Andy Meek

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The group from LaunchYourCity that traveled to San Francisco in March has returned, refreshed and reinvigorated, ready to carry out what was the hoped-for goal of the trip:

Take the lessons learned and use them to help Memphis’ startup community scale new heights.

LaunchYourCity is the apex at the top of a pyramid comprised of entities that focus on assembling mentors, accelerating companies, grooming women entrepreneurs and other similar purposes. Some of its representatives arranged the group’s first-ever trip to the West Coast to go where they haven’t gone before, which is the center of Startup Inc. – Silicon Valley.

Tangible results already are in the works. Tentatively scheduled for May is a hackathon that will serve the new logistics accelerator, which LaunchYourCity is putting together along with the Memphis Bioworks Foundation.

“There was a lot of interest in that,” said LaunchYourCity co-president Andre Fowlkes of the still-forming accelerator, one of many elements of what’s happening in Memphis that was shared with the investment community on the trip. “Many people said we ought to do a hackathon. That we should get the best developers in the country in a room with some of the best supply chain professionals in the country, put the big IT problems on a board, give them a couple of days, and see what happens. So we decided to do that.”

Right now, a dual hackathon is scheduled, one in Memphis and one in San Francisco.

“We’re going to leverage these connections we just made and local supply chain experts.”

–Andre Fowlkes

“We’re going to leverage these connections we just made and local supply chain experts,” Fowlkes said. “The people in San Francisco are on board, and now we need to get Memphis on board.”

Beyond that, some of the talks between the Memphis crowd and the San Francisco folks may result in some out-of-towners flying in for the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, which also happens to be around the time six companies are graduating out of LaunchYourCity’s Seed Hatchery accelerator.

Sponsors of the trip included American Airlines, a-m ventures, FedEx, the Marston Group and Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC.

Aleda Schaffer, strategic partnerships manager for startups and small business with American Airlines, said the airline offers travel grants for select companies to pitch to investors or to meet with a potential new customer.

“It’s our goal to become the preferred airline of entrepreneurs and the startup community,” Schaffer said. “We are not taking equity in companies or requiring that they fly on us. We are providing support to the startup community and hoping to earn their loyalty, so that when they grow, we grow with them.”

LaunchYourCity focuses its efforts on three areas: growing entrepreneurs and their ideas, accelerating startup companies and building the ecosystem of support resources.

The West Coast trip was focused on the third of those goals – on learning new ways to grow the ecosystem of support resources for Memphis.

“What we were able to accomplish was make some in-roads in the investment community to, first of all, get validation that our methodology and our efforts are sound,” Fowlkes said. “When we started talking about the accelerators, what we’re doing as far as bringing information technology into the medical field and now looking at logistics, they were very interested in what we were doing here. And it’s already led to some great talks with some angel investors from the San Francisco area.

“All in all, it was a great trip. Totally worth the investment. We’re already looking at the next one as well as other places we need to be traveling to.”

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