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VOL. 128 | NO. 19 | Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tech Talk

Lunches, meetups add to growing startup scene

By Andy Meek

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It is a pleasant lunchtime hour on a recent weekday, and a small gathering of technologists has huddled at Panera Bread in the Laurelwood shopping center for their monthly confab.

Software developers talk shop during a MemTech “tech lunch” at Panera Bread. Gatherings such as these occur throughout the city, bringing together the city’s technologists, entrepreneurs and more. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

They’re participants in a recurring series of “Tech Lunches” spearheaded by Brian Swanson. He’s a software developer and the founder of Purple Ant Software, which focuses on Web and desktop software development.

At the monthly gatherings, versions of which also are held in Cordova and Downtown, the conversation around the table might focus on new phones coming out, video games, interesting websites someone stumbled across or the latest “memes” circling the Internet. Sometimes, there might be 10 separate conversations about those topics all at once.

“This is a social get-together for tech-minded folks,” Swanson said. “You don’t necessarily have to be in the industry. It’s just people who are interested in tech-related things. We don’t have a speaker or anything like that. It’s more of a meet-up and network thing. And everybody’s welcome.

“My biggest reasoning behind it is I’m self-employed and don’t get to see other people every day. And things like these lunches are a chance to get out and interact with other people who are interested in the same things I am.”

At the same time, the lunches also are more than that. Memphis’ startup, technology and entrepreneurial communities are expanding at a more rapid clip than ever, and Swanson’s tech lunch crowd exists behind one of many side doors into the place where all those related communities overlap and work together.

Here’s the newest piece of evidence about how that entrepreneurial ecosystem here is flourishing. Next week, the Wall Street Journal will focus its blog “The Accelerators” on the topic of whether entrepreneurs can find success anywhere in the U.S. as opposed to certain regions.

Tennessee is one of five regions chosen to be spotlighted on the blog. There will be guest posts there related to the topic from LaunchMemphis co-founder Eric Mathews, Memphis attorney Emily Brackstone, Meg Crosby of Wolf River Angels, Patrick Woods of a-m ventures and Kyle Sandler, the co-founder of the Nibletz tech news site and who’s also helping spearhead a three-day startup conference in Memphis in February.

About that conference: It’s the “Everywhereelse.co” startup conference, and it’s going to bring more than 1,000 entrepreneurs, founders, investors and startup supporters to Memphis. The conference will be held Feb. 10-12 at the Memphis Cook Convention Center, and an article at Forbes.com called it a “must-attend” conference for startups in 2013.

Andre Fowlkes, left, of LaunchYourCity, speaks with Cliff McKinney of Work for Pie in the Launchpad at EmergeMemphis, where 300 entrepreneurs worked in 2012. 

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

Looking backward, last year saw 300 entrepreneurs work out of the Launchpad, a co-working space Downtown. There were 2,000 mentor hours invested, and hundreds of professional connections were made.

LaunchMemphis in 2012 also hosted three 48-Hour Launch Weekends, including one focused on women-led startups. Twelve high-growth startup companies graduated from a pair of local incubators in 2012 – six from Seed Hatchery, and six from ZeroTo510. And a small venture capital fund was formed through the group Wolf River Angels.

That’s just a small taste of what 2012 afforded Memphis-area startups and entrepreneurs.

For 2013, already coming out of the gate is Memphis Venture Mentors, a pool of business and community leaders who will serve all of the LaunchMemphis platforms.

“Because we have different accelerator programs like Seed Hatchery, we created Memphis Venture Mentors so that all the mentors go through one place,” said Olivia Lomax, a co-founder of the new mentoring program.

Next week, participants in Memphis’ startup scene will head to LaunchLounge, a gathering of professionals, entrepreneurs, innovators and creators who are meeting at Local Gastropub on the Square at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 6. Prior to that, Aunt Bertha will be on hand at EmergeMemphis for those participants to mingle with.

Aunt Bertha is an Austin startup that went through the inaugural Code for America accelerator, and its software makes it easier for governmental and charitable agencies to accept and process applications for services.

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