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VOL. 129 | NO. 10 | Wednesday, January 15, 2014

New Plan to Spur Entrepreneurship Growth

By Andy Meek

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On one of the first pages of a more than 80-page plan to kick start entrepreneurial growth in the Memphis area, a reader is greeted with a stark assessment.

“The Memphis economy is broken,” reads one of the bullet points within the newly released development plan called MEMx, a blueprint developed by Memphis-based Start Co. with help from the national JumpStart Inc. organization as well as with input from more than 200 Memphis partners and community leaders.

That assessment is quickly followed with mentions of assets the plan says Memphis is “fortunately” blessed with and that can be used to fix its economy.

Using Start Co. as an example, the MEMx plan notes that since 2011 Start Co.’s metrics include 7,500 hours of technical assistance provided by Start Co., $530,000 in capital invested or granted by Start Co., and 2,000 participants in Start Co. programming, to list a few.

The question the MEMx plan grapples with involves the bigger picture – with things like the development of a broader entrepreneurial strategy that spans individuals and groups. The MEMx plan, according to Start Co. co-president Andre Fowlkes, also was developed to offset areas in which Memphis has underperformed compared to its peers, including in deal flow that’s “sluggish” and investment support for early stage companies that’s described as nominal.

The plan at this stage has more than 30 partners.


“MEMx plan partners have an aligned vision to advance entrepreneurship in Memphis through this new approach that encourages an entrepreneurial mindset and appreciation across the entire community,” Fowlkes said.

Said another way, the plan – which is a framework consisting of a variety of core principles – concedes that targeting a narrow group of high-tech entrepreneurs and high-tech startups with programming and capital won’t “generate the needed impact” if that effort doesn’t include a few “lottery wins.”

“To generate the required impact, and to secure required funding and support, the solution must extend entrepreneurial thinking, tools and culture to the entire Memphis population across a full range of public, private, philanthropic and educational endeavors,” the plan notes.

Doing that, under the umbrella of the MEMx plan, involves getting the community to buy into the notion of “entrepreneurship for everyone” and the workability of “unusual partnerships.” Regarding the latter, that means groups like Start Co. spreading their know-how and talents beyond the startup community in Memphis.

And Start Co. already is doing just that. The organization has helped Shelby County Chief Public Defender Stephen Bush, for example, use entrepreneurial tools to help his staff of more than 100 lawyers deal more productively with the 30,000 cases they handle each year. Start Co. also helped the Memphis Music Foundation with business modeling, team building exercises, customer discovery, prototyping, and pitching that resulted in the 48 Hour Music Launch Program over several weeks.

Other elements of the MEMx plan include generating and leveraging data garnered during the pilot phase of the plan and getting a better understanding of the region’s full entrepreneurial potential.

“If the region achieves a number of small successes and publicizes them well, the information could help accelerate the development of an entrepreneurial culture,” the MEMx plan reads. “It would, nevertheless, take a relatively long time for these successes and the developing entrepreneurial culture to produce a large number of quality deals and transform those deals into companies sufficient in size and number to change the trajectory of the regional economy. While pursing these opportunities is part of the solution, it cannot be the whole solution.”

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