Despite its history of entrepreneurialism, Memphis is a ghost town when it comes to birthing and growing businesses.
We keep beating this drum, hoping people will hear and that a leader will answer the call. Memphis needs an entrepreneurial champion.
Otherwise, we will have no sustainable competitive advantage as a city. Memphis will wither instead of flourish. We will become the un-air-conditioned warehouse to the developing world, without thought leaders, knowledge workers and a burgeoning scene of companies offering them stock options, career opportunities and a deep bench of talented peers.
The city will not prosper unless we loosen the purse strings, invest in a wide variety of startups, and ensure the brain drain doesn't continue to take our best talent to markets like San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Austin or Nashville.
Creating a vibrant business culture will require serious investment – investment with a ROC mindset (return on community). This is a long-term wealth-building strategy that must endure risks. This is not a traditional investment, which creates a problem in a wealth preservation city like Memphis.
Outside of Pitt Hyde investing in Bioworks and the life science segment, the family offices of the corporate luminaries in the city have a rigorous formula that insists that they only invest in established mid-market companies. They don't "play around" with startups. Such an investment is simply not part of their model. This short-sighted, risk-averse model will help preserve their personal fortunes, but will not help grow the region. There is little spirit in truly giving back and investing in viable growth fund designed to help the region prosper.
Will someone step up and lead?
We are putting forth a public call for one of the area's business leaders to start a Rebirth Fund. With companies such as Buckeye and startups such as uMonitor sold to larger, non-Memphis entities, it's time to grow our own.
Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.