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VOL. 129 | NO. 197 | Thursday, October 9, 2014

Local Tech Startup Growth On Right Path

By Eric Mathews

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Eric Mathews

More than 500 Memphis business leaders, investors, entrepreneurs and innovators gathered at the Orpheum Theatre in late August, but they weren’t there for the latest show from Broadway.

They convened to participate in Start Co. Demo Day, when 15 innovative startups from a variety of sectors unveiled their products.

Half of the teams came from outside Memphis to spend 100 days at Start Co. this summer launching their startups. Several have relocated to Memphis full-time, and a few are on track to raise investment capital.

It has been a long road to get to this juncture. While our early experiments in building technology startups began over eight years ago, since then the innovation landscape has improved dramatically thanks to the efforts of many in our community.

Notable milestones include the creation of a new venture fund (Innova), the creation of five accelerator programs (Seed Hatchery, ZeroTo510, Sparkgap, Upstart, and Sky High), the creation of angel funds and networks, the creation of Co-Work Memphis, and even civic change with the creation of the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team.

There was certainly failure, false starts, and scar tissue that helped our community build the innovation and entrepreneurship capacity we see today. There are also results.

For example, at Start Co. in the past three years more than $9.4 million in investment has been raised by startups, and that number is expected to grow this year.

Further, Memphis is now in the national conversation thanks to those that see the power of what is being built here: American Airlines, the Global Accelerator Network, Softlayer, and UP Global.

Other positive community notes include seeing Memphis in top 10 lists of best places to start a business and talent moving to Memphis to launch medical device and tech startups.

Still, we are nowhere near the finish line. The available capital, talent and support needed for startup companies in Memphis pales in comparison to the resources available in peer cities and our even our close regional neighbors.

The disparity of access to these critical resources is so stark that our entrepreneurial ecosystem is always just six to 12 months away from collapse. For those of us on the frontlines over the years, it has always been daunting.

When we come together as a community for culminating experiences such as Demo Day, it is great to take stock of where we have been. More importantly, we need take stock of where we have yet to journey. What it took to get to this juncture will not be sufficient to complete the journey to an economically vibrant startup ecosystem.

For those who have supported us, we thank you. For those trying to decide whether your help is needed, the time is now to dive in.

Mathews is founder and CEO of Start Co.

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