Saturday, November 19, 2011

Josh Flory: Tennessee looks to boost startups

Groupon may be the hot Internet company du jour, but it didn't spring from a traditional startup bastion like Silicon Valley or Boston.

The group-discount firm that began offering shares to the public on Friday is headquartered in Chicago, and serves as proof that startup success can happen far from the coasts. On Thursday, Tennessee officials unveiled a plan that aims to smooth the path for entrepreneurs who are looking to cultivate a big idea in the Volunteer State.

Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty announced that nine "entrepreneurial accelerators" will be established throughout the state, including one that will be led by the University of Tennessee's Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Lynn Youngs, executive director of the Anderson Center, said the ultimate goal is business and job creation and that a big part of the accelerator's mission will be to make the region aware of resources that already exist.

He said any applicant who comes through the door will be evaluated and steered toward their best path for success. The accelerator's bread and butter, though, will be working with companies that have strong growth potential and are nearly ready to make a pitch to investors.

Youngs said accelerators are best matched to "fast-flip opportunities," and cited web-based applications as an example of the type of opportunity that can be accelerated into the marketplace. But he also cited the strong investment in scientific research that has been made in East Tennessee. "We're not going to ignore that by any stretch of the imagination," he said.

The nine regional accelerators will each receive a $250,000 grant comprised of state and federal dollars, with the expectation that a local match of at least that much will be provided. The Knoxville accelerator effort includes partners such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tech 20/20, the Oak Ridge Economic Partnership and the Knoxville Chamber.

Read the full story at the Knoxville News-Sentinel: