An Investable Story: The EntrepreneurCenter, Nashville

StartUp America Partnership and communities throughout the country work to reinvent their economies there are some models that should be noted.

In this post I would like to highlight the great work of Michael Burcham and his team at the Entrepreneur Center. Over the past few months I have had the pleasure of meeting Michael and have developed an understanding of their approach to supporting entrepreneurship in Nashville. As Michael likes to tell people he is working to support entrepreneurs as they seek to create an Investable Story.

The work of the EntrepreneurCenter is showing very promising early results and generating a lot of interest and awareness in the Nashville community and beyond. The Fourth Economy team has seen lots of entrepreneurial models over the years but there is something special about the work going on at the EntrepreneurCenter.

Some of the factors critical to their success:

  • Private Sector leadership – the business skills and entrepreneurial experience of Michael and others on the team provides a ‘do by example’ process and is generating involvement by other private sector leaders.
  • Public-private partnership – as many folks are calling for these partnerships, few know how to structure them. The EntrepreneurCenter has struck a balance of each partner playing to his or her strengths and supporting the entrepreneurs.
  • Robust network mentors – business people with broad industry experience. It is an honor to be an EntrepreneurCenter mentor. There is an application process, with fee, and training that must be conducted before you begin to advise an entrepreneur. This set up has created a committed group of mentors that are often invaluable resources to the community’s entrepreneurs.
  • Tough love – Contrary to what you’ve been told there are bad ideas and often someone with an entrepreneurial spirit has one and starts a company around that idea. The EntrepreneurCenter process for support entrepreneurs allows people to come to recognize when their idea turns sour and if needed the team sounds prepared to give the tough love message.
  • Open access – the goal of the EntrepreneurCenter is to support high growth potential entrepreneurs, which are often technology driven. They provide tools and supports for all types including lifestyle entrepreneurs and are aggressively using technology tools i.e. Skype and online to make their education and guidance available to anyone who needs it.
  • People First, Space Second (or fourth) – The EntrepreneurCenter has an incubator component with their space already full after only a few months. They are not however focused on creating a larger real estate holding and would rather partner with other incubators and real estate developments in the city. Too often the real estate come to control the behavior of entrapper initiatives as you become more worried on the rent or mortgage payment and less on the quality of the services your are providing the companies themselves.
  • Art meets Entrepreneurial Science – while no one can predict the success of any particular entrepreneur’s idea there are tools, training and technique that can mitigate some of the risks. The team is working in the heart of Nashville after all so there is still an art form to what they do, but more than I have seen with many similar programs around the country, the EntrepreneurCenter team is implementing a set of services that is showing significant early success and if the trend line continues will be a model that many others should be replicating.

2011 Tennessee NEXT Conference on May 5-6, 2011.

Regional Innovation Clusters: The TechBelt Initiative (a best practice)

If you work in economic development or are in a business that thrives on innovation you have probably heard about regional innovation clusters or some version of the theme. With the White House promoting Startup America with a focus innovation and entrepreneurship from coast to Cleveland and looking to regions as partners you soon may have a regional innovation cluster map drawn over your workplace.

The core model of economic clusters is not new but the approach has evolved over the years. For a unique approach and a best practice I recommend the TechBelt Initiative. TechBelt has been linking economic development activities in the Cleveland, Youngstown and Pittsburgh corridor for several years now.


In full disclosure I am biased to proclaim the TechBelt Initiative a best practice since my firm is staff the effort. I do have objectivity as my team works with innovation-based economic development groups throughout the country. There are a lot of great efforts underway and all can learn from one another. What TechBelt can share is the following:

First, the TechBelt Initiative operates under an approach of what Ed Morrision calls Strategic Doing, which is simply explained as a “learning by doing” model. The TechBelt relies less on overproduced studies and more on instinct and ‘just in time analysis’ to understand the best direction to take and investments to make.

Second, the TechBelt has chosen an approach that limits formality and bureaucracy to allow for rapid team building and responsive decision-making. This allows over three-dozen organizations to work together collaboratively and not get hung up on who is in charge.

Third, the TechBelt has regional leaders of organizations that care deeply about their communities and organizations they serve – but also see the value of building the larger regional community.

Finally, that last word in the preceding sentence, Community, is why the TechBelt region is different. The work that is being done at times is proactive and other reactive but in both cases we are bringing together individuals who are sharing their vision, their ideas for the region and are getting to know one another. As the world begins to recognize the value of open innovation, this TechBelt community is what matters most. The friendships that are being built will support the accomplishment of great things both now and in the future.

I invite others to share their ideas about what is working in their regional innovation clusters and together we will help define the next phase of innovation-based economic development strategy.