What do you get when you mix the best startup companies in the Southeast with investors from Boston, Silicon Valley, NYC and more—all with some southern culture sprinkled in? It's called Southland, a startup conference being held in Nashville, June 12 and 13.
Charlie Brock, CEO of Launch Tennessee, the company sponsoring the event, tells BusinessNewsDaily how southern startups differ from those in larger metropolitan areas and why he decided to launch the new conference.
BusinessNewsDaily: What is the key ingredient for a successful startup?
Charlie Brock: The first thing you look at in a company is the management. The founders need to have the passion and commitment to weather the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur and the hard work that is required. They also need to be networkers because they need to build relationships with mentors, investors, customers and talent. You want entrepreneurs who are flexible and willing to be coached. Changes will be made to their business model, and entrepreneurs need to strongly consider the advice they get from mentors and investors.
BND: How do startups in the south differ from those in other parts of the country?
C.B.: The challenge for startups outside of Silicon Valley, Boston and New York City is density. There isn’t the same mass of investors in the Southeast as there are in those big metropolitan areas. Thus, startups in the south might need to network across a wider geographic area and work harder to get the attention of national investors and tech media. However, the Southeast comes with many advantages for startups, including a very attractive quality of life and lower cost of living. Both of those can help Southern startup companies recruit talent. Lower overhead costs enable startups to maximize their investment dollars over a longer period of time and/or use the capital for growth initiatives versus overhead costs. Investors can find deals in sectors they aren’t exposed to on the coasts, as well as compelling valuations in the South.
BND: Why has Tennessee become such a hotbed for tech startups?
C.B.: We are one of the few, if not the only, states with a statewide network of accelerators that is coordinated and supported on a public/private basis. This has helped us create the kind of density where entrepreneurs, investors and mentors can be plugged in at a variety of levels and there is a sense of constant entrepreneurial activity taking place. We are also getting more interest and support from corporations and universities, in addition to the public support from government. We have also had more private and public capital going into startups in Tennessee in recent years, particularly at the seed and early stage angel and VC levels.
Tennessee has communities that are focused on sectors where they have key advantages, and the regional accelerators are driving entrepreneurship around those. For example, Nashville is home to many health care IT and health care services startups, Chattanooga runs a highly acclaimed accelerator around their community-wide high-bandwidth and Memphis is generating great interest and success around medical devices and logistics startups.
BND: What do you hope to accomplish with Southland?
C.B.: Our main goal of Southland is to shine a brighter light on the Southeastern region. We plan to accomplish this by introducing investors, tech media and tech companies from across the country to the Southeast’s most outstanding early-stage companies. In doing this, we believe that Southland holds the potential to be the Southeast’s premier event on technology, innovation and investment.
BND: What advice would you give someone who is not located in a part of the country known for innovation but who wants to start a business there?
C.B.: The great news is that it is becoming increasingly more feasible to start a company, no matter where you are located. The Internet has made it possible for entrepreneurs to start a company anywhere. Startups can find access to talent through online workplaces like oDesk, fund product development through crowdfunding sites like indiegogo and find investment capital through AngelList and Gust. Technology is democratizing the world of startups.
BND: How can companies in other parts of the country network and get the attention of investors on the major metropolitan areas?
C.B.: Companies can get in front of investors by establishing a web presence on crowdfunding investor portals like AngelList and Gust. They also need to go where the investors are going, so conferences like Southland are the perfect opportunity to make a connection. They can also locate and enroll in state or regional-based accelerators. A number of accelerators, including ours in Tennessee, have post-program road trips to the coasts to expose the best startups to investors.
BND: What makes a place friendly to startup innovation?
C.B.: You need lots of players involved in the ecosystem—entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, institutions, corporations and government. They all have a role to play. There also needs to be something larger, which is a commitment to the community. You need people who feel passionate and are willing to carve out time to help entrepreneurs and simultaneously help their community. You need a culture that embraces risk taking and is willing to accept failure.