Haslam Plans to ‘Accelerate’ Regional Job Creation

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday introduced another new program designed to tackle one of the key issues facing his administration: high unemployment.

Haslam says the focus of the latest initiative is to connect entrepreneurs across the state with the help they need to get up and running and employing people as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The program, called Startup Tennessee, becomes another part of the governor’s JOBS4TN plan in the Department of Economic and Community Development. It also follows the previously announced INCITE initiative.

Haslam’s economic development team will develop “economic accelerators” in each of the state’s nine “jobs base camps,” which are meant to regionalize and customize job creation in specific geographic areas.

The initiative for entrepreneurs is an effort to connect start-up businesses with capital and mentors from business to help those operations grow.

“There are a lot of good ideas and people that need to be brought together that might not be sharing the same building,” Haslam told a group at the Entrepreneur Center in downtown Nashville Tuesday.

Michael Burcham, CEO of the Entrepreneur Center, will head the Startup Tennessee project.

The Department of Economic and Community Development has posted a “request for information” on the ECD website, asking for input on developing a grant process to fund the business accelerators. Haslam said the idea is to create ties between entrepreneurs and various stakeholders that include angel investors, university researchers and business mentors.

“We all know there’s no magic bullet to predict which companies will succeed and which ones will fail,” Haslam said. “Our hope is that Startup Tennessee gives entrepreneurs with a great idea and a burning desire to build a company their best chance at success.”

Haslam said the state project will partner with Startup America, a White House initiative of President Obama. The national organization forms alliances with major corporations, funding, service providers, mentors and advisors to help start-up companies. The program’s CEO, Scott Case, has a notable track record, being involved in the start-up of Priceline, which reached a billion dollars in annual sales in less than two years.

Case attended Tuesday’s event in Nashville and said a variety of capital resources exist, looking for businesses to invest in. He also offered some reminders about the growth of businesses.

“Thomas Edison created GE. It wasn’t always a giant company,” Case said.

Haslam was joined at the event by ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty, who told the audience, “Our thought process here was that there are a tremendous number of assets across the state. What we’re looking for, and what Michael is going to lead, is a mechanism to tie all those together.

“This is a structure that will allow us to connect mentors, capital and entrepreneurs in a way that is unprecedented across the country.”

The governor’s INCITE program stands for innovation, commercialization, investment, technology and entrepreneurship. Its goal is to raise the profile of innovative economic development in the state.

Burcham said in a formal letter to entrepreneurs that the acceleration programs in the nine economic zones in the state can benefit from the practices and experiences of the Entrepreneur Center in Nashville, Tech 20/20 in Knoxville, Company Lab in Chattanooga and Emerge Memphis and Launch Memphis. Burch said each of those facilities bring their own unique strengths to the project.