The Music City region offers startups and entrepreneurs resources, networking and opportunities that build success.
Music, health care and tourism – the industries that have secured Nashville’s reputation in the nation for decades. But hiding underneath all the guitars and stethoscopes is a burgeoning hub for innovation and entrepreneurship in a city that is packed with support systems for startups and small businesses. Nashville attracts cool companies, both for its flagship industries and mentorship available at-hand, but also for the support offered through programs, accelerators and maker centers spread throughout the area.
Center Of Innovation
One such arena of support is the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, which offers accelerator programs, connections and the tools to advance small businesses. The nonprofit center helps entrepreneurs during the many stages of the business process, whether it’s from idea to creation or launch to growth, in specialized industries of music tech, digital media, healthcare and publishing. Launch Tennessee (LaunchTN), a statewide partnership that supports the development and growth of startups and small businesses, supports entrepreneur centers spread throughout the state, including the Nashville Entrepreneur Center.
“Tennessee is a very business-friendly state when it comes to starting and growing a business here. Startups and entrepreneurs are able to take advantage of having no state income tax as well as the lower cost of living,” says Charlie Brock, LaunchTN President and CEO. “Startups in Tennessee are also privy to the unique statewide model that exists for entrepreneurs. Located throughout the state is a network of entrepreneur centers that serve as the front door for early-stage business as well as offer hands-on curriculum, access to mentors, connections to capital and guidance for sustained growth.”
One music tech startup, KaraoQ, heard about the music program at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center – and after being accepted into the accelerator program, built their business model and business pitches for potential investors. The company developed a karaoke app that lets DJs and patrons choose songs, skip the lines and tip the DJ from their smartphones, streamlining and simplifying a night out on the town. KaraoQ has taken advantage of the growth opportunities in Nashville.
“After the music accelerator program, we were selected for the LaunchTN advanced program. There’s not a better place to launch a music tech company than Nashville, if you consider the industries here,” says KaraoQ CEO co-founder, Michael Amburgey. “We’re trying to change an industry that has been the same for 20 years, and we’ve had a ton of support.”
It is no secret that health care is big in the Nashville area, and tech startups in the industry are continuing to grow. That’s where the Jumpstart Foundry helps. The health care innovation fund chooses 20–25 health care-focused startups every year with many companies receiving up to $150,000 in exchange for equity in the business – Jumpstart Foundry invested in 17 health care startups last year. ScaleUp Nashville is a competitive training program that is exclusively offered to Middle Tennessee small businesses. The Small Business Administration-funded program lasts six months and is geared toward growth-oriented businesses to help with revenue growth, staff building and expanding services.
Arciplex, a startup in its own right, is also helping ideas become a reality in the Nashville area. The company helps innovators, entrepreneurs and businesses design, develop and market product ideas from medical devices to collapsible grills. Their downtown location works as an ideation space, engineering space and manufacturing space. The company recently announced that it will invest $500,000 to expand the company and create 35 new jobs.
“The support we’ve received from the city and state has been amazing,” says founder Tom Haarlander. “We’ve been connected to contacts, businesses and support systems as the community wants to see us grow and thrive. That helps us focus on creating and building on our clients’ big ideas.”
One success story out of Nashville is Franklin-based tech startup, LeanKit. The SaaS company opened its doors to help companies become more agile with innovative project management software for clients such as PayPal, Verizon, Adobe and more. Today, LeanKit has more than 100 employees with the acquisition of the Nashville-based Firefly and recently opened a second location in London, U.K.
One event that ties entrepreneurship together in the Nashville region is the 36|86 conference hosted by LaunchTN. The event invites startups and entrepreneurs in the Southeast to come together and showcase their businesses and compete for a prize of $50,000. In 2016, a Chattanooga-based, family-friendly wireless router and woman-owned startup, Torch (mytorch.com) took home the prize. The event also makes introductions for startups to investors and mentors, and brings businesses, including Google Ventures, Lyft, Eventbrite, and Andreessen Horowitz to Nashville each year.
“The entrepreneurial climate in Tennessee is at an all-time high. The statewide landscape is ripe for a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem,” says Brock “That allows for a successful playing field for startups launching and growing their businesses.”