Lindsey Cox said she found her way into the entrepreneurial world through a “happy accident.”
The native Tennessean went to Tennessee Tech University for accounting and started working at the state comptroller’s office after graduation. It was in that role that she started diving into economic development.
Since then she’s been heavily invested in developing entrepreneurial ecosystems, working at the federal level with the US Department of Commerce’s Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship and at the local level with entrepreneurial organizations across her home state.
These days, she spends her time running across the state to make Tennessee the premier place to grow a company as the CEO of LaunchTN, a public-private partnership that supports entrepreneurship across the state. In this role, she says she wants to focus on how “tech and innovation-based economic development” can transform Tennessee.
A New Look At Economic Development
Cox is aware that most people hear the term ‘economic development’ and probably think about incentivizing big corporations to move their operations to move into a state. And there is good reason, since a state landing an auto company like Ford or a tech giant like Amazon certainly makes headlines. But she told Hypepotamus that the US is currently seeing a trend where “states and the federal government at large are investing more into tech-based economic development models” to boost up entrepreneurs.
That might look like small-scale grant opportunities or new federal opportunities growing through National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines and the US Economic Development Administration’s Tech Hubs. These are all about ensuring that the country is able to be a global leader in the emerging technology sectors and ensuring that R&D efforts happen stateside.
LaunchTN has had a head start growing this kind of tech-based economic development model across the state. Over the last twelve years, LaunchTN has grown a network of entrepreneurial hubs from Memphis in the western part of the state to Knoxville in the east.
Over the last year, LaunchTN has helped over 4,000 startups through its network partners across 72 counties and created 375 jobs across the state. Through its SBIR/STTR programs, it has supported 52 companies this year (22 through its microgrant program and 30 through its matching fund program).
But LaunchTN has recently dialed up its investment (quite literally) in the state with InvestTN, a $70 million fund for equity investments into early-stage Tennessee startups. On the investment front, the organization has 43 portfolio companies representing startups across multiple industries.
Get To Know The CEO
By nature of her role, Cox said she meets with individual entrepreneurs, VCs, angel investors, and university leaders all in one day.
She stepped into the LaunchTN’s CEO seat in April 2022, but she has held multiple roles across the organization. She’s served as Director of Operations & Government Affairs, Director of the 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival, Innovation Manager, and Compliance Manager. Before becoming the CEO at LaunchTN, she was the top executive at CO.LAB, Chattanooga’s nonprofit startup accelerator.
Cox’s position at LaunchTN has given her a front-row seat to how the local entrepreneurial ecosystem has transformed over the years. We asked her what is top of mind for local founders right now
“We used to dream about the problems we are having now,” she laughed. Previously, most conversations were focused on how to increase the amount of capital inside of the state. But now, entrepreneurs are asking more specific questions around getting lab space, manufacturing facilities, and hiring local talent.
As LaunchTN prepares for 2024 and the upcoming legislative session, Cox has kicked off roundtable discussions across the state to hear from key stakeholders looking to build up the next generation of local entrepreneurs.