Innovation Has Deep Roots in Tennessee. Now, The Rest of the Country Is Taking Note.

Even on a Zoom call, the team at Launch Tennessee knows how to welcome people into their growing community.

Ahead of their latest virtual speaker series, Hypepotamus got a chance to connect with Launch Tennessee’s CEO Van Tucker to talk about how this unique public-private partnership is taking tangible steps to build the state’s startup-focused ecosystem. 

And if the lineup of speakers for the event said anything, it appears Silicon Valley is taking notice.

Deep Roots: Building a High-Performance, Diverse, and Connected Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Tennessee brought together some heavy hitters from the Bay Area along with several local entrepreneurs who have put Tennessee tech startups on the map so far. 

Hosted by Mahni Ghorashi, a Bay Area investor who himself recently returned to his native Tennessee, the Silicon Valley-based speakers at the Deep Roots event have spent “their entire careers building ecosystems from different perspectives,” said Tucker.  

Steve Blank, who helped launch the lean startup movement, founder and Stanford professor Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, and investor Russell Siegelman all talked about what it takes to build both startups and the community infrastructure to support them. (You can catch a full replay on LaunchTN’s YouTube page).

Despite being a virtual event, Deep Roots reflected the work LaunchTN has put in on the ground to champion Tennessee as a place for locals as well as transplant entrepreneurs and investors.

Tucker was quick to point out that while LaunchTN helps build the state’s tech ecosystem, Tennessee’s unique culture helps attract new and top talent. 

“One of the things that I think surprises a lot of people who come here for the first time is the depth and breadth of culture that we have here,” Tucker told Hypepotamus.  “So whether that’s the arts or music or outdoor activities, wine or whiskey, whatever your cultural interests are, those can be sated here in a very deep way.”

While such a lifestyle may help persuade some to move (particularly in wake of the pandemic), it’s the built-in entrepreneurial networks that are drawing in companies and individuals who are rethinking where they call home. 

LaunchTN’s CEO Van Tucker

“When you’re an entrepreneur or an investor, you’re looking to stretch your runway as far as that’ll go. That’s certainly a competitive advantage in Tennessee. We don’t have a personal income tax. So it’s a very attractive place when you put all of those things together,” said Tucker.

The BuildTN network works to bring resources to founders in Nashville, Chattanooga, Memphis, Knoxville, and many rural communities across the state, making it easier for an idea to get off the ground in any geographic location. Pre-pandemic, LaunchTN put in the leg work to deploy and connect an on-the-ground network of budding entrepreneurs.

And their work has helped solidify a strong startup culture across Tennessee, which may only grow stronger as founders and investors search for the next big tech hub. 

As Steve Blank mentioned during the event: “The only good thing out of the pandemic is blown up entrepreneurial clusters. You no longer physically need to be in Silicon Valley to have a conversation with anybody. And I think the odds of getting funded sitting in Tennessee is probably a factor of 10x. Because your Zoom call is as good as anyone else’s Zoom call.”