We Must All Be Evangelists for the Growing Memphis Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

In our weekly blog, "Beyond the Bio," we ask MBQ Power Players to write a post of their choosing about their industry. This is the first post from the August/September issue in the category of Entrepreneurship. 

Startco, Memphis Bioworks Foundation, EmergeMemphis, University of Tennessee Research Foundation Business Incubator, University of Memphis Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, FedEx Institute of Technology, Seed Hatchery I, II and III, ZeroTo510 Accelerator I and II, the FedEx Logistics Accelerator, the Upstart Women’s Accelerator, UM's Crews Venture Lab, the Commercial Appeal's Startup Memphis, Memphis SCORE, Mid-South Minority Business Council Continuum, Society of Entrepreneurs, Wolf River Angels, Innova, Memphis Biomed Ventures Fund. These organizations and programs (and the many others that I most certainly have unintentionally omitted), and the individuals who run them, and those of us that provide help to these efforts and, of course, the entrepreneurs themselves, are the backbone of the Memphis entrepreneurial ecosystem. But what is the “entrepreneurial ecosystem”, other than a fancy moniker designed to impress foundations when asking for grants? Although the name is fancy, the goal of these groups is quite practical and unified. That is, to create a community environment in which entrepreneurs are encouraged, educated, trained, mentored, guided and funded. A successful ecosystem will encourage those currently in our community to give entrepreneurship a whirl, and attract persons from outside our community to come to Memphis to start and grow their business.


So then why is a growing and vibrant entrepreneur ecosystem important to Memphis? The results it can achieve, and the opportunities it can provide, address many of the issues and problems that our community faces. It provides jobs, including high wage and highly skilled jobs, for those who need it. Those jobs generate additional economic activity through the purchasing power of these new employees. It attracts talent from other locations to move to Memphis and, perhaps more importantly, allows us to retain our homegrown talent and keep them working and giving back to our own community, rather than leaving and bettering someone else’s. These are just a few of the benefits the ecosystem provides, and I’m certain that it touches on an item of interest or a result that is attractive to all of us.


We have seen the benefits these programs have brought to other areas of the country. And because of the hard work and dedication of the numerous folks here in Memphis, we are seeing those benefits realized here. But unlike these other established areas, our ecosystem is relatively new, young and still fragile. It must continue to be nurtured, supported and grown. For the mentors and service providers like myself and everyone else with an interest in seeing these programs succeed, we all have a role to play. We must become evangelists, and at every opportunity in meetings with our colleagues, visits with our family, outings with friends and around the water cooler, try to bring at least one new person into the system. If each of you reading this article can add at least one additional person, we can likely double or even triple the number of persons active in our ecosystem. That’s support. That’s nurturing. That’s a path to ensure its viability.


One of the primary elements of the nourishment needed is capital. Capital is both the food and water for the entrepreneur, without it, he or she cannot survive. This is the challenge that faces us, and, to borrow a phrase from our friends at Nibletz, everywhere else that is not Silicon Valley, Austin, Texas, New York or Boston. But these challenges can and are becoming overcome. In Memphis, an active angel network is being built by these leaders, and investment funds focused specifically on investing in emerging companies are being planned and launched. For those of us in a position to assist these efforts, either with our money or our experience, we must pitch in. We must become evangelists for this cause. So, stayed tuned, more exciting news is coming, companies are being launched, entrepreneurs are being funded, no contribution is too small, and there is no help that isn’t needed or appreciated.   


Power Player Bio: Matthew S. Heiter

Shareholder, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz. B.A., Ole Miss; J.D., Vanderbilt. Provides legal services and education to all companies to date that have participated in Seed Hatchery and ZeroTo510 Medical Device Accelerators operated by Memphis Bioworks Foundation. Provides assistance in the initial setup of corporate entities, assists with patent or trademark matters, prepares corporate and operational documents, and provides guidance and assistance in raising capital.

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