Chamber and local partners create new “EPIcenter” for entrepreneurs

Via Memphis Business Journal:

If a plan developed by the Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle comes to fruition, the entrepreneurial community in the city will get a lot more crowded in the next few years.

The chamber, along with multiple organizations including the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, the Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis & Shelby County, Innova, Start Co., EmergeMemphis and the Crews Venture Lab, are launching the Memphis Entrepreneurship Powered Innovation Center, an organization that has the goal of creating 1,000 new entrepreneurs and 500 new companies in the next 10 years. The organization will be led by Steve Bares, president and executive director of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation.

The EPIcenter, as it will be known, will assist any entrepreneur starting a business, but will emphasize the city’s economic strengths, including logistics and emerging technologies, healthcare and bioscience.

Multiple member companies of the chamber will have various levels of involvement with the EPIcenter. Richard Smith, managing director of Life Sciences & Specialty Services/US International, Global Trade Services, for FedEx Express, who will represent FedEx, said he plans to take the plan to FedEx’s corporate leadership to gauge the company’s level of involvement. However, having firsthand experience with entrepreneurship, through his father Fred Smith’s founding of FedEx Corp., Smith is looking forward to seeing what companies develop. However, he acknowledges the startup community has been fractured for a few years.

“I see how difficult it can be to deal with Memphis’ fragmented entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Smith said. “This will accelerate and help entrepreneurs navigate the system, and it also creates a strong front door for funding.

J.R. Pitt Hyde, founder of AutoZone, who is also a member of the Chairman’s circle, said the growth of the entrepreneurial sector in the city needs to continue.

“In order for Memphis to get to the next level where startups can move beyond the startup phase requires leadership and support from the business community,” Hyde said. “The Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle is stepping up to transform Memphis into a destination for talent, companies and investment.”

Startup Memphis: Memphis to be EPIcenter of entrepreneurship

Via The Commercial Appeal:

The idea is audacious, innovative and perhaps a little crazy, but if it works, brilliant.

A coalition of Memphis leaders propose to recruit 1,000 entrepreneurs to launch 500 new startups in Memphis over the next decade.

Sounds great, but how?

First off, provide them with support and resources and opportunities to take chances. Next, hold them accountable to the mission of developing solid companies staffed by energetic creatives who will ignite this city with a belief that anything is possible.

That mindset fueled historic entrepreneurship in Memphis and it’s the premise and the promise of the Entrepreneurship Powered Innovation Center or EPIcenter. The initiative was developed by local business, civic, education and nonprofit leaders under the auspices of the Chairman’s Circle at the Greater Memphis Chamber and launched to sizable fanfare last week.

If this plan flourishes the way its organizers hope — itself a high-growth-potential startup, if you will, one that’s scalable and sustainable — more than 4,500 jobs will be created by mostly tech, medical device, and logistics firms resulting in an economic impact topping a half-billion dollars.

So what’s the process?

In short form, more than 100 Chairman’s Circle leaders, including executives from AutoZone and FedEx, selected the Memphis Bioworks Foundation to be the entry point for entrepreneurship in this city. Bioworks will operate as the coordinating agent for entrepreneurial access in this city, collaborating with other organizations to schedule programming, foster mentoring opportunities and direct this influx of creatives to funding sources and make them aware of the variety of entrepreneurship resources available here.

While this coordinated concept is new, the nuts and bolts of this plan have been in place for years. This will just make it simpler for folks with great ideas to look to a single agency that will in turn guide them to the appropriate starting point. And for Steve Bares, who is a driving supporter of this effort and director of Bioworks, the goal of recruiting 1,000 entrepreneurs, launching 500 companies and generating hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity will actually be accomplished in as few as seven years.

That means by 2021, Memphis will be a dramatically different city with an explosive entrepreneurial ecosystem.

For skeptics, consider this.

Since 2009, more than 950 entrepreneurs participated in programming and/or received some level of support from Bioworks, EmergeMemphis and Start Co., three of the city’s top startup accelerators and incubators. From those participants, 181 startups were launched, 532 jobs were created and equity funding from private and angel investors surpassed $50 million, positioning Memphis as one of the region’s emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Building on that foundation, innovative thinkers today are promoting a blueprint for a thriving Memphis of tomorrow. The EPIcenter is the front door and we must make sure that it opens frequently and ushers in a new era of entrepreneurial achievement.

Bares: EPIcenter Effort Targets ‘Scalability’

Via Memphis Daily News:

It’s all about “scalability” when it comes to creating new businesses in Memphis, and that means creating ones with a reach beyond the city to customers in other places – customers that more often than not are other businesses, not consumers.


Late this summer, the Greater Memphis Chamber will open its EPIcenter effort – short for Memphis Entrepreneurship Powered Innovation Center – with a goal of creating 1,000 entrepreneurs and 50 new companies locally in the next decade.

The effort is backed by the chamber’s Chairman’s Circle of more than 100 business leaders who are putting up funding to hire EPIcenter staff and create a business accelerator specifically for logistics.

“Logistics is an area where people come from all over the world and look at Memphis as a place to be,” said Memphis Bioworks Foundation President Steve Bares on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines.” “But yet from a startup ecosystem, we are really underserving that sector. The food services and sustainability sector is also an area that we are very strong in, and the underlying business-to-business IT infrastructure and support for those sectors is critical.”

The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page,

Bares and Bioworks are taking the lead in the EPIcenter effort, for which Bioworks is also launching a capital campaign. They are leading because of Bioworks’ experience and success with its Innova venture capital effort, which since 2009 has helped form 60 companies and manage $53 million in equity investments.

Early stage venture capital is what Bares sees as the hardest part in creating an “entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

“Venture capital follows great ideas and great teams. The first step is you’ve got to come up with a portfolio of companies that are really coming through the ecosystem and looking for it,” he said. “A small fraction of those companies actually get that early stage capital and then move through the process, ultimately creating jobs and growing and becoming something the community looks at as part of the ecosystem of small businesses and ultimately large businesses.”

Memphis has a rich history of ideas that have made that transformation, which means the EPIcenter effort should have the mentors needed to help entrepreneurs with ideas but no capital as well as venture capital firms seeking some assurances.

“Doing great entrepreneurship requires the corporate community at the table. The corporate community has ideas. They have purchase orders. They can tell you what they really want,” Bares added. “They say there is nothing that validates a new business like a purchase order, and the people who can give a purchase order are the corporate community.”

Bares compares the city’s medical device industry to a large tree that began as the work of Dr. Willis Campbell, founder of the Campbell Clinic.

“You see this tree that emerges of growth and spinout and vibrancy and ecosystem. … Right now, we have a portfolio of great little companies that are supplying the major companies with manufacturing support, with new products, new ideas. That becomes the feeder system to the efforts that we are doing,” he said. “If you look at the tree, you see this whole range of companies that came from this original entrepreneurial spark.”

Bioworks’ experience with Innova shows that a first business plan from an entrepreneur usually doesn’t make the cut with those looking to invest early stage venture capital.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a startup go with the business plan that was originally conceived of,” Bares said. “Part of what you do in the whole entrepreneurship process is you take a concept and you validate it with customers. Unless you have an unbelievably good crystal ball, the fact is that customers tell you what they really want. That changes your thinking.”

And while many of the startups may not make the cut for venture capital or may ultimately fail, that isn’t a calculation or something to plan for.

“You’ve got to look at every company as a chance for success. In order to do that, you have to be cautious and thoughtful and methodical about how you bring companies in,” Bares said. “Most really great early stage venture capital funds and venture capital processes invest a small amount of money. What you really want to do is fail early. And you want to say, ‘Is this business plan going to work?’ If it doesn’t work, the entrepreneur can pivot and move and turn before you invest way too much money and you can’t go back.”