Leslie Lynn Smith Selected to be President of EPIcenter

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (February 17, 2015) – Nationally recognized entrepreneurial and business development leader Leslie Lynn Smith has been selected as president of the Entrepreneurship-Powered Innovation Center (EPIcenter), a collaborative and community-wide strategic initiative led by Memphis Bioworks that is helping entrepreneurs conceive, launch and scale businesses in the Memphis region. In addition to her leadership at EPIcenter, Smith will serve as a vice president on the Memphis Bioworks executive team.

Smith comes to EPIcenter following five years of successful entrepreneurial leadership as president and CEO of TechTown Detroit. As the city’s most established business accelerator and incubator, TechTown provides a powerful connection to a broad network of resources, catalyzing entire communities of entrepreneurs best poised to energize the local economy. At TechTown, Smith led the transformation of Detroit’s economy with innovative business modeling and cutting-edge economic development programs. In her role as president and CEO, she stabilized and scaled enterprise activities with new program design, provocative partnership models and a hub-and-spoke catalyst framework, at the center of which sits TechTown. Previously, she was director of business acceleration for the Michigan Economic Development Corp., overseeing the state’s $300 million investment portfolio.

“After a nationwide search, it was clear to us that Leslie had the talent, the experience and the leadership that we need here in Memphis to make EPIcenter a success and the Chairman’s Circle vision for entrepreneurial growth a reality,” said Steve Bares, PhD, president and executive director of Memphis Bioworks. “At TechTown, with more than 40 collaborators working together in the ecosystem, Leslie has proven that the model of a central organization charged with connecting, catalyzing and then supplementing a community’s entrepreneurial and business development assets can generate remarkable results. That is the kind of model we will emulate at EPIcenter, where every idea and every entrepreneur has a resource to which EPIcenter can direct them for the help and support needed, whether that’s investors, mentoring, networking, education or space.”

“I am passionate about American cities and the power of entrepreneurism as a catalyst for growth,” said Smith. “I am proud of what we have accomplished in Detroit and extremely enthusiastic about the potential for Memphis. Much like we had in Detroit when we began our entrepreneurial renaissance, Memphis has untapped opportunity, energy and a variety of successful programs. I’m particularly impressed with the level of private sector engagement in Memphis, and in the city’s embrace of its existing category strengths as a foundation for growth. I could not turn down this opportunity to become a part of an organization that is accountable for building a national model for a successful integrated entrepreneurial ecosystem that has real community impact.”

The Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle is a group of more than 100 business leaders who have committed to making Memphis great through five goals, or “moon missions,” each of which is a strategic vision for bringing about transformational change in Memphis. EPIcenter was created and proposed by Memphis Bioworks in response to the entrepreneurship “moon mission,” with a goal to enable 1,000 entrepreneurs by starting 500 companies in Memphis by 2024, resulting in regional economic growth and jobs. The Chairman’s Circle benchmarked Memphis with other successful communities and determined that achieving this next level of success requires a concerted effort to organize all the organizations that serve startups and small businesses around a common strategy.

“Leslie brings a lot of passion, energy and leadership experience to Memphis. She is exactly the person we needed to help make the EPIcenter a success,” said Spence Wilson, Jr., Principal at Kemmons Wilson Companies and Chairman’s Circle Co-Chair. “The collaborative process she employed at Detroit’s TechTown is precisely what the Chairman’s Circle envisioned for Memphis.”

EPIcenter helps entrepreneurs and supporters by providing a single point of access into the ecosystem. While EPIcenter won’t be one physical location, it is a designation as a first stop for entrepreneurs, corporations and others to either access resources or obtain support. EPIcenter will assist any entrepreneur starting a business, but will focus on Memphis’ existing economic strengths: logistics and emerging technologies, healthcare and bioscience, as well as the information and software technology that enables those sectors. For these areas, the EPIcenter will work directly with companies through existing accelerator, capital and incubator programs, such as Emerge Memphis, Start Co., Memphis Bioworks, and Innova, and work in conjunction with the Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) and the Brookings Regional Economic Development plan. The EPIcenter will also launch new programs to support needs and partner with other entities to support companies outside of these areas.

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About EPIcenter

EPIcenter serves as a central point of contact for the region’s ecosystem and coordinates resources from various organizations in the community such as accelerators, incubators, mentors, investors, networking programs, and technical assistance programs for entrepreneurs. EPIcenter also represents the complete picture of the region’s entrepreneurial activity and resources in high-growth, scalable startups and businesses. The Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle has tapped Memphis Bioworks to lead the efforts and objectives of EPIcenter, in collaboration with Emerge Memphis, Start Co., and other partners, to pursue a common goal of creating a robust and vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in Memphis to service the Mid-South region. For more information, visit epimemphis.com.

About Memphis Bioworks Foundation

Memphis Bioworks is the Mid-South’s go-to organization for creating companies, jobs and investments in bioscience and sustainability. A visionary community leader, Memphis Bioworks has a well-established record of sparking new levels of economic vitality by investing in entrepreneurs, building state-of-the-art labs and facilities, and training the next generation of workers. For more information, visit memphisbioworks.org, Facebook at facebook.com/MemphisBioworks or follow @MemphisBioworks on Twitter.

About the Chairman’s Circle

The Chairman’s Circle is a leadership body created to engage Memphis business leaders on a variety of issues that affect Memphis and the Mid-South. The group’s intention is to cause transformational change through leadership working closely with civic partners and public officials.

About the Greater Memphis Chamber

The Greater Memphis Chamber is the lead economic development agency for Memphis/Shelby County, and is a private, non-profit, membership-driven organization comprised of 2,500 business enterprises, civic organizations, educational institutions and individuals.

Innova Memphis and Start Co. partner to support 2015 B2B accelerator teams with investment

Innova Memphis and Start Co. partner to support 2015 B2B accelerator teams with investment

Partnership to provide Seed Hatchery and Upstart accelerator teams with $25,000 of investment capital


MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Jan. 14, 2015) – Innova Memphis, an early-stage venture capital firm, and Start Co., a nationally recognized venture development organization based in Memphis, are partnering to invest capital into high-growth-potential B2B startups in the Seed Hatchery and Upstart accelerator programs.  Applications for those accelerator programs are now open.


Startup teams selected for Seed Hatchery, the first accelerator in Memphis now focusing on B2B technology businesses, and Upstart, one of the first accelerators to focus on women-led tech startups in the United States, will each receive $25,000 of investment capital from Start Co. Angels and Innova Memphis.


“To date, we’ve invested in more than 30 companies, including 16 teams through the ZeroTo510 Medical Device Accelerator, a program of Memphis Bioworks, that alone have gone on to raise $7.5 million,” said Jan Bouten, partner, Innova Memphis. “With this partnership, we’re seeking new startups in the B2B technology space that have the potential to become economic engines and create new jobs.”


Start Co. completed four accelerator programs in 2014, including Seed Hatchery and Upstart.  Eighteen accelerator teams came from all over the world in 2014 and benefited from early investment capital, mentorship, and business and technical assistance.  In total, over $3.8 million was raised by Start Co. teams in 2014 adding to a total of over $11.3 million raised in recent years by Start Co. startups.


“With accelerator applications now open and Innova engaged, it’s an exciting time for B2B technology startups to tap into the unique resources of the Memphis area,” said Eric Mathews, founder and CEO of Start Co.  “Memphis is an ideal location to build, specifically for startups selling into other businesses or organizations.”


Both Innova Memphis and Start Co. are members of EPIcenter, an initiative to boost entrepreneurship in the Memphis region. This partnership marks what will be a series of EPIcenter-led collaborations among entrepreneurial support organizations in Memphis to bring new opportunities to area startups.


“Beyond investment, Innova will leverage our team’s expertise in technology and B2B solutions to provide strategic mentorship to participating teams and help grow their businesses,” said Bouten.  “The EPIcenter initiative has enabled this and other partnerships that serve to build the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Memphis.”


For more information on the accelerator programs and to apply, visit neverstop.co.


About Innova Memphis 

Innova Memphis invests in early-stage, high-growth companies that have the potential to grow into significant economic contributors and generate great returns. Our focus is on companies with strong intellectual property or other competitive advantages in the Healthcare, Technology and AgBio fields. Innova was created by the Memphis Bioworks Foundation to help establish Memphis as a national center of excellence in entrepreneurship. Innova’s goal is to nurture the growth of high technology and entrepreneurial efforts across the Mid-South that will result in significant job creation, economic growth and competitiveness. For more information, and for a list of portfolio companies, vistartsit innovamemphis.com.


About Start Co.
Start Co. is a nationally recognized nonprofit 501(c)(3) Memphis-based venture development organization that relentlessly builds founders and companies, promoting entrepreneurship for everyone with a focus on digital startups. Start Co. is a member of the Global Accelerator Network and is currently working with JumpStart, Inc. to advance Memphis’ economic growth through entrepreneurship. The organization is supported by partners including archer>malmo, Baker Donelson, The Marston Group, Orion Federal Credit Union, Mosaik Solutions and Softlayer (an IBM company).  More information can be found at neverstop.co.