How LaunchTN is leading the state’s entrepreneurs to success

New CEO Margaret Dolan talks capital, 36|86, and the benefits of doing business in Tennessee

She’s only been LaunchTN’s president and CEO for six months, but already Margaret Dolan has traversed the entire state, meeting with local business leaders and entrepreneurs eager to turn Tennessee into the most startup-friendly state in the nation.

As part of a statewide “listening tour,” Dolan got to hear first-hand about the opportunities and challenges facing our network partners and businesses in both urban and rural communities.

In the first episode of “Disrupt the Continuum,” our new podcast debuting Monday, March 25, Dolan revealed one of her biggest discoveries from the tour: “There is so much going on in Tennessee,” she said. “It really does take a solid network of all of those stakeholders to be able to help entrepreneurs.”

Dolan estimates she and the LaunchTN team attended 40 meetings with more than 400 board members, business owners, and entrepreneurs at various levels of development in 10 markets. By the end of the tour, she’d logged roughly 1,600 miles. “And no speeding tickets,” Dolan proudly shared.

Capital ideas

A common thread throughout the statewide conversations was the need for access to capital. “All of these markets, whether they’re rural, urban, even within Nashville, need greater access to capital,” Dolan explained. “Often they find it in locales that are not within Tennessee, which then requires them to make a choice between accepting the capital or having to move their operations so that they can be closer to the investor.”

At LaunchTN, we never want to see that happen. “We want our startups to be able to be created here in Tennessee,” Dolan reminded listeners. “Thrive and grow, and become very successful right here.”

36|86 connects entrepreneurs, investors, leaders

One way LaunchTN is working to address the capital issue and other challenges experienced by entrepreneurs throughout the state is the annual 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival. In two days of programming at multiple venues in Nashville, attendees hear from industry leaders and investors on topics ranging from the latest tech trends to creative ways to find capital, plus enjoy networking events, hands-on workshops, and more.

“Last year there were visitors from 33 states, over 1,200 people, and over 120 institutional investors who were here looking at the array of opportunities,” Dolan said.

One program in particular, Dolan recalled, had close to 100 small business owners in attendance, largely minority and women founders. “Often that group of founders gets overlooked by the capital investor community,” she said, “and we’re looking to be able to shine the light on them because they do bring enormous capacity for growing value.”

36|86 serves as a reminder that when it comes to starting, running, scaling, or investing in a small business, Tennessee has just about everything you need already here. Among the benefits of our ecosystem: a favorable tax climate, quality of life, and access to entrepreneurial resources.

‘A rising tide lifts all boats’

“Tennessee is one of a handful of states that actually has a statewide organization responsible for coordinating resources to support entrepreneurs,” Dolan said. “I think that as a community — and I mean our entire state — we understand the important role small businesses and startups play in actually driving our economic success.”

36|86 also offers Tennessee entrepreneurs a circle of support beyond the statewide network. “When you have people who are in the entrepreneurial space, they are typically very creative, they feed off one another’s energy,” Dolan said. “It’s really helpful for them to be able to express challenges that they’re having … where they can learn from one another, learn from their mistakes, but also learn about things that have been helpful to them.”

Dolan called it the “rising tide lifts all boats” effect. It’s part of what makes Tennessee so special — and why LaunchTN is dedicated to assisting entrepreneurs across the entire state, from the urban cores to every rural community in between.

“We want to be able to meet them where they are and figure out what resources they need and where they need them,” Dolan said. “We have that connectivity across the state so we can refer them to almost any resource they need, no matter what it is, and we’re more than happy to be able to do that.”

Subscribe to Disrupt the Continuum wherever you get your podcasts, and join LaunchTN for 36|86 — Aug. 28-29, in downtown Nashville.