Leveraging the collaboration of communities for statewide success

Board member Tom Ballard weighs in on how to support Tennessee entrepreneurs, and how technology is connecting them to needed resources

Tennessee may have earned its “Volunteer State” nickname in the early 19th century, but listening to Tom Ballard describe our state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, it’s clear the title has just as much meaning today.

In addition to serving as Chief Alliance Officer at Knoxville-based PYA, Ballard runs Teknovation, a thought-leading blog highlighting stories of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. He’s been a LaunchTN board member for more than a decade, and he chaired the search committee responsible for finding our new CEO, Margaret Dolan.

For new businesses in Tennessee, Ballard believes there’s a lot we can all do as “volunteers” to further statewide entrepreneurial growth.

“Those who support people trying to start new businesses need to be advocates for, and figure out how to be supporters of, those entrepreneurs,” Ballard told listeners in his episode of our brand-new podcast, “Disrupt the Continuum.”

Supporting Tennessee entrepreneurship

There are several ways to advocate for Tennessee small businesses, which Ballard says account for almost 80% of statewide job growth.

“It’s not just about making an investment,” he said. “You can be an early customer because revenue is revenue for those startups.”

“You can be encouraging,” Ballard continued. “Encourage them to do it, and encourage the state to continue to invest in programs [and] organizations that are trying to do what is needed to further advance new business startups here.”

Another way to assist budding entrepreneurs, Ballard offered, is to act as a mentor and help them connect the dots among Tennessee’s vast resources. “If we, as an ecosystem, can expand their network and allow them to make those connections, then hopefully they’re going to succeed,” he said. “More so than they might otherwise, and faster than they might otherwise.”

LaunchTN: Connecting communities statewide

“When I look across the state of Tennessee,” Ballard shared, “I see a state that has a lot more activity underway. Everybody’s trying to advance startups, and communities are trying to help people grow businesses.”

Ballard credits the support organizations like LaunchTN offer entrepreneurs with creating a sense of collaboration among communities that previously didn’t exist — a powerful new network of what he called “regional accelerators.”

“It’s allowed people to see that if Memphis succeeds in areas like logistics and med-devices, and Nashville succeeds in healthcare and music, and Chattanooga is leveraging its gigabit network, and Knoxville with assets like the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, that we’re not competing as communities,” Ballard explained. “We’re trying to leverage each other’s strengths.”

Technology helping to unite all of Tennessee

Ballard has worked in and around telecommunications for almost three decades. While he says there is access to tremendous technology all around us in Tennessee, he wishes we could do a better job at commercializing it.

“At the highest level, you’re seeing people focused on how to advance our communities and in that process advance the state of Tennessee,” he said. “I’ve been encouraged that this is a topic that we’re hearing more at the public sector level.”

In particular, Ballard cites the deployment of broadband connectivity across the state as a major step forward in reinvesting in our entrepreneurial ecosystem. “I think if we do that, what it’s going to do in terms of education for people, to open up access to opportunities that are not as easily accessible,” Ballard shared. “

“To open up opportunities for entrepreneurs to open businesses that are the type perhaps we haven’t thought about before, that require robust connectivity” — including rural communities, Ballard added.

“It’s going to have an exciting and long-lasting impact on the state and its entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

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