I’m proud to announce Build In SE (fka ModernCapital), a new collective of creative thinkers shaping the modern economy. Together with the first cohort of Venture Fellows, advisors, and a partnership with Launch Tennessee, Build In SE is dedicated to making resources more accessible to founders across the Southeastern United States. Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, we believe the Southeast is a region to watch for startup activity as venture capital becomes increasingly geographically distributed, hyper-personalized, and driven by tech.
It’s no secret that the rising costs of living, overcrowding, and other limited resources have inspired startup founders to look beyond Silicon Valley for a place to break ground.
Meanwhile, the innovation economy is experiencing a macro shift in power, geographically moving investable dollars toward talent, with notable venture capital firms jumping on planes for deals outside of traditional startup hubs. These investors are just as excited about lower burn rates (in the face of larger and more competitive Seed rounds and valuations) as founders are about building companies sustainably with access to a higher quality of life for themselves and their teams. This phenomenon of talent becoming the stronger of the magnets is most emblematic in Manhattan, as Wall Street migrates closer to lifestyle-friendly neighborhoods with coffee shops and other adornments of a young and creative workforce (see: Wall Street is Moving, and It’s Reshaping New York published by Bloomberg).
The magnetic pull of talent is attracting investable dollars to new places — Nashville included — across the country. Enter Build In SE.
A 2,000 Mile Journey
When I boarded my one-way flight to Nashville in late October of 2017, I carried with me a few suitcases and nearly a decade of working closely with startups. I began my career in the midst of the 2008 recession, interning for a then-unknown startup long before the sprawl of Los Angeles would be lovingly referred to as #LongLA. By 2015, LA claimed the #3 spot on the Global Startup Ecosystem Report behind Silicon Valley and New York. Growing up personally and professionally in parallel with LA’s startup ecosystem, I became intimately familiar with the city’s transformation. In addition to the typical attributes of a successful and growing startup center, a few other aspects I believe led to LA’s ascent to the global stage:
· Cross-sector collaboration — LA’s strong entertainment DNA began to intersect with the growing tech sector in the wake of the music industry’s reckoning and rebuild. The tech sector needed a deeper understanding of how to engage consumers — a strong suit of the entertainment industry. This became a powerful machine by 2012, where the music, film, and eventually tech industries were drawn closer to the local video gaming industry who held the keys to customer-centric design, engagement, and monetization.
· Engaged universities — UCLA, USC, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, CSULA, and other local universities either hired or already had people on staff who jumped on the innovation train early and pro-actively connected with the growing community of founders, investors, and other ecosystem builders. This, combined with large student populations distributed across the sprawl of LA, made for a sustainably growing pipeline of talent and creativity.
· A heartbeat — The unsung heroes who forego personal interest for the love of accelerating the path and progress of others; these people constitute the heartbeat of a thriving startup ecosystem. They are often not in the spotlight, but rather the people who identify talent early, funnel resources and scour the earth for answers to questions to keep the plane airborne. It isn’t enough for a city to refer to itself as a hub of innovation without the presence of people who align interests beyond capital and notoriety. I’ve found it time and time again to be a critical indicator of future success for emerging startup hubs.
So, Why Nashville?
Fun fact — Nashville is at the center of over half of the United States population within a radius of 650 miles.
In terms of visibility and accessibility, Nashville has an unparalleled geographic advantage in the U.S. This creates meaningful proximity to potential customers of all sizes — from enterprise clients to individuals — for those visionary founders in pursuit of market validation and shortened feedback loops.
According to the Nashville Economic Development Guide, three major interstates converge in Nashville, with 75% of the U.S. market within a two-hour flight and 12 million people residing within a 2.5 hour drive. In this first phase of forming what would become Build In SE, I decided to jump in the car and learn about my new geography. I explored Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Georgia by way of Chattanooga, Birmingham, Huntsville, Memphis, Louisville, and Atlanta, meeting with entrepreneurs, investors, and ecosystem builders to dig a layer deeper into the DNA of these cities. I believe Southeastern cities will increasingly collaborate by leveraging their core industry expertise to propel early-stage startups onto the national and global stages. Early success stories include GreenSky, Kabbage, MagicLeap, and Shipt, and this is just the beginning. I look forward to sharing my findings in future blog posts.
In addition to this advantaged geographical location (and a delightfully easy airport), Nashville has many of these indicators for potential that Los Angeles had in becoming a globally-recognized startup hub. Nashville (aka Music City) is known for having a strong, long-running entertainment industry, a foundation that is highly complementary to the growing tech scene. This will create opportunities for cross-sector collaboration and become increasingly apparent as more startups are built and create new roles calling for domain expertise from entertainment. As for engaged academic institutions, Nashville has university student density, with Vanderbilt, Belmont, Fisk, and Lipscomb all within a 5 mile radius of one another. Startups are emerging from both undergrad and graduate programs at a seemingly exponential rate, not to mention strong, extensive and supportive alumni networks.
Nashville also has a heartbeat, and a strong one at that. When I arrived as a newcomer to town, I was greeted almost immediately by the team at Launch Tennessee, a public-private partnership dedicated to making “Tennessee the №1 location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs.” With Build In SE, we see local government as a critical ingredient for a successful startup ecosystem. I’m excited about LaunchTN’s around-the-clock work in supporting and growing the state-wide startup community.
As our community continues to grow, our mission to make resources more accessible and inclusive will take several forms. This includes:
- Cross-regional collaboration with top venture firms: We leverage a growing expert network from across the U.S. to support founders building our collective future from the Southeast.
- Career development of future startup operators and investors from underrepresented backgrounds: We are highly motivated to bring new diversity initiatives spearheaded in Silicon Valley to the Southeast.
- #BuildInSE: As the Southeast region’s startup activity grows, we are dedicated to creating opportunities for connectivity within the region.
If you’ve read this far and want to learn more, say hello and we will make sure you receive our announcements first. We would love to have you along for the journey.