Wednesday, December 31, 2008
PBS "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" broadcast a few minutes (video here) ago an update on venture-capital investment in clean-energy and related green technologies. Much of the piece centers around an interview with former Kleiner Perkins VC and co-founder of Sun Microsystems Vinod Khosla (at left), an engineer-cum-VC whose own venture fund is looking for clean-energy investment opportunities. Another interviewee in the piece, as aired tonight, said he thinks VC interest in green investments is already waning -- as VCs choose to pursue later-stage deals in the current buyer's market -- but, Khosla said such cooling of ardor won't change the fundamentals. Said Khosla, Coal and Oil can't be our main solution, 25 years from now, because we cannot sustain a world dependent on fossil fuels. A fuller transcript of the interview with Khosla, from an earlier airing, is posted here.
Nearly six years ago, on Feb. 1, 2003, seven Astronauts were killed when Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated, due ultimately to a 1.6-lb. piece of foam insulation breaking loose and damaging a wing. Today, The New York Times published its story about NASA's investigation of that catastrophe, and the 400-page NASA document is here. Though the entire matter is being handled with sensitivity, a review of the technical report of damage and failure factors leaves at least one reader somewhat stunned, and grateful for the report. NASA rightly also celebrates its 2008 successes, here.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
The latest report doesn't include Volkswagen's impact or the ramifications of the current economic morass, but the latest Ochs reports on the State of the Chattanooga region contains some interesting numbers, including a surge in information technology employment of about 125 percent during 2001-07. During the same period, engineering jobs were down substantially. The Chattanoogan reports it here. The full report is here, at the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, in Chattanooga.
This is all going somewhere, right? PassAlong Networks' Founder Dave Jaworski has proven he can raise gobs of money, and he's trying to demonstrate that again, now. In the middle of it all, however, the company has just announced it's investing in a new president, one Ray Gary. The initial story's here.
Nashville's PureSafety, a provider of online safety-training and risk-management software solutions, announced its acquisition of Colorado-based Unique Software Solutions, Inc., which has a customer base of over 2,700 active installations. Unique's flagship product is Occupational Health Manager. That's PureSafety CEO Bill Grana, at left. Release here.
In one story, Seth Harward (left) of Frontier Capital says Nashville is a good hunting-ground for SaaS and IT companies for his private-equity firm, while in a second offering this morning MB Venture Partners' Gary Stevenson says he'd rather leave that to the natives, while he collaborates with them and tends his own chosen niche. The two stories thus complement one another.
Monday, December 29, 2008
U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon of Murfreesboro, who chairs the House Science and Technology Committee, has been forced to idle several years, during the Bush Administration. Now, with his latest pronouncement on his committee's priorities, he seems poised to sprint off the blocks, to secure funding for his America COMPETES program and other initiatives. Read the DNJ story here and the congressman's release here. Our related story is here.
We reported last week on President-Elect Obama's appointment of VC Karen Mills (left) as administrator of the Small Business Administration. Our story's here. Lest that news seem faraway, we note the Commercial Appeal's recent story on Memphis businesses' involvement in the SBA's "Emerging 200" program to cultivate small enterprises.
One of Nashville's worst-kept secrets has been Council Ventures' addition of healthcare IT and services specialist Grant Jackson as general partner. Jackson joins from a Research Triangle Park-area VC. The story's here.
Eighteen years after he founded a very different and still evolving company, HealthStream CEO Bobby Frist and his senior-management team have created a Constitution that's intended to improve performance. The story's here.
VU Chancellor Nick Zeppos (at left) announced late Friday there's a change pending in leadership of a broad domain that includes managing budget, debt, finance, HR, IT and a host of other services. The story's here.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Vanderbilt University School of Engineering Dean Ken Galloway (at left) has been reappointed after 12 years in the post, for another 4-year term, an indication of strong support from VU officials. VUSE also announced that Peter Pintauro is joining the Engineering school as chairman of the Chem.E. department, from a named-chair faculty position at Case Western Reserve. Also, George Hornberger has been named director of the recently established Vanderbilt's Institute for Energy and the Environment. He joined VU earlier this year from the faculty of the University of Virginia.
Frequent ABC News columnist Michael Malone (left) sounds-off in this morning's Wall Street Journal on the role of Sarbanes-Oxley and FASB in drubbing IPOs into nonexistence. Malone earlier assayed the decline of VCs' sagging returns for Limited Partners in VC-managed funds.
U.S. Rep. Zack Wamp (D-3) delivered on his promise to U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-6) to bring a major high-tech economic development event to Mid-Tennessee. Our story is here.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Sword & Shield Enterprise Security, based in Knoxville with offices in D.C., acquired Knoxville's Forensic Discoveries, strengthening its presence in e-discovery. SSES said in a release that is clients include "Major government-based customers include the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the White House, the U.S. Defense Department and the U.S.D.A. The company has a large contract with the FBI for security assessments and a $31 million NASA Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP) Government-Wide Acquisition Contract (GWAC) contract for IT products."
Dell Inc. announced about $200K in grants to four nonprofits in Nashville and Memphis: Nashville Public Television, Oasis Center, Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee and Memphis-based Youth Villages. The grants program is concentrated in cities with Dell facilities.
Tennessee Titans Fans: San Francisco-based StubHub, the online ticket marketplace, says it'll plant a tree in Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee for each NFL Playoff or SuperBowl ticket purchased, or folks can donate directly to the forest fund, with every dollar donated planting one tree. More on the deal here. Note: In Nashville, Highnotes startup CEO Scott Welch was an exec with Stubhub, before its sale to Amazon.com, story here.
Gov. Bredesen, Commissioner Kisber, Former Honorary Consul Nelson and others say there's more investment to come, in the wake of the Hemlock announcement, story here. Meanwhile, IRON Solutions' allowing its CEO and CFO to live in Nashville, while the rest of this Venture-backed company remains in Missouri and Canada provided an opening, apparently, for the CEO to reopen discussions of moving more of the company here. Former high-flying Ingram exec Peter Clifton apparently loves publishing, and his startup, which was announced softly via NYC publishing-circle blogs a week ago, is a space to watch. For all recent stories, go here.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Metro Councilmember At-Large Jerry Maynard told VNC he'll ask Vice Mayor and President Diane Neighbors to convene a Council working session on Metro economic development on Jan. 6, 2009. Our story is here.
Nashvillian and fabled Reagan economist Arthur Laffer writes overnight in today's Wall Street Journal that President-Elect Obama is wrong about renewable energy and energy independence and would do well to heed Al Gore's advice, as characterized by Laffer: "The only real solution is Al Gore's proposal to offset a carbon tax dollar-for-dollar with either an income or payroll tax reduction. If a carbon tax increase were offset dollar-for-dollar with an income tax rate cut, I for one would strongly support the policy. The economy would benefit because the progressive income tax does far more damage than a carbon tax would, and we'd use less oil. It's a win-win situation." Google Laffer and see how busy this fellow stays, largely because of a curve that people found easy to 'understand'.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Former former Tennessee Deputy Governor and Sundquist Administration Chief of Staff Alex Fischer, 41, has been named to the board of directors of Battelle Memorial Institute, one of the nation's largest R&D organizations, and a key ally of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee. Fischer is Battelle SVP for business and economic development. Before joining the corporate offices of Battelle, Fischer was director of technology transfer and economic development for UT-Battelle, the partnership that manages the Oak Ridge lab. During the Sundquist Administration, Fischer also served as commissioner for economic and community development. A native of Hendersonville near Nashville, Fischer earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at UT-Knoxville.
Cybera, the managed-networks and services provider based at Cool Springs, announced Paul Melton (left) as VP-enterprise sales. Melton was co-founder and VP-sales/marketing for Global Linking Solutions, a managed-services company. Earlier, he was AT&T’s regional sales director for Internet Services. Melton reports to Ken Royer, SVP-sales. Our previous coverage of Cybera here.
Greg Moyer (left), who previously held a number of top titles at Cablesystems Rainbow Media division and Discovery Communications, has joined Knoxville-based Scripps Networks as president of a new International unit. The company says Moyer, who'll work from New York City, will drive the company's lifestyle-media expansion into Asia and other global markets, where the ranks of middle-class audiences are swelling.
Nashville/Dallas-based Pharos Capital invested again in a Series B round for med-devices maker Pioneer Surgical Technology of Marquette, Mich. InvestMichigan! Growth Capital Fund was a first-timer in the round, while Pharos, Highlander Partners, Hopewell Ventures and River Cities Capital took a second bite. Our earlier profile of Pharos is here.
Doing our story on Buzz Heitdke's "worst year ever" in performance of his MidSouth fund was a pleasure. And, we enjoyed hearing how he picks some stocks on information gathered by walking around, or by trends he perceives. In addition to buying Healthways after hearing former Sen. Bill Frist's spiel on healthcare's future, Heidtke said he bought Smith & Wesson, thinking gun purchases would rise in a slow economy. Earlier this week, S&W posted a $76 million quarterly loss, due largely to cutbacks in hunting firearms. Yes, other reports indicate that sales have revolvers had, indeed, jumped recently. And so it goes.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Memphis-based Morgan Keegan announced yesterday its acquisition of Burke Capital Group of Atlanta to its investment-banking group. Just a few days earlier, Morgan announced its acquisition of Revolution Partners, in a similar deal. Yesterday's City Paper had a look-back LBO activity in our region, with an update on how they're faring. Symbion's hurting, while HCA and DG are doing better.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Our story on Ellen Lehman's call for VC involvement in the community foundation she leads reminded me of Mike Shmerling's 'Idea 67' concept, in which Nashville allies would launch ventures that would remain in Nashville long term. The idea: go to local companies in search of viable business ideas those companies might have lying about, but which have been deemed too small to address within the company, itself. Assemble a team of mentors, grad students, investors, et al; develop a business plan, recruit funding and execute. The idea of fractional ownership is well established in U.S. real-estate circles. Why not in other sectors? 'Seems like a great idea to explore, particularly in these times.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Wait'll Google hears about this: The TVA board has voted to reduce electric-power charges to data centers, on a par with rates paid by manufacturing companies, in the interest of attracting more such business, TVA release here.
Chattanooga's Enterprise Park named Chris Daly (left), a Decosimo CPA and Chattanooga Technology Council board member, to head-up tech transfer and economic development, reported at Chattanoogan.com.
That Was the Week that Was in Nashville: PassAlong Networks' Jaworski further illuminates that $30MM capital raise... Magazines.com grows like Topsy... Aequitas is Passport Health's new front-end partner... We add Solidus Co. to our VC file... and, the Chamber sets plans for a business summit in what may be Nashville's worst economic winter in nearly 80 years... Let us hear from you, too, eh?
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
John Riddell's (at left) columns on business fundamentals in the Times Free Press (Chatta.) have delighted readers for years. This morning's offering stresses if you are now suitably unimpressed by the financial acumen of the folks who got us in our current predicament, and you're realizing that previously 'tight' money is getting even tighter, it's time to bootstrap your business through what, for the moment, passes for our economy. No need to relinquish your dreams, Riddell says, echoing Belmont Prof/Author Jeff Cornwall, who this morning offers the latest report on sentiment among NFIB members, which he believes suggests this recession will not be as bad as the "two other major downturns of the past half century."
Monday, December 08, 2008
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (Kansas City, MO) today announced an $8.1 million grant to the University of Kansas (at nearby Lawrence, KS) to establish the Institute for Advancing Medical Innovation, a unique life science proof-of-concept model that draws support from higher education, philanthropy and industry experts to move medical innovations and best practices in their development from the lab to the market. The Kansas University Endowment will match the grant through contributions from other donors. The grant announced today advances a drug-development partnership. Release here.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Keith Gregg of JRG Ventures is spreading the word about an incipient Sci-Tech park for Nashville that could rival similar campuses in Alabama, North Carolina and elsewhere. Gregg told us months ago he'd like to see something done in that category, and there's some evidence our post on IP lawyer Jack Waddey's fervent comments may have sparked renewed interest in such things. Well, it's fun thinking that, anyway.
There's another hole in the venture ozone, this morning, with Plumgood Foods' purple trucks unlikely to be spotted anywhere. The company, as far as we can tell, ceased all operations yesterday, putting another nail in the online grocery biz coffin. But, CEO and Co-Founder Eric Satz seems likely to seek another gig. Read the story here.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
My conversation with a VC here, yesterday, brought a reminder the decks are awash with dealflow. It's a buyer's market. Okay, not news. Meanwhile, we, too, have been busy. And tense, if not scared. Pls catch up: Congressman Jim Cooper is staking a bigger claim in the entertainment, patents, copyrights area... CEO, Author, Teacher Rick Oliver is diving into the dealflow with his own D-round American Learning Solutions offering... PassAlong CEO Dave Jaworski really should just be a VC/PE guy, because he's announcing before the close a $30MM round, the kind of touting only a guy who's already raised $40MM-plus can do... Janos Sztipanovits, one of the top scientists leading the exodus from the VU campus to Music Row, is pretty direct about Nashville needing to get its sci-tech act together... Meanwhile, over at SiteMason, co-founders Moses and Conner look as relaxed as two SNL veterans waiting for their cue... Anything going on at your place?
Saturday, November 29, 2008
We had to chuckle, reading the headline on a Nov. 25 release from VU spinoff portfolio company Informatics Corporation of America (ICA), in which the company announced it had taken the Gartner-linked "2008 Healthcare IT Summit by Storm, Winning Two of Five Award Categories." You gotta love such unbridled enthusiasm, which, these days, could only arise where there's plenty of cash on-tap. It's not just still-small startups that are bragging about their tech expertise. A few weeks ago, it was venture-backed Emdeon blowing its horn about winning SAP/Business Object's Business Intelligence Excellence Awards. Emdeon is owned by private-equity players General Atlantic LLC and Hellman & Friedman LLC.
As VNC reported, Tennessee VCs made clear during the recent inaugural meeting of the TTDC Tennessee Capital Formation Board that they think Tennessee needs to do more to encourage capital formation, retention and recycling. Each weekly news dispatch from the State Science & Technology Institute (SSTI) makes clear that other states are taking steps to change their approaches, dramatically in some cases, to participate more fully in the evolving global economy. So, please read our latest story on the VCs' comments and the accompanying list of ideas, and then read the latest on Arkansas converging its economic-development initiatives.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
[Related Nov. 28 story here.] Noro-Moseley Partners' Atlanta-based Kathy Harris (at left) had a straightforward answer, when asked what it'd take for NMP or other VCs to set-up shop fulltime in Nashville. "Nothing breeds that sort of interest more than deals getting done," she said, particularly when those deals involve Nashville investors bringing-in VCs from elsewhere to participate in transactions. Harris commented during last week's Tennessee Innovation Conference, convened by Tennessee Technology Development Corporation (TTDC) at the Doubletree Hotel. As NMP's healthcare expert, Moseley is up here frequently, and has previously dealt with WebMD, Senior Whole Health and Valor Healthcare, among others. She has previously been a partner or other exec with Atlanta's Technology Ventures, an early-stage VC in software and e-commerce; as well as playing investment-banking roles with then-J.C. Bradford & Co., where she was involved in more than 100 IB transactions. No stranger to Nashville, she holds an MBA from Vanderbilt's Owen Graduate School of Management, as well as a bachelor's from nearby Murray State. Earlier today (Nov. 25), Harris endorsed InnoVenture Southeast 2009, coming up in South Carolina, next March.
A few more of these and we'd be in business: Vanderbilt University tech transfer portfolio company Acuitec, based in Birmingham, is pursuing $1.5MM in Angel funding, and CEO Lionel Tehini more-than-hints he'd love to move to Nashville, if Angels here make it worthwhile. Here's the story. That's Acuitec's operating-room product, at left.
Pitt Hyde-founded MB Venture Partners in Memphis is apparently angling toward the launch of its third fund, suspected to go north of $100MM, on top of the $76MM assets already under management at the bio-oriented firm. Read our story here, including MBVP Managing Partner Gary Stevenson's (left) nonrevelatory comment.
Monday, November 24, 2008
State Revenue Commmissioner Reagan Farr (left) hasn't let go his interest in erasing the tax exemption enjoyed by Family-Owned Non-Corporate Entitites (FONCE), an effort that was strongly and successfully resisted earlier this year when the state's venture-capital community awakened to Farr's earlier attempt to repeal the 8-year-old exemption. Farr then set about surveying VCs and others, to get the data that was missing in the last round of this fight. During last week's 38-minute Bredesen Budget hearing on Farr's department, Farr raised FONCE again, and apparently has the support of Tennessee's chief executive. Our previous related story is here. A good story on this, earlier, at Knoxville News Sentinel.
Office of Technology Transfer and Enterprise Development Director Chris McKinney (left) told us he's "jazzed" about numerous entrepreneurial initiatives underway on the VU campus, helping faculty and staff convert intellectual property into products for end-users -- while, on the big stage, Vanderbilt's principal investigators continue to churn out inventions and innovations through sponsored research in basic sciences. McKinney said initiatives reported in our latest story have been under consideration for years, and now VU is "steppin' on the gas" in a more visible way. The new program does not imitate those of peer institutions, said McKinney, although his staff have examined many such. Here are links to similar programs at Stanford, MIT, Duke, Maryland, Minnesota, Harvard and Washington.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
It should be good news for Middle Tennessee and the nation that U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-6), at left, was on Nov. 20 re-elected as chairman of the U.S. House Science and Technology Committee, which he has chaired the past two years. The committee earlier this year observed its 50th Anniversary, but has perhaps never been more important to the nation than during the present crisis. Gordon said in a statement after his reelection, in part, "...there is much more work to be done, especially in light of our country’s current economic problems. The major challenges facing our country -- a foundering economy, a changing climate, a growing need for clean energy we produce at home -- will be solved by science, technology, and American innovation. It’s more important than ever that we are looking at how we can grow new sectors of the U.S. economy and ensure our long-term competitiveness.” His committee members will be announced in January 2009. Among other initiatives, Rep. Gordon's challenge three years ago resulted in the creation of the Mind2Marketplace initiative. Gordon, 59, is a lifelong resident of Murfreesboro, a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University (1971) and the UT College of Law (1973).
Beyond what we published last week, Scott Welch, the Nashville music-talent manager and Highnote entrepreneur, told us that songs, artists and videos on Highnote will be ranked by highly intelligent technology that will track about 300 different aspects of visitor behavior and demographics. He also said he believes Nashville will become increasingly attractive as the nation's Music capital, partly because he sees "live performance" as the future of the industry, and Nashville (not Indiana) is geographically the nation's Music crossroads. Here's Thursday's story.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Yes: There are bigger tech companies in Nashville. They're very quiet. They are quietly filled with good people who manage peta-oceans of financial data. We are talking B-I-G big. So big, they don't need to do real 'branding'. They do not, for example, have faces painted on their buildings. Also, for office parties, some of them must borrow other people's kegerators. Maybe they could borrow Emma's kegerator. Just not on Fridays. The story explains why we say this.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Middle Tennessee's proposed Entrepreneur Resource Center is not so much intended to "make it easy" on entrepreneurs launching business, as much as it is intended to accelerate the process of vetting ideas for businesses, according to Bobby Frist, co-chair of the Entrepreneurship Task Force of the Nashville Area Chamber and Partnership 2010. Frist, who is founder and CEO of Healthstream, answered questions during today's live webcast produced by The Tennesseen and hosted by Business Editor Randy McClain. (He's pictured far-left, with Mike Shmerling.) Frist said an advisory board of about 9 persons will be assembled to guide the ERC center along. No formal invitations to that advisory body have yet been extended, Frist said. Frist said the ER Center -- first a virtual online center, later a physical presence -- will serve as a "beacon" to the nation and the world, signaling that Nashville is serious about encouraging entrepreneurship by local firms and by firms that might be attracted to relocate to Music City. First noted that VCs and others who might have originally been concerned about the ERC possibly becoming competition for deal flow, have largely had their concerns allayed. At the same time, he said, the region must try to recruit additional capital investors to middle Tennessee. Frist said the entrepreneurship initiative would probably first leverage Nashville's existing strengths in healthcare services and technology, plus music and related technologies. Frist noted that his EP co-chair, Choice Food Chairman Mike Shmerling, has been particularly keen on using the ERC to attract businesses to relocate here from other states.
It's great to report that business-sorta-as-usual continues: As reported on VNC today, Frank Pazera of TechCFO is bullish on entering the Nashville market to provide CFOs to tech and life-sciences firms. At the same time, responses to our recent very-informal survey of 104 IT executives suggests, at best, a little tension out there. See the story here. Though there is certainly concern about layoffs, it's interesting to see that CEOs are less concerned on that dimension. At the same time, we continue to hear reports, formally and via the grapevine, of a steady stream of layoffs, realignments and reductions in force. LP, Eastman, Cybera, JewelryTV and others are among the TN firms right-sizing. We'll stick the gauge in, again, this spring and see what folks think then.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
One of VentureNashville.com's analytic tools highlighted the fact that an interesting portion of our small, but select VNC audience resides in India. Asked about possible explanations for this, one keen local observer noted there's tremendous VC action in India, and some U.S. VCs offshore their research to India. So, maybe they're monitoring VC-oriented websites. More googling, and we found updates on India's indigenous VC/PE sector and that nation's growing capacity for absorbing U.S. and other global venture capital, as well as news about the roles of Cisco and Intel as anchors in India/VC. There could also be interest abroad in the Tennessee activities of such India-flag companies as InfoSys, or the successes of such Nashville-headquartered firms as Avankia and eMids Technologies, companies with strong links to India. Or, maybe the Nashville Area Chamber, the Nashville Technology Council and others have stirred things up by planning their first trade mission to India, next year. Wonder if they'll take any Nashville VCs along on the trip.
Michael Malone's article yesterday on ABCNews online is must-reading for anyone interested in the role of venture capital in our economy...or interested in the pressures now confronting these investors.
Whew! Yesterday's Nashville Overground article stirred some discussion, including some applause for Alex Lavidge (left), and some concern about someone 'not from here' possibly taking the lead in creating a coworking environment in Music City. Comments, Anyone? Anyone?
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
VU's release today: "...First-year students in the 'Stealing in Music City' seminar at Vanderbilt University must devise a workable system for distributing music that delivers content for a reasonable price and allows songwriters, artists and other stakeholders to get paid. “We are challenging the students to re-invent the music industry for a fair model of music distribution to compensate artists, consumers and labels,” said Holling Smith-Borne, director of the music library at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music..." On Nov. 12, also, Gov. Phil Bredesen signed into law a copyright-protection bill intended to discourage illegal downloading and sharing of content.