Friday, October 31, 2008
Playing connect-the-dots has been a lifelong passion. Today, I'm thinking ConnectivHealth and DigiScript should sit down and talk. This was prompted partly by ConnectivHealth's release of a survey of what media physicians favor. True, the touted answers somewhat predictably point to ConnectivHealth's product portfolio, but that doesn't mean the results are invalid. So, as I got to imagining why docs wouldn't like getting info via a PDA -- maybe they've got too many gadgets and pagers on their belts, a'ready -- I thought of another local company, DigiScript, which happens to have filed for debtor-in-possession bankruptcy. ConnectivHealth uses its infomagic slicer and dicer to create trusted content streams. DigiScript offers training, event and rich-media services. Can either of these businesses scale profitably, without many more M&As and tranches than they've done?
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Tuesday's VC panel discussion at the VU Law School -- sponsored by Nashville Capital Network and the Owen Entrepreneurship Association -- was a richer-than-usual discussion. Please read our summary, here. We couldn't include all the pithy comments, of course. For instance, with reference to how American business is embracing the Feds' bank bailout, Bass Berry & Sims attorney Page Davidson said, "There are no laissez faire capitalists in this foxhole."
We hope you won't wait til the 2008 Nashville Technology Confidence Survey closes, Nov. 4. Please respond now and we'll share the results, next week. Here's the link to just 5 questions. (That's a MITRE Corp. photo, btw.)
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
If you think ProfitPoint's Vaden Landers (left) is pussy-footin' around about running an ad "ISO" would-be sellers to fuel his roll-up strategy, take a look at the ad here (pdf) and read this morning's story on VNC.
In an after-5 p.m. announcement yesterday, BioMimetic Therapeutics sought to ensure analysts and investors that its product-development and trials will continue, despite its inability, thus far, to sell auctionable securities based on securitized student loans. BMTI said Deutsche Bank agreed to provide up to $39 million against those securities, a portfolio which BioMimetic carried at about $60MM. The company says the new loan facility, plus $20 million in milestone payments due from its pharma ally, Luitpold, should ensure the company's capacity for continued operations during the next two years. Earlier VNC coverage on BioMimetic, here. A BioMimetic spokesperson recalled yesterday during an interview with VNC that management had raised the liquidity issue during a quarterly analysts call, last summer. In a down market, the company closed down 6.6 percent, yesterday.
Monday, October 27, 2008
The New York Times reports today that many startups, often under pressure from their VCs, are doing as we reported Nashville-based Cybera doing -- eliminating discretionary staff and overhead where possible, even when there's plenty of cash onhand, to ensure they have a longer run. Others, said the Times, are turning to wind-down specialists, 'because not every startup that can stay in business, should'. Here's a related Jeff Cornwall post on coping with tough times. The shirt's from StartUpWear, which shares its VC pitch here.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
More this morning in The Tennessean on the Chamber-Partnership 2010 Entrepreneur Project that we reported, earlier. Co-chairs Bobby Frist (HealthStream) and Mike Shmerling (XMi, Choice Food Group) review plans for a virtual, and eventually a physical Entrepreneur Resource Center. In addition to making clear they're moving ahead on some EP recommendations, Frist notes that the initiative still needs "a leader to emerge to head up the fund-raising." Tennessean Q&A by Bus. Editor Randy McClain is here.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
In a move possibly signalling increased emphasis on biotech through state institutions, Texan and Aggie Jimmy Cheek, 62, has been named chancellor of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He'll begin work in February. Particularly given Cheek's extensive ag background, one of his goals is likely to be the leveraging of the UT system's Cherokee Farm. In 2007, UT President John Petersen led a move to transfer Cherokee (and the UT-Battelle relationship) from UT-Knoxville to his control, then successfully pressed his board to approve spending $32 million relocate the Cherokee dairy operation to Blount County, freeing the 200-acre farm for redevelopment as a high-tech and life sciences-oriented research and development center, with emphasis on technology transfer. The original Farm had been cultivated since 1869, and was organized into the Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station in 1882, 126 years ago. The reconstituted Cherokee Farm is now touted as "a hub of scientific research and innovation." Cheek will doubtless need to deal with some UT-K faculty wounds regarding access to Cherokee resources and related matters. Rancor over Cherokee was one reason former UT-K Chancellor Loren Crabtree was forced out, setting into motion Petersen's executive search. Cheek has worked 33 years at the University of Florida, now serving as SVP-Agriculture and Natural Resources, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS). As IFAS' chief, Cheek oversees Florida's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, elements of the College of Veterinary Medicine, the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, and the Florida Cooperative Extension Service, which has offices in each of the state’s 67 counties. Noteworthy, too, if the fact that two years ago the UT system hired one of Cheek's former UF colleagues, Joseph DiPietro, as vice president for agriculture. Til Cheek reports, Interim Chancellor Jan Simek, a Distinguished Professor in anthropology, continues to serve.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Please don't hold me to my euphoria...but, over and over, again, we hear variations on this theme: 'The economy is scary - but my pipeline's full." Maybe we're whistlin' while walking by the graveyard, but there's a lot of interesting stuff going on, reminiscent of the way Londoners carried-on, despite the blitz (petrol shortage, and all). Middle-agers who can afford to stay on the sidelines are starting new ventures, like Joe Maxwell. And, M&A deals, albeit more often under duress, are still getting done, just ask Bass Berry. And, today, we take our first go at much-touted SHOUTAmerica, an inter-generational story. There's plenty of other evidence of life going on. Yes, odds are, it will indeed get darker before the dawn. Still, somehow, it's a great time we live in. Cheers!
Memphis-based Southeastern Asset Management (SAM) has upped its stake in Sun Microsystems to more than 21 percent (SEC filing), and seems poised to press management for cost reductions at Sun, according to reports in Bay Area papers. SAM Founder Mason Hawkins' recent presentation (filed with SEC) provides a fascinating glimpse into his thinking about the current market, the 7th Bear market in SAM's 33 years of operation. The WSJ blogged about it this morning. The news follows a stream of reports that venture-backed companies are opting to cut costs quickly, before things get worse, reflecting a mindset similar to that which we reported at Nashville-based Cybera, which says it's tightening resource allocation to strategic priorities. With big brands like Yahoo! and eBay having announced about 4,000 job cuts this year between them, and others following, the climate has become conducive to cost-cutting. Says one Valley columnist, "Venture capitalists, including Silicon Valley stalwarts Sequoia Capital and Benchmark Capital, have issued ominous warnings to their portfolio companies about the tough times ahead, coupled with advice to reduce spending." In September, the nation reportedly experienced its worst rash of mass layoffs since September 2001, with 2,269 such events last month. Each one involves at least 50 workers laid-off for at least 30 days. Here in Tennessee, the Memphis Business Journal reports there were a total 29 mass layoffs announced in Tennessee during August and September.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
The Governor's telecon 'cross the ocean with journalists this morning left the clear impression the Volkswagen management team is as eager to get that new plant built in Chattanooga as we are. Moreover, it seems both parties pledged to make good on their promises, despite the global economic morass. One lingering question: whether or not the Administration will soon brief State Sen. Thelma Harper, as she requested when she appeared out of the ether on the conference call set up for media. For European readers, that's Gov. Bredesen at left. The story is here.
Former Metro/Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell (at left) is director of Harvard University's Institute of Politics, which today released its 15th survey of youth opinion on public service, and in addition to presidential preferences, it shows some heartening trends, concluding that the efficacy of political engagement is at a highwater mark. Among numerous interesting findings: 86 percent of youth respondents age 18-24 have a Facebook page and more than a third have used it for activism. The summary is here.
Gov. Phil Bredesen is visiting Volkswagen's global headquarters in Wolfsburg today, and will phone home this morning at to brief media on his trip. Meanwhile, international entrepreneur Robert Thompson (at left) of Franklin has taken further steps to create World Trade Center Nashville, as chronicled in today's story on the VentureNashville site. Note my earlier post about my work for a trade center, decades ago.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
VU Owen Graduate School of Management Dean Jim Bradford, who's been on campus eight years, but previously served as CEO of AIG Industries and United Glass Corp., has issued his annual report for 2007-08. He cites achievements, key new faculty and confidence in VU-Owen momentum. He also mentions concerns about corporations cutting-back in supporting MBA programs, presumably something for the Owen Executive MBA folks to worry about. He also stresses Owen's need to be more connected with other nations and cultures, and mentions future new institutional partnerships. The Annual Report is here.
Tomorrow makes a month since Griffin Technology, arguably Nashville's quietest big technology company -- driven by inventing new gadgets for iPod users -- began tweeting as griffintech. Blame it all on Nashvillian Dave Delaney (at left), the promoter-evangelist Griffin hired Sept. 8 as its social-media coordinator. Delaney tells us through his blog that he's also still speaking at public events, consulting on marketing and threatening to create more events akin to those he's co-invented locally, including BarCamp and PodCamp. Some other Nashville companies are gettin' it, apparently. E.g., PassAlong Networks CEO Dave Jaworksi is into tweeting, while others, like Gibson Guitar, are doing things like launching a Second Life 3-D community.
TyraTech, the Florida company that creates biotech products that enhance cowpies and eradicate crawling insects, the company that also plans to create human foods, is still undeclared about leaving Melbourne for Nashville or anywhere else. You might think its strong ties to Vanderbilt would make the decision a slamdunk. But, the company had been, at least figuratively, shopping itself in hope of attracting economic-development agencies' incentives to stay put or relocate. Now, the realities of new high-tech ventures, particularly in the current economic climate, seems to have made TyraTech more cautious. Here's this morning's story.
Monday, October 20, 2008
The 2008 edition of the Nashville's healthcare family tree of ventures was released today by the Nashville Health Care Council. The Chamber-affiliated NHCC said in a release that it counts 650 companies with connections to the city’s $18 billion healthcare cluster, which was spawned by formation of HCA and Hospital Affiliates. NHCC says NV is now home to more than 300 healthcare companies -- included 15 publicly traded -- with combined annual revenue of $46 billion and representing more than 300,000 jobs, globally. NHCC says Nashville-based hospital management companies own or operate half of the investor-owned hospitals in the nation. The release, including a link to an image of the extensive chart is posted here.
Chattanooga EPB, the electric utility with a 600-mile service area, announced Friday that it's board has directed management to seek video-services franchises city-by-city, rather than apply for a statewide franchise agreement, which is now authorized by law, following two years of bruising battles between AT&T (advancing its U-verse product) and its foes, the allied municipal and cable-tv players. EPB's own plans to use its financial leverage landed it in court to defend against a complaint from Tennessee cable-system operators, who argue the utility is misuing funds and has an unfair advantage.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Knoxville-based Patrick Hunt (left), founder-CEO of Tingz (formerly Modern Sprocket), presented his plan to create widgets for home appliances and other electronic devices that would knit them altogether to create personalized interactive consumer ecosystems. He's made the round to the Angel Capital Group based in Sumner County, and presented at TechCrunch. Thursday's AT&T announcement about its formation of an emerging-devices devices seems congruent with Hunt's vision.
It may've been nonrefundable airline tickets as much as tenacity that caused Low-Power TV advocates to descend, as VentureNashville reported Friday, on a Vanderbilt health forum to intercept Tennessee native and FCC Commissioner Deborah Tate. They want regulatory permission to move-up to full power. The FCC may address the issue during its meeting, Nov. 4 (Election Day, unless it's rescheduled). Or, the commissioners could dispatch the LPTV issue by voting in the interim, among themselves. The Nov. 4 meeting could be freighted with heavy issues, including Net Neutrality, the universal service fee and other issues -- crammed-in, because all players anticipate tumult after the election. An FCC staff member reminded us Friday that while Tate was named by the White House to a full 5-year term, she has not received Senate confirmation. Her term expires when Congress adjourns.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Nashville was graced this week with separate visits by New York Times Reporter and author Peter Applebome (at left) and PRNewswire Director of Emerging Technologies Michael Pranikoff. Applebome appeared Monday before Vanderbilt students, faculty and staff. Pranikoff spoke Tuesday, describing the online landscape for PR folks gathered at the Sheraton by PRNewswire. Both presentations were excellent and anything but cynical. Still, their respective roles inevitably produced different emphases: Applebome, among numerous weighty points, noted that consumers who want news are "overwhelmed," partly because the proliferation of online media means "we've gone from ten famous pundits, to any dope with a modem." In a way, he said, all this news and commentary has produced a Golden Age of journalism, despite the fact that media emphasis on sensation and action over deep treatment of issues makes most news coverage seem like a session of the videogame "Grand Theft Auto." He said he is concerned mainstream media are weakening, leaving in doubt who will produce the in-depth reporting done today by national newspapers. A day after Applebome, Pranikoff -- who was conducting a workshop for online tool users, not a philosophical discourse -- noted that based on Technorati data there are 4.5 million regular bloggers who consider themselves "journalists." Those bloggers -- and PR departments -- are to some extent replacing the content lost by the continuing shrinkage of formal newsrooms. Pranikoff stressed this means big opportunities for PR people to get their releases published, often 'word for word'. Stressing "transparency" as to both source and content, Pranikoff -- PRNewswire makes money when people send out more releases -- noted, "The only way to control the conversation is to keep talking" via frequent news releases, continually engaging bloggers, et cetera. While that makes sense from the standpoint of protecting one's reputation and promoting one's interests, it's also a clear signal that consumers who decide to fight their way through the blizzard of news and faux news, will have to search continually for sources they trust.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Gartner Inc., the IT research and advisory company, this week issued a list of disruptions transforming the software industry and IT-spend related trends and recommended coping actions. AeA reported today the high-tech industry added more than 78,000 jobs in the 1H08 (compared with 111K same period, year-earlier), reflecting a sharp slowing of the sector, with pockets like software and engineering trending stronger.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Cisco Systems announced in San Jose Oct. 14 that the company's massive I-Prize competition had ended with selection of a German-Russian team with a proposal to improve "energy efficiency by taking advantage of Cisco’s leadership in Internet Protocol (IP) technology." Two college students -- Anna and Niels Gossen, computer-science students at German universities -- plus Russian systems engineer Sergie Bessonnitsyn, will share in a $250K prize and may yet be offered Cisco jobs. Work apparently continues on planning the proposed business to use Cisco products and services for collaboration that produces increased "energy efficiencies." Details are considered proprietary and were not disclosed. The goal of the I-Prize competition was to find at least one business idea with the potential to earn $1 billion in revenue for Cisco, during a span of five to seven years. In July, Cisco's I-Prize leader, David Hsieh, told VNC he thought the I-Prize process could be replicated in Nashville, a city he has several times visited. Hsieh's regular post is director of marketing for emerging technologies. Stats: 12 finalist teams included a total 40 persons, with team sizes ranging from 1 to 10, and with finalists teams' members drawn from 13 nations on five continents. A third of the finalist teams originated in the U.S. At the beginning of the contest, there were nearly 2,500 persons from 104 nations, submitting 1,200 innovative ideas.
We reported Tuesday on former Cisco regional manager Brian Shore's appointment to the presidency for North American operations of ZOOM International, a telephony call recording and analytics provider, which will headquarter in Brentwood. Our story is here, including reference to Brian's skydiving adventure with his new boss, a 29-year-old Czech entrepreneur. Want more? That's Brian at left, at a hangar in Prague. Brian's ride is documented on YouTube, right here. ZOOM will be a story to watch. ZOOM Founder-CEO Simon Vostry has reportedly been something of an entrepreneur since age 11 or so, and, at 29, he's now riding a global wave of technologic innovation.
TechOperators, a new Atlanta-based venture fund, will be keeping an eye on Nashville. On Monday, TOp Co-Founder Glenn McGonnigle told VNC his firm has good relationships with some prospective co-investors here. He cited Council Ventures as an example of a Music City player they know well. "We are not at all limited to Atlanta," said McGonnigle, explaining the company takes a broader view, partly because the principals "have played on the national and global stage," as well as working the PeachState network. Criteria: TechOperators says it's looking for software-as-service players with about $1 million in revenue and needing $2-$3 million to leverage their existing recurring-revenue-driven business. The company says its four co-founders have individually invested in 45 startup ventures over the years. They'll formally announce their $30 million fund goal during this week's Venture Atlanta conference.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Frank Munger, veteran science-technology writer at the Knoxville News Sentinel, does a great job this morning updating us on supercomputing at Oak Ridge NL and UT. Read about Jaguar and Kraken, here. That's a KNS photo of a worker marking spots for still more computer cabinets, all to take Jag to the petaflop level and beyond.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Former Sen. Bill Frist's presentation to local healthcare and venture executives was more than the usual Powerpoint slideshow meant to be watched with glazed-over eyes, while eating rubber chicken at a banquet. In fact, walking through his presentation might spur your thinking regarding healthcare technology opportunities. For instance, one could infer that 'outpatient' is going to get more attention. Here's the document from the organizers of a recent M&A conference where Frist held forth. And, here's a related posting about prospects for healthcare IT, generally, beyond Inauguration Day 2009.
Ron Galbraith, the founder of the Brentwood firm now known as OnFocus-Healthcare (previously M21 Partners or Management 21 Inc.), which as we reported Oct. 10 has just gotten an infusion of capital from Solidus, has a lot to say about ethics that wouldn't fit into our story. Sufficeth here to say, in conversation with him Friday morning, his comment that while there's no universal contradiction between ethical behavior on the one hand, and the drive to close sales or M&A deals on the other, in reality executives often face circumstances that can throw those two sets of values into "tension" with one another. In the current economic environment, one can only wonder how the key players have dealt with those 'tensions' over the years.
Nashville Startup Weekend 1.0 is well underway within the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management HQ (at left), and this morning the group narrowed-down its interests to seven finalist concepts out of a field of more than 30 ideas, according to entrepreneur, software guru and blogger Jackson Miller (who also demo'd his wares in last month's TechCrunch DemoPit). Jackson captured much of the action thus far in this post. The focus has been whittled to seven ideas for further development and presentation by Sunday evening. Co-organizer Jason Moore said this morning there's not a lot of blogging on the NSW page, partly because so many attendees are twittering. Hmmm.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
The Lipscomb University College of Business and Nashville-based Bone McAllister Norton PLLC today announced the creation of the Dean Institute for Corporate Governance and Integrity. The founders explained in a release today that the institution's identity reflects the fact that the development of the new organization was funded by drawing on an endowment previously established for Lipscomb by Hilton and Sallie Dean, he being the chairman of the Lipscomb board of trustees and the retired vice chairman of Ernst & Young LLP. Lipscomb Business Dean Turney Stevens (pictured at left), explaining the new institute's mission, said in the release, "Integrity cannot be regulated and honor cannot be enforced – they are qualities of a deeper nature, guided by principles and informed by faith.” Stevens is co-founder of the Dean Institute. Prior to joining Lipscomb, Stevens was founder and CEO of Harpth Capital. According to today's announcement, the program was designed by Stevens and by Bone McAllister's Charles Bone and Trace Blankenship. In today's statement, Lipscomb President Randolph Lowry explained the new institute will approach corporate governance "from a faith-based perspective," in an effort to encourage development of successfully performing businesses led by persons with demonstratable integrity. Lipscomb was founded as Nashville Bible School in 1891 and its mission includes a commitment to integrating Christian faith and practice with academics.
At the Marriott at Vanderbilt this morning, the panel discussion of healthcare reform in the context of Election 2008 would probably never have touched upon the role of health information technology -- one of Nashville's claims to fame -- if panelist Dick Morris, who made clear his appearance here was underwritten by event co-sponsor Integrated Medical Systems (Birmingham) hadn't brought it up. Morris (a former Clinton White House strategist) and other panelists said that for the next few years Congress and the next President will have next-to-zero money to pay for healthcare policy reforms, but can mount a fresh attack on cost-containment and -reduction by pushing providers to improve business processes, pushing hospitals and physicians to adopt more health IT and using Federal reimbursement leverage to exact better performance. Panelist Chris Jennings, a consultant and former Clinton health-policy adviser, stressed that proper adoption of health IT should be understood as an "economic act" that forces efficiencies, rather than as an "altruistic" act that expands coverage, even though reduced costs could allow wider coverage. Panelist Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, noted that in implementing health IT and related mandates, the "meat cleaver" approach must be avoided. It was Kahn who stressed, "It's the workflow, Stupid," not the technology, itself, that makes a sustainable difference. John Podesta, former Clinton chief of staff, said that while certain legal and regulatory issues (e.g., anti-trust, physicians' conflicts) must be "cleaned-up," the nation should recognize that if Wal-Mart operated the way U.S. healthcare providers do, that company would be bankrupt. The program was produced by the Nashville Health Care Council and the panel was moderated by former U.S. Senator and Majority Leader Bill Frist (shown above left, during a Princeton gathering), a partner in Cressey & Co., the venture capitalists. The panelists agreed the next President may be able to accomplish much in healthcare reform prior to 2010, but only if it's made a priority. The tone of the conversation and the number of panel comments that seemed predicated on an Obama victory, led some members of the Press covering the event to infer the panelists agreed that Obama is likely to win. Asked about that interpretation during the panelists' post-event Q&A with journalists, Frist preempted discussion by insisting that the race remains too close to call.
Monday, October 06, 2008
ConnectivHealth may be pausing to refresh the organization, but odds are this roll-up intent holding company will be looking for more M&A action, as the environment settles down. Now that they've integrated Relegent and its branded products, and elevated Steve NeSmith (at left) to handle product-development, as well as technology, they'll need a few months to reduce the vibrations. Then, our guess, look for more acquisitions -- particularly, if the economy reduces the multiples sought by willing sellers. Today's update is here.
Our Oct. 6 story on edo Interactive's successful fundraising round and their marketing push were prompted in part by a Sept. 30 release from edo, in which they cited a 2006 study by Forrester Research (summarized here). Marketers want to try new media, but are concerned about risks and budget tradeoffs. Edo, of course, says its new marketing platform with real-time tracking of campaign results helps put that issue to bed. We'll see. Our story today is here.
In an SEC filing Friday, BioMimetic Therapeutics announced the resignation of Chief Science Officer Charles Hart, citing his desire to "continue to be involved in discovery research." Hart was named in 2004 and held the role during critical phases of the company's efforts to win FDA approval for its products. BioMimetic has struggled recently to recruit patients to participate in key clinical trials, but recently received FDA approval to stay on course. Our earlier reports chronicled BioMimetic's progress and challenges, amid a fledgling Tennessee Biotech industry.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
A great read: If you care about university research, venture capital, innovation and, yes, the future of Civilization -- or, if you simply love or hate Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers or Al Gore or too much government or too little -- read The New York Times Magazine's Pulitzer-worthy piece, "Capitalism to the Rescue," which is the cover story today, Oct. 5. Writer Jon Gertner produced a story with depth, and along the way he put the spotlight on University of Tennessee researchers who have created a clean-energy phenomenon called The Bloom Box. Read Gertner's contribution, here. Here's a related KPMG survey of VCs regarding Green Tech.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
CoreTech Industries President Greg Quinn told VNC earlier this week there might be room for more angel or VC investment in his firm, as the company rolls-out new products in the lightweight concrete, recycled paving, wind-to-energy and other enviro-friendly sectors. CoreTech is awaiting zoning approval and guarantees of incentives from state and local governments, before proceeding with their proposed green-technologies R&D park in Lebanon, Tenn., about 20 minutes drive from downtown Nashville. Long term, the park could grow to 250 acres, becoming home for as many as 100 companies and perhaps 1,000 workers. Right now, though, CoreTech is about a dozen fulltimers. We'll follow the story.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Tod Fetherling (left), a prominent veteran of ConnectivHealth, HCA and other healthcare and technology ventures, was today named president of Nashville Technology Council, succeeding Jeff Costantine. He formed BlueDot, a health and wellness consultancy in July, after parting ways with ConnectivHealth. Fetherling served several years as VP-sales for First Consulting Group, and founded Relegent, which was acquired by ConnectivHealth in 2007. He has also served as director of interactive marketing for HCA, and in a variety of interactive-development roles with The Health Network. Fox Broadcasting and others. He attended the University of Tennessee and the College of Wooster (Ohio).