Friday, June 27, 2008

Another Tech report for the bookshelf?

Nashville Technology Council President Jeff Costantine told VNC yesterday he isn't exactly alarmed about Nashville's rankings in recent reports of city and state Tech employment and Tech wages. In fact, he said he and many others really aren't sure what to make of it all. As reported earlier, Nashville ranked 49th in the American Electronics Association's ranking of 60 U.S. cities' creation of new Tech-sector jobs (including telecom, IT, computer hardware and other fields). Our story also reported that a recent Milken Institute report showed Nashville losing ground. Costantine explained, "First, I am glad that we are on the [AeA 60-city] list. I don’t think that we are in a tenuous situation – we have a very good technology footprint, but we need to do a better job of promoting what we have." (His comments echoed his bullish response to an earlier report containing statewide, as opposed to city-level data.) Costantine indicated he feels it may be inappropriate, if not unfair, to compare Nashville with Austin, which has more computer manufacturing and chip production; or, to compare Music City with Charlotte, which Costantine said has a greater share of Internet-oriented businesses. He also said he's not sure what significance, if any, to assign to the AeA data, partly because more detailed information about Tech in Middle Tennessee simply does not seem to exist. In addition, Costantine indicated it is difficult, if not impossible to determine what mix of tech industries would be better for Nashville, assuming that mix could even be managed. Although it wouldn't be definitive, Costantine explained that he's considering creating a Tech index that would track employment within a small set of identifiable Tech employers. Currently, NTC makes a similar measurement once a year, by totalling IT positions advertised in popular venues by some local employers. Costantine also said he hopes the Nashville Area Chamber's forthcoming Entrepreneur Project (EP) report will help shed light on how to grow the local Tech sector. He said he suspects that recruiting Tech businesses to Nashville and encouraging local startups and other homegrown ventures will be among the solutions. Chamber officials told us this week that the EP report will probably be out in July. Inadequate Tech data for Middle Tennessee is a long-standing issue. We remember a national association's report a few years ago on software R&D. The report (based on federal data) said Nashville had zero workers in software research, despite the fact that there have long been researchers at Vanderbilt University and elsewhere who would contest that. (I would argue that the VU School of Engineering's Institute for Software Integrated Systems qualifies.) The erroneous data was reported by someone here in Middle Tennessee whom the association would not identify, when asked by a reporter. In my book, all this is further evidence of the need for a thorough statewide Tech census. Individual cities seem to find such a project daunting, but it could be done at the state level. We wouldn't know the value of it, until it was done.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Update: Agassi new CIO at Cogent Healthcare

Gov. Bredesen's eHealth Advisory Council leading-man, Antoine Agassi (at left) will become Chief Information Officer at Cogent Healthcare in Brentwood, July 1, according to the company's announcement this morning. Agassi's departure from the Council was reported here June 20. Initial indications are Agassi will remain an advisor or consultant to the Bredesen Administration. Apart from that, Agassi could play a key role supporting nascent technology ventures: The eHealth Council's grants programs and the state's push for e-prescribing, in particular, have already spurred more than one venture. Apart from that, Agassi's role as a strategic advisor to Tall Oaks Capital Partners LLC (Charlottesville, Va.) may soon be just one several such board-level chairs Agassi holds, now that he's free of state-employment rules. From such vantage points, Agassi could help steer capital to promising Tennessee companies. First, though, we'll have to await announcement of his new CIO role, which is due-out around just after the Fourth of July. Read today's story here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No Fear: Owen consultants tackle companies' challenges

By the time 110 enrollees and faculty in the Owen Accelerator get off their twin motorcoaches tonight, they will have been further crammed by senior executives at Humana and Yum! Brands. Their 36-hour sortie, however, is just part of the students' multi-layered 28-day endurance test, also known as a summer business and innovation "experience" at Vanderbilt's graduate school of management. The program's director said the 85 students consume at least $10,000 worth of snacks during their stay at VU. Okay, it's probably more Dasani water than Red Bull, but you get the point. Eight Accelerator teams are working up business plans, products, marketing schemes and other brainstorms for nine corporate sponsors, including Griffin Technology (the local iPod phenom), LiveScribe, American Airlines, Bridgestone, CAT Financial and others. One team will recommend converting the city's Thermal energy-plant site into a World Trade Center. But, that's just the tip of the iceberg. Read the whole story here.

Nashville 49th in creating Tech jobs

Nashville is fortunate to be among the 60 U.S. cities that made AeA "Cybercities" ranking, released today. A city must have at last 17,000 high-tech jobs to get in that circle. However, a set of three reports suggest both Nashville and the State of Tennessee have only a precarious foothold in Tech employment, a grip likely to become shakier in an economic downturn. There are mixed signals: Our Tech wages rose faster than any other Cybercity in 2006, but we're only 49th in creating Tech jobs, with weak showings on other indicators, as well. And, we've lost ground: As reported in our story this morning, The Milken Institute State Science and Technology index, which rates states using 77 indicators -- says Tennessee now ranks 40th among states in science-technology advancement, compared with our 34 rank in 2004. Read the whole story here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Smartvue gets second look from Angels

Smartvue Corporation's Marty Renkis isn't backing-off his $100 million revenue goal. Renkis (at left) and VP-Sales Bill Hapner -- who was hired this week at Smartvue after a decade at Beacon Technologies -- have their work cut out for them. The interactive video-surveillance and business-intelligence company is now deep into its second round of raising at least $1.5 million in Angel capital. This venture has already attracted at least 18 local angel investors. It was interesting to learn from Renkis how first Nashville and, later, Research Triangle Park captured his imagination and that of his wife, leading him first to found a company here, then move it to North Carolina, sell it years later to a Boston buyer, then return to Nashville to press ahead with Smartvue. Even though he spoke glowingly of the Tarheel State's support of high technology entrepreneurs, Renkis made a point of praising Nashville angels who have supported Smartvue, thus far. Read the full story here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Update: Angels take entrepreneurs' pitches

Angel Capital Group this afternoon provided the names of the three tech firms presenting tomorrow here in town to Angel investors: They are Cybervision Text, a startup that produces electronic educational products (Franklin-based, involving owners of another company, Key2Ed Inc. Presenter-Owner Doug Little is pictured at left.); Modern Sprocket Inc., which has interactive media technology (Knoxville); and, Optivia Medical, the Winston-Salem-based medical device firm that presented here May 22. No advance registration is required for tomorrow's 3 p.m. takeoff at Cummins Station's 4th Floor conference room, 209 10th Ave. (37203). UPDATE: June 19 pre-event story is posted here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Entrepreneur fights his way toward global work

It's far too early to tell whether the title 'Renaissance Man' applies, but Shane Messer is certainly a contender for busiest guy in the universe. The onetime computer programmer, who says he spent some time living out of his car behind a Wal-Mart, now owns a smallish private-equity investor, The Incubator Group, from which he has launched, revived or grown a number of businesses -- the latest being firms seeking to capitalize on runaway interest in mixed-martial arts events. Governor Bredesen made Messer's day, Friday, when the chief signed into law legislation creating a new commission to oversee boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts. MMA advocates say the new law means more instate entertainment for Tennesseans and a bit of money for state coffers. Meanwhile, it seems Messer considers unarmed combat just another waystation along the path to deeper involvement in economic development in other nations. Read the full story, here.

Wozniak joins Nashville's Leadership Music

It's a fine time to be a Nashvillian. On Friday, Leadership Music announced that its 20th Class will include Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computers. Just 24 hours earlier, the National Endowment for the Arts reported (pdf page 15) that Nashville has a higher percentage of musicians in its population than any other U.S. city. In fact, in the Musician category Nashville's lead over Lawrence, Kan., is a hair wider than LA's advantage in actors over No. 2 New York City. Leadership Music chief Kira Florita told us Friday the Woz doesn't want special treatment, perhaps explaining the soft Friday-afternoon release of LM's latest class of 53.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Don't lie about your 'Hockey Sticks'

Hockey's in the air today. But, here we're not talking about the FBI's investigation of Predators investor Boots Del Biaggio. This note's on "hockey sticks," those often-suspect projections of startup revenue that depict poor-performance near-term, but incredible resurgence -- three or four quarters out. During a chat today with LBMC valuation expert Chris Lovin, I chuckled when he mentioned that, while valuation experts aren't typically expected to render opinions on a company's performance projections, if they see "the old hockey stick," it's often cause for pause. Also, until today, I hadn't realized that a company's "goodwill" might be split between the company, itself, and, say, an individual founder who's been deeply involved in customer sales and service. I don't think many who lead startup ventures give much thought to these things, particularly if they spend a long time in "friends-and-family" financing-mode, where napkin projections would seldom withstand dispassionate review. Read more and send us your thoughts. Here's the link. This post updated 1326.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

eMids' FlatWorldCafe may brew ideas

VNC's report on eMids Technologies' business-development push not only provides a fresh reminder of the rapid evolution of global business; but, also affords us a look into the branding of this Nashville-based provider of onsite-offshore services. eMids President Saurabh Sinha explains that "dialogue" -- symbolized by the company's still-emerging website -- is at the heart of his business strategy for his venture, which has American shareholders in addition to its majority Indian owners. It'll come as no surprise to anyone who's met the congenial and diplomatic Sinha that he's relying on effective listening to produce continued growth. As reported in our story, although resistance to offshoring has certainly softened, it's still an issue in some quarters. Today's story cites a recent IT contracting instance involving Erlanger Health Systems in Chattanooga. eMids was not involved in that bidding. Always curious about corporate identities, we asked Sinha what the acronym "eMids" denotes. He explained that the name of the now-$10 million company was dreamed-up by Sinha and his fellow founder-classmates, while they were all at the mid-point in their arduous Engineering studies, and thus known on campus as "E-mids." Read the full story here.

Herculean effort: Startup Weekend Nashville

Since publishing our story Monday about voting for 'Startup Weekend Nashville', the pro-Nashville tally has risen 50 percent, and two local techies have disclosed they hope to lead the project: Jason Moore (right), the Nashville-based partner in bigWebApps; and, Nicholas Holland (at left) of CentreSource. They'll need all the help they can get for what is, by all accounts, a herculean undertaking. In separate interviews yesterday, both men confirmed they're tentatively planning to conduct a small-scale beta for the project in August, then hold a full-scale startup generator in October. (The duo seems unphased by the fact that Nashville BarCamp2 is also in October.) Moore, who was apparently first to make contact with the Boulder, Colo., organizers of Startup Weekend, said a key question is whether the Nashville event will be mainly a social-networking gathering in which you "try to push something out by Sunday"...or, a 54-hour enduro that actually produces a sustainable venture. Moore's Atlanta-based partner in bigWebApps, Patrick Clements, participated in Atlanta's successful Startup Weekend, and Clements' experience spurred Moore to start agitating for Nashville. Meanwhile, VNC's contacts with veterans of Memphis and Houston S/W's suggest the event would probably be worthwhile for the communal experience, alone. The big question is whether the work and play would actually produce a startup. In addition, the national coordinator of S/W's has been going through changes in both leadership and model, leaving its goodwill intact, but raising questions about how best to leverage the national group. For our earlier story on Memphis Startup Weekend, click right here.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Nashville 'Creatives' may lure high-growth ventures

In the interest of encouraging high-growth ventures and better-paying jobs in Middle Tennessee, in 2007 the Greater Nashville Area Chamber launched its Entrepreneur Project, led by Bobby Frist and Mike Shmerling (L-R, at left). The EP's 75 members will soon report their recommendations for growing our chunk of the Knowledge Economy. More than two years ago, a Chamber consultant reported that local capacity for innovation was inadequate -- at that was just one of a seeming myriad of findings. One issue that the Project (or some successor organization) may need to address is Nashville's long-standing "Music City U.S.A." brand. At least one local executive thinks that brand has been extended to encompass more forms of work and play. If that's true, Nashville enjoys tremendous leverage in competition for "Creative Class" workers and ventures. Please read the story on the Venture Nashville website and send us your thoughts.

Friday, June 06, 2008

State's tech push gets fresh horse

Tennessee Technology Development Corporation CEO Eric Cromwell (at left) is making clear to all who will listen that -- notwithstanding the state's $5.4 million tranche and (finally) a firm grip on the leadership role in taking the state's knowledge sector to the proverbial "next level" -- he has set himself just a two-year horizon for making a difference. After several years of hovering over the tech target as a State employee, Cromwell is not only impatient to get on with tech-driven development; but, probably also realizes that he'll soon-enough spend what the state has coughed-up. Particularly given looming uncertainty about the economy and the identity and priorities of the next Governor, much if not all of TTDC's state funding will need to be replaced with federal and-or private-sector dough -- the kinds of grants, donations and sponsorships that will only materialize if TTDC can point to successes in pushing nascent tech companies along the development trail, recruiting new companies and cultivating existing tech business. And that, m'friends, is why it's worth noting today's story about the appointment of one Dan Schmisseur as Cromwell's first chief operating officer and strategist. Schmisseur has been close to tech and entrepreneurial initiatives in both Austin and Kansas. Read all about it here.

Bouncing Ideas: 'Trivial' VU research connects with NV business

On Monday, when Vanderbilt Engineering scientist Yi Cui visits Microsoft Research in Redmond, he'll be among fellow classmates and others who understand the importance of work that others may deem only "trivial but useful." After all, in the context of the next wave of Video on Demand enterprise, the work of Cui (at left) and others like him could reduce the demand for acres of servers and the energy they consume. At least one Nashville tech entrepreneur -- Bondware's Tim Choate (at right) -- found much to appreciate in Cui's work. Maybe Cui and his colleagues need more opportunities to spend time with entrepreneurs who understand their work, and who might be able to help ideas grow legs. Read the full story on the VNC website, here.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Survivors: Nashville Business Plan winners unveiled

The Nashville Business Incubation Center has spawned and-or saved such company's as Zycron Inc., the IT staffing firm founded by entrepreneur Darrell Freeman (at left). Other alumni include Transcender, the tech training firm that sold five years ago to a Washington Post Co. subsidiary for $60 million, plus Christie Cookies, Beacon Technologies and more than 80 other graduates, since NBIC's founding 22 years ago. Yesterday, the Nashville Business Incubation Center unveiled the three companies that emerged with the best business plans in NBIC's Class of '08. Job mentoring, ice cream and a single tech firm took the honors. They bested 17 other firms that made it the end of NBIC's 18-month-long Business Plan University, which is based on the FastTrac New Venture initiative of the Kaufmann Foundation of Kansas City. NBIC chief Mildred Walters told VNC the process is so demanding, NBIC can only produce graduates every other year. No other local institution opens its business-plan contest to the public. As reported here, students at VU's Owen GSM, the University of Tennessee and elsewhere in the state are keen enough to enter competitions that hone their plans for future businesses and give them a leg-up when they leave campus with their parchments. For more on the story, please click here. For an earlier story on Belmont University's business "hatchery," visit here.

Debut Broadcasting's radio roll-ups await cash

Nashville-based Debut Broadcasting did a reverse merger, got that low-cost public shell, gained control of a brace of radio stations in Mississippi and then lined-up 16 more acquisitions -- before the credit crunch hit the world. CEO Steve Ludwig is squeezing cash from operations, automating like the Big Guys, pumping-up his sales force and borrowing against accounts, while his OTC stock is languishing. Read about Ludwig's efforts to create a Nashville media-entertainment company that's 'more than just radio'. The full story's here.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Nashville VCs may like Google angle

Founder-CEO Stephen Culp of Smart Furniture, the online designer-producer of personalized furniture and fixtures, says that among the Nashville investors who passed on earlier opportunities to invest in his company were Clayton Associates and First Avenue Partners, as well as local Angels. In three earlier rounds, Culp went on to find VCs in Memphis, Birmingham and elsewhere. It could have been a timing issue. First Avenue, for instance, spent a good bit of time the past few years dealing with its investments in iPayment, IPIX, Intechra and other holdings. Now, Chattanooga-based may soon be the focus of a larger round -- up to $15 million. If the raise goes forward, Culp, et al, will attempt, once again, to tap Nashville funds. During the buildup, Culp's Smart Furniture seems to be easing-up alongside Google, with the two companies set to meet for a third time, later this month. One goal of their discussions may be creation of a 3-D shopping marketplace on Google real estate, with Smart Furniture possibly having more than a storefront role. Read the full story at