Saturday, August 30, 2008

TSU: A New Age Now Begins?

[UPDATED Sept. 4, 2008] See our report on TSU Provost Robert Hampton's linchpin role in TSU reform. As originally posted: Since Tennessee State University President Melvin Johnson joined the 96-year-old institution three years ago, there's been reason for optimism about Metro Nashville becoming home to a public university that excels academically, scientifically, administratively and in the civic realm. The extraordinary self-examination the University has undertaken in the past 18 months becomes vivid when you read both the University's new Academic Master Plan (AMP) and the "tough love" report of Pappas Consulting Group. These documents seem to reflect the strong resolve of TSU leadership to create a great leap forward for the institution. The workplan for this year is herculean. These reports illuminate TSU's flaws. More important, they shine a very bright light on TSU's commitment to its mission and its determination to fulfill TSU's obligations to state and commmunity -- by creating a place where students and faculty hone their minds, ignite inquiry, serve society and engage with the communities in which they stand. TSU will need our support. If you'd like to learn more about the adventure that lies directly ahead for TSU and Nashville, here are links to PDFs of the AMP and the Pappas report. BTW, it seems the University seal has been largely supplanted by a modern logo, but I love the seal's inclusion of 'NASHVILLE'.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

TCRS Private-equity move ripples across state

OUR exclusive story Monday on the State's $32 billion retirement fund being authorized to invest in private equity caught a lot of folks flat-footed, including those who had long advocated the changes that were quietly made last spring by the General Assembly. Nashville Capital Network Executive Director Sid Chambless (at left) told VNC this morning: “This is extremely important news for private equity and entrepreneurship in the state of Tennessee. For quite sometime, Tennessee firms were at a disadvantage because our state was one of six or seven that did not invest in private equity or venture capital. Although the change in law does not guarantee any of those funds will flow into Tennessee firms, it at least opens the door for the state to invest in local private equity and venture capital. Worthy firms are no longer prevented by law from receiving state pension funds. Additionally, from a simple asset allocation standpoint, this is a step in the right direction for the State of Tennessee and increases the likelihood for better returns to TCRS.” In hindsight, TCRS' mandate may seem overdue and obvious. But, the fact the step has been taken seems likely to change the tone and direction of the entire discussion of investment in Tennessee.

Monday, August 25, 2008

In wartime, Nashville sci-tech's fate lies inside Beltway

If you didn't catch Ken Galloway's update on patchwork Federal funding for science and technology when it was originally published in The Tennessean, it's now available here on the dean's website at the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt University. In saying that the congressional delegation 'gets it', Dean Galloway (at left) may be right. As reported by VNC earlier, U.S. Representatives Bart Gordon and Zach Wamp, as well as Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have been taking important steps to keep the spotlight on War-delayed funding for America COMPETES, basic research, Science Technology Engineering & Math (STEM) education and other vital interests, much as Rep. Jim Cooper has long championed dealing aggressively with our calamitous federal budget situation. What still seems missing, however, is a cohesive pro-science and technology alliance at the heart of Metro Nashville/Davidson County. But, maybe there's more going on behind the scenes than we know. Hope so.

Tennessee pension joins the private-equity players

It was a little awkward. I'd been hearing from many folks that Tennessee was 'missing the boat' by not allowing the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System to invest more of its $32 billion in assets in potentially higher-growth categories, including private equity. But, when I spoke with state officials they informed me the law'd been changed months ago and plans are underway to start reallocating up to $900 million toward private equity. BTW, they say they'll need a new director-level expert to handle that new chore. Interested? Here's the story.

Private-equity honey attracts more

We reported last week on former Memphian VC Don Mundie's joining The Buffkin Group here in Nashville, to recruit executives for private-equity funds and portfolio companies. Today, there's further evidence of the lure of private-equity: LBMC recently announced appointing Joey Harwell to run its new private-equity services division. A first for the company, on the cusp of its 25th anniversary. That's LBMC Managing Partner David Morgan, at left. Interesting that Buffkin, LBMC and others seem to be relying on VCs coming to believe they need more outside he'p. We'll see. Here's the LBMC story.

Health warning: 'Computer Users, Please Stand Up'

It's hard to improve on that headline, borrowed from this 2003 WIRED story on the risk of sitting too long at your computer: Deep Vein Thrombosis, translated as potentially lethal pulmonary embollism... like the one that dropped me Sunday, Aug. 17, and sent me by ambulance to St. Thomas Hospital for four days. Until then, I figured multiple visits to the Y each week immunized me from the risks of sitting each day more hours than I will admit here in front of a computer, particularly when I was doing the IT newsletter that's been in hiatus since February, a project I shelved partly because even I could tell it was taking a physical toll of some kind. DVT was previously associated with very long-distance transoceanic air travel or, in another era, with Britons who sat for days in bomb shelters during WWII. Read the WIRED article, Google the syndrome... but, don't be in denial. Cheers, Milt Capps

Friday, August 15, 2008

Nashville supports Dell's 'Digital Nomads'

Dell Inc.'s Tuesday announcement that it's targeting the 'Digital Nomads' demographic with its new Latitude and Precision laptops -- with up to 19-hour battery life -- means more activity for Dell's Nashville distribution center, which makes all U.S. shipments of laptop products. But, a Dell spokesman told VNC this week the new products won't trigger hiring here. Dell has about 3,600 employees at logistics, manufacturing, upsell and customer-care sites in Middle Tennessee. Dell, the same company that recently tried to trademark "Cloud Computing," is now working to secure its brand-linked ownership of the "Digital Nomads" and has created a website oasis for the tribe. Metrics: In a release this week, Dell declared that since 1995 it has "shipped more business laptops worldwide than anybody." That, of course, is a jab at Hewlett-Packard. Dell is second to HP worldwide in PC shipments, with 15.7 versus HP's 18 percent marketshare. But, in the U.S. alone, Dell leads 32/25 on PCs. On notebook-class machines, Dell says it has 32.9 and 19.9 percent of U.S. and global markets, respectively, and aims to expand its lead by introducing more notebook products in the coming year. Dell will report its 2nd Quarter results Aug. 28. It's first quarter results sported $16.1 billion in revenue (up 9.2% over year-earlier) and unit shipments 22 percent higher than year-earlier. At March 31, Dell had $9.8 billion in cash and investments ontap. Trend and notes: Dell's shipment of mobility products was up 43 percent Y/Y, compared with desktops up 9 percent. With its $3 billion layoffs and streamlining underway, Dell took about $106 million in severance and related charges in Q1. Dell claims its product lineup is the most robust in its history and says it's regaining faded competitiveness.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bredesen eHealth agenda approaches milestone

Governor Phil Bredesen has carved-out a leadership role the past few years in eHealth, and has focused on e-prescribing as a point of leverage -- a key to improving care, increasing safety and reducing pharmaceutical expenditures. On Aug. 6, Co-Chair Bredesen convened his eHealth Alliance task force under the aegis of the National Governors Association. Out of that meeting came word of plans to unveil the Alliance's first national report in a Washington, D.C., meeting Sept. 25-26. Prior to that, on Sept. 18, the Governor's own eHealth Advisory Council, chaired by Antoine Agassi of Cogent Healthcare, will convene and may have access to the national report. During last week's meeting, e-prescribing met a little competition for priority with privacy-security and quality-of-care issues. The Bredesen-led group will sort all that out before launching proposed "academies" for training state eHealth leadership teams. A bit of last week's agenda was devoted to discussion of how best to communicate to the next President's Administration the need for an aggressive White House-level push on eHealth, as well as for congressional funding of the virtual mandate. Video of the Aug. 6 meeting is archived here (use the Play buttons in the Agenda frame, not the buttons on the media player.)

Strategy notes: Family advisers shape investments

Think of it as Very Private Equity: Having given up on their banks, entrepreneurs who need funding beyond friends, family and their own credit cards immediately think of finding an Angel or VC. Less obvious are the gatekeepers known as family-office managers -- people like Nashville's Mike Vaden of Decosimo/Vaden. Decosimo/Vaden is the Roundabout-based partnership between The Vaden Group, which serves high net-worth entertainers, athletes and others, and Chattanooga-based Joseph Decosimo and Co. To varying degrees, Vaden told VNC, he is involved in the private financial affairs of more than 80 clients. Reviewing and screening equity-investment proposals is often part of the job. "My clients are bombarded with new investment ideas, because people think they have 'money to burn'," Vaden said. Well, in that context, Vaden sometimes plays fireman, dousing water on the impulse. At other times, Vaden's clients have him "shoot holes" in proposals, term sheets and other artifact, as warranted. Vaden's practice spans every conceivable personal and financial matter, from paying bills, auditing royalties, handling concert-tour accounting, representing one or both parties in financial aspects of divorces, intervening in family disputes, vetting college scholarships and managing tax returns -- or, helping sell businesses with only one or two owners. It's all done up-close and personal. Because they are trusted advisors to wealthy and very busy individuals and families, identifying gatekeepers like Vaden can sometime determine the fate of a venture. Vaden's profile is here.

Fresh impetus: 'M2M' gets juice from Gordon, Wamp

Mind2Marketplace, an advocate for technology transfer, commercialization and tech-driven economic development, got some fresh momentum yesterday, during an event at MTSU. The loose coalition not only got a vote of confidence from Congressmen Bart Gordon (at left) and Zach Wamp and the Tennessee Valley Corridor group, but also announced it'll finally get some dedicated staff, or half of one. M2M also handed-out their working draft of a 3-year workplan that, even in its current incomplete form, would challenge three fulltimers, much less the single half-timer who'll soon be given license to build M2M into the kind of formal membership organization that could attract more funding, more effective initiatives and, yes, a better definition of what it means to take a Mind to Marketplace. It's a good sign, but M2M's not out of the woods, yet. Read about it here.

May Town Center rings bell for innovators

When a 'real-estate deal' gets to $4.2 billion and 1,500 acres, and promises to turn land into offices for more than 40,000 workers over 15 years, while adding more than 900 acres to Nashville's that point, it's more than a "deal" -- it becomes a microeconomy called May Town Center, the proposed development at Bells Bend. And, when the debate over the development shines a rude light on urban Nashville's propensity for losing headquarters to the city's suburbs, it becomes a focal-point for entrepreneurs, researchers and others looking to congregate. Fortunately, while the land debate rages on, there's another effort afoot to help support new ventures and bring entrepreneurs together. For our take on it, please click here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Law ventures simmer in Nashville

Lexis/Nexis' purchase of Law software vendor Juris Inc. heated-up the boards here on the VN Blog for a while, but life goes on. Deloitte just announced a law-related center here, and some top Juris execs have remained here with other firms. Ventures large and small continue to ferment quietly in our backyard. Read more about it in today's story.

Hoopla! Science, technology are focus of Nashville events

This fall, Nashville will host scientific and technology events of signal importance. Many of these events trace-back to the Institute for Software Integrated Systems (ISIS) at the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering. The fall calendar provides fresh illumination for ISIS and other Nashville resources, so often overlooked beyond campus boundaries. ISIS will observe its 10th Anniversary in September, under the direction of Janos Sztipanovits. Learn more about why Boeing, Cisco, Daimler Benz, Saturn, General Motors, the U.S. Navy and Air Force, DARPA, Oak Ridge NL and many others support ISIS work -- and read about just a few of the major events scheduled here this fall, right here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Nashville Tech Council wants new CEO by October

On Thursday, executive recruiter Steve Hayes of Human Capital Group provided VNC a copy of the job description that must be fulfilled by the as-yet-unidentified fourth CEO of the Nashville Technology Council. NTC Board Chair Beth Chase (at left) has said the board would like to make an offer to the next CEO by the end of October, in hope of affording the next president a month overlap with outgoing President Jeff Costantine. The executive committee of the NTC board of directors is the search committee; its members include Chase (who owns C3 Consulting and who recently began her second consecutive term as chair); Andy Flatt, CIO of Healthspring; Costantine; Chris Sloan, an attorney with Boult Cummings Conners & Berry; Jay Clarke, CEO of; Bob Greenberg, who is consulting via RSG Technology Services, and who is immediate past-VP-CIO of Nissan USA here; and, Glenn Acree, assistant provost at Belmont University. For the job description and HCG contact information, please click here

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Staying power: Passport Health investors-as-cicadas

In a powerful demonstration of the value of patient capital, a few days ago Passport Health Communications' latest capital re-infusion -- valued at a minimum $232 million -- allowed dozens of investors to exist the 12-year-old company, presumably feeling pretty good, thanks to investments by two Boston venture capitalists and the continued participation of Primus Capital. Passport officers took pains to emphasize that although the lead investors came from Boston, Passport's marketability and investability were founded on years of support by local angels, local VCs, friends, family and others. Here's today's review of the Passport deal and its background.