A personal letter from Andre Fowlkes on the Jumpstart Partnership

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Two and a half years ago, Start Co. (LaunchMemphis at the time) was having difficulty raising social, political and financial capital in the Memphis area.  Actually, most of its support was coming from outside the region, from Nashville, with the exception of a few gracious sponsors here locally.  We were a 100% volunteer organization with a few hundred dollars in the bank who knew that if we could not get the local community involved in our efforts to never stop building founders and their companies, our organization would go away.

At that same time another organization based in Cleveland, OH was making some noise in terms of building the infrastructure for high growth entrepreneurial companies in Northeast Ohio.  This got the attention of the Obama Administration, and they were asked to take their successes into other regions of the country.  Jumpstart Inc. agreed and began the Jumpstart America initiative which was supported by the Knight and Surdna Foundations to expand into 6 regions.

Start Co. noticed this group in Ohio who has now invested directly in over 70 companies and has accelerated another 400 companies, whereby these companies have now secured over $550MM in risk capital. We considered them one of the lead venture development organizations in the country, not just because they are teaching startups how to fish, but because they are teaching startup organizations how to fish, and this is what we believe we need here in Memphis. It was at the beginning of 2011 that we cold called Jumpstart to begin selling Memphis; we did not have the resources to secure them, but fast forward 2.5 years later and we are happy to announce that they have begun work here in Memphis to help us build the right public private partnerships to grow our ecosystem.

A lot of progress has been made since we first began talking with Jumpstart, and they have identified great efforts and programs to build on.  These efforts come in the form of not just what Start Co. is building, but others in the region such as Memphis Bioworks, EmergeMemphis, University of Memphis and much more.

The problem is that we in Memphis are leaving too much talent on the sidelines in terms of participation in the building of high growth entrepreneurial companies.  Our minorities and women are on the outside looking in, our students are on the outside looking in, and sectors like logistics are on the outside looking in when it comes to idea cultivation and the acceleration of those ideas into companies ready for investment.  Jumpstart is here to help us work hard to change this.

We will embark on laying out a project scope that has a short term and long term emphasis. The short term will take the form of a PILOT program where we will raise resources to focus on the acceleration of four crucial areas IT, Medical Devices, Minorities & Women and Logistics; better bridges to higher education will be a feeder for this effort.  This PILOT will give us more results to iterate and expand laying a foundation for Memphis as a city taking a real bet on itself where we will attract more capital and resources to our community.

Based on current deal flow in our entrepreneurial ecosystem we believe we are leaving too many entrepreneurs on the vine to dry, so many that they are moving away to other parts of the country; there are quality companies who need more technical assistance and more capital so much so that if we looked over a 5 year period we would need as a community $15MM in technical assistance and operational support and $50MM in investment.  We will set our goals to start here.  However this current deal flow is based on a broken system, one without the incorporation of minorities and women, students and their ideas, and sectors as large as logistics.  Imagine what we could do if we did tap all of this that Memphis has to offer.

We have an opportunity to stop imagining and finally come together to begin.  Please support our efforts with Jumpstart America.  All in the community can help this effort to bring strong resources to the community. If you would like to be a part of this effort, we encourage you to please donate HERE. Your contribution is greatly appreciated.