Author Archives: Andre Fowlkes

Is Memphis Ready for FounderDating? (YES- with your help!)


FounderDating touts itself as “the premiere online network for entrepreneurs to connect with cofounders.” The concept is simple but powerful: create a network of entrepreneurs – of differing talents and experience – who are eager to take on a new venture or project. Best case, you find the cofounder of your dreams- or at least one who will fuel your dreams to fruition. Worst case, you still gain a pretty impressive network. And if you’ve spent any time in the startup world you know how invaluable your network is!

Their team includes cofounder and Chief Connector Jessica Alter, also a mentor for 500 Startups; Microsoft’s Director of Corporate Development Brian Shultz; and The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development co-author Patrick Vlaskovitz. And that’s just a sampling of FounderDating’s incredible team that’s already rolled out their network to cities like Austin, Las Vegas and Washington, DC.

So we’ll cut to the chase: we want Memphis to be included in the FounderDating network. For that to happen we need 75 applications for membership to be submitted. If you’re an entrepreneur looking to start your next project, or interested in joining forces with a founder who has a bold idea, please apply here. Applicants will be screened, including for skill sets, as they’re looking for 50% engineers. Once we reach 75 qualified applications Memphis will be “unlocked” and can access the FounderDating network.

NOTE: FounderDating has also partnered with Teach for America to create FounderDating Education. We know Memphis is ground zero for education reform, so if you’re interested in reshaping education through entrepreneurship please apply as well.

So please apply today and help us spread the word. This is one more way that we can fuel entrepreneurship and innovation in Memphis, and put our growing startup scene on the map!

Oh, and to guarantee a pretty awesome kickoff party…

AIGA Memphis Speaker Series: Designers+Startups


Are you an artrepreneur?

Design can help build a business from the ground up. Is yours? Find out how your talent could be influencing way more than logos and letterheads — and meet the newest tech startups that want to make it happen.

See what happens when a wickedly talented design community meets an on-fire startup scene.

Featuring our Designers + Startups panel of experts:

  •    JD Graffam, founder of Simple Focus
  •    Eric Mathews, co-founder of Launch Memphis and Seed Hatchery
  •    Gary Backaus, Chief Creative Officer at archer>malmo
  •    Patrick Woods, Director at a>m ventures
  •    Cliff McKinney & Brad Montgomery, co-founders of Work for Pie
  •    Michael Graber, co-founder of Southern Growth Studio

You won’t find this kind of expertise in one room anywhere else! Click here for tickets.

AIGA Memphis presents: Designers + Startups
Tuesday, Feb 19, 7:00pm @ Emerge Memphis (516 Tennessee St.)

*FREE for AIGA members and students. Just $10 for non-members.

BYOBC (Bring Your Own Business Cards)

Buzz for Memphis' Entrepreneurial Community Hits the WSJ


A defining characteristic of modern Memphis is a sense of hustle, or as our local NBA team, the Memphis Grizzlies have described it, “Grit and Grind.” This ethos, while difficult to nail down, captures the no-nonsense attitude folks in Memphis have toward creating great things. — Patrick Woods

The Wall Street Journal publishes a blog called The Accelerators where national level mentors – like Steve Blank and Brad Feld – provide strategies and insights around entrepreneurship. This week they focused on the question: Can startups be successful anywhere in the U.S.? Then they invited five – “lesser known entrepreneurial hubs” – to respond. Memphis was selected, as was Omaha, Boulder, Portland and Washington, DC.

This is a tremendous testament to Memphis’ growing ecosystem of support for early stage, high growth potential entrepreneurs. Indeed, we’re proud that today’s Accelerators includes posts from our founding CEO Eric Mathews, as well as some of our strongest partners and champions, Meg Crosby, Jan Bouten, Emily Brackstone and Patrick Woods.

To me though, there is something more important we have learned as a country in the past five years: Not only can startups succeed anywhere, but cities can also be deliberate about creating the fertile ground for high growth potential entrepreneurship. The key is entrepreneurial leaders in these communities stepping up to build the infrastructure for their fellow entrepreneurs. — Eric Mathews

We opened our doors in 2008 as a community project where entrepreneurs with bold ideas could take the real steps of starting up; this week we announced our remarkable third Seed Hatchery cohort. And in the past twelve months we have launched platforms that provide mentorship and capital – generating returns on both involvement and investment – to early stage entrepreneurs, and that fuel women’s innovation. Even more lies ahead in 2013.

Memphis has a proud entrepreneurial heritage. Companies like AutoZone, FedEx and Holiday Inn became global icons because they fundamentally changed the way we live. But our team has held strong that another golden age of entrepreneurship will shape our city’s future, driven by creative talent and bringing with it economic growth, job creation, and community transformation.

Today our resolve is strengthened. We invite you to check out the articles linked above and post comments, and help us spread the word. Most importantly we hope you’ll help us continue to grow the village that supports those entrepreneurs willing to bet on their ideas, bet on themselves and bet on Memphis.



How Memphis can Defy Expectations and Grow


by Andre Fowlkes, co-president of LaunchYourCity, Inc.
full editorial available here in the Commercial Appeal

For years, Memphis has been among the nation’s top 20 cities, ranked by population. But measured by total economic output — a gauge known as the Gross Metropolitan Product — metro Memphis (the city and its suburbs) ranks an anemic No. 44. There are only a few big cities — think El Paso, Texas, or Jacksonville, Fla. — where things are as out of kilter.

What’s worse, Memphis has been slipping steadily for years. And based on forecasts for the U.S. economy next year, things are unlikely to get much better. Jan Hatzius, chief economist for Global Investment Research at Goldman Sachs, sees 2 percent growth for the U.S. economy in 2013.

So the question becomes, how can Memphis defy expectations and outperform the nation?

The answer? Build new businesses in growing industries. If ever there was a time to pump up our GMP and break out of our rut, it would be now, while the rest of the nation is stagnant and not when things get moving again.

It starts with talent, and right now we have great human assets who are eager to build businesses. But we are lacking two areas: technical and CEO-level talent…. If we solve these two missing components, the investment capital will find its way here.

… I think the city should put together an incentive program to recruit this technical and CEO-level talent to Memphis, and then match them to local proven businesses. At the same time we can increase our efforts to provide training in these areas for locals who have the desire.

… Can the city of Memphis allocate $500,000 to top-notch ambassadors whose main job is to sell Memphis and recruit talent and capital from all over the country? Can we then give them incentive packages to dangle in front of select talent to move to Memphis?

… [With a] $1 million bet each year on Memphis that will contribute in a major way to outperforming the country’s 2 percent growth expectations for next year.

Edging Forward: How Memphis can defy expectations and grow by Andre Fowlkes, Commercial Appeal, December 24, 2012

2013 Wish Possible: Create More Jobs That Automatically Create a Lot of Jobs


by Eric Mathews, founding CEO of LaunchYourCity, Inc.

The headline above probably sounds more like something you would find on top of an Onion article, but the fact is LaunchYourCity and our sister programs in other cities like Chicago, Nashville, Austin, Cleveland, and Chattanooga have already cracked the code on job creation.

While economic development efforts have traditionally focused on relocating manufacturing and warehousing projects to our community, our LaunchYourCity method of focusing on high growth potential startups represents an equally large, if not better, opportunity for our community and our country.

When talking with others I will usually reference 3 key data points:

  1. New firms zero to five years of age on average add 4 new jobs per year.
  2. If not for startup businesses, we would have had net job loss in the United States over the last three decades.
  3. If not for innovation-based high growth potential startups, we would have had net job loss over the last decade.

Recently I came across two new data points that I will be adding to our discussion with local leaders and contributors.

  1. Every new technology job in a city creates five additional local jobs outside the sector. Two of the five positions on average are in professional work — doctors, lawyers — and the three others in non-professional occupations — waiters, store clerks.
  2. Technology’s multiplier effect of 5 additional jobs compares with 1.6 jobs for manufacturing.

I don’t fault our community leaders for focusing in on traditional jobs in existing industry. However, we cannot ignore the innovation economy that is growing globally and the need to focus on startup companies.

If we combine the above facts together we find very compelling job creation by startups that cannot be ignored. While a technology startup is adding 4 new positions each year on average, it is also on track to create an additional 20 jobs in the community. That is 24 jobs per year from one technology startup.

The jobs add up fast when you start thinking about many startups launching and then growing each year, year over year. One technology based startup growing over five years creates 120 jobs in our community. If we only successfully launch 10 startups every 5 years that is 1200 jobs. What’s great is we don’t have to just launch 10 new startups every 5 years. We can do it every year and even then we are not limited to 10 a year. If we did 10 a year for 10 years that would be 12,000 jobs.

It is true that technology and innovation cannot offer jobs to the average worker however each job created in these sectors indirectly supports the creation of many more service jobs than a manufacturing plant creates. That’s the magic.

When I wake up each day it is to create a more prosperous economy for the Memphis region that will last beyond my lifetime. I think that innovative startups are the best mechanism to achieve this purpose.

In 2013 I hope that as a community we can paint the economic development picture to be even more inclusive of innovation economy startups. It is the masterpiece our community needs to embrace for a vibrant economic future.

Data Sources: Kauffman Foundation, University of California Economist Enrico Morett


Submit your bold idea to Memphis' own Seed Hatchery startup accelerator


Seed Hatchery is looking for bold, game changing ideas for our 2013 cohort.

Do you have an audacious business idea with high growth potential? Then you’re in the right place. Our sister LaunchYourCity organization Seed Hatchery is taking applications through January 9, 2013 for their mentorship-driven startup accelerator. If one of the six teams selected, they’ll fuel your idea with the 3 Ms*:

  • Money. Each founding team receives $15,000 in seed capital.
  • Mentors. Our mentors are entrepreneurs and business leaders who have successfully launched or built companies, products and services.
  • Marine-style bootcamp. Refine your innovative concept into a solid business model through an intense 90 days focused on learning our business canvas, performing customer discovery, forming operations, prototyping your product, developing a marketing strategy and perfecting your investor pitch.

After the bootcamp the cohort teams will pitch at Investor Day for follow-on capital, and will continue to work with us for 3+ months to further develop their startups.

Who should apply?

While there are no set criteria, our structure and level of funding are best suited for technology-based products and services. Otherwise, we recognize that great founders build great startup companies; if you have the right idea, coupled with the passion and tenacity to see it launch, we invite you to submit your application! Key dates are below. Good luck!

Early Application Deadline: December 23, 2012
Application Deadline: January 9, 2013
Interviews: January 1 – 25, 2013
Decision Date: January 28, 2013
Program Start: February 9, 2013
Investor Day: May 16, 2013
Program Resumes for Those Fundraising: May 20, 2013
Startup Wake: August 15, 2013

Exploits of a Risk City: Wrap-up of Global Entrepreneurship Week 2012


Did you know that Tennessee led the nation yet again with the most Global Entrepreneurship Week events? And we were proud to contribute to that achievement through a week’s worth of new programming that welcomed new entrepreneurs, provided resources to our existing network and further developed our innovation ecosystem.

On Monday we introduced Pitch Perfect, a formal pitch session where those moving forward with their startups received feedback from a diverse panel of industry experts. Seven presenters pitched ideas ranging in focus from personal training games to microgreens to an online registry for those in time of need.

A recurring theme when talking to startups in Seed Hatchery and Zero to 510 is the invaluable support that comes through mentorship. To that end we are launching the new Memphis Venture Mentors that will serve all of our programs, and hosted our first Mentor Orientation and Mixer on Tuesday evening at Alchemy. Twenty-five potential mentors joined us, along with a number of entrepreneurs.

On Wednesday Chris West of Need Registry (who pitched to FUBU founder and Shark Tank investor Daymond John earlier this year thanks to the Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club) was featured on WREG’s morning show.

We again partnered with the Society of Entrepreneurs on Thursday for Core Conversations, a luncheon where current entrepreneurs gain insights and make powerful connections with veteran entrepreneurs like Dr. Mary McDonald, Dan Poag and Hilliard Crews.

On Friday we hosted our inaugural Field Day, and rented Minglewood Hall in honor of the auspicious occasion. Roughly 200 individuals representing startups, businesses and nonprofits joined us to co-work with one another and to further their ideas and initiatives through out toolkit. Baker Donelson and Marston Group provided pro bono consultations, and Baker even filmed segments for their Entrepreneur Minute video series. Many thanks to Dog and Slaw, Fuel and Mark’s Grill food trucks for being on hand, and to Contemporary Media for providing complimentary professional head shots!

As part of Field Day we also hosted a SpeedPitch session, where 12 Memphians with bold ideas made some rapid fire presentations to 11 judges in turn (think speed dating) who provided similarly lightning round feedback.

And we hosted the first Amazing Risk Startup Challenge, during which three finalist teams were debriefed and given missions at 9am that walked them through discovery work while sending them throughout the city. Guild Local, Memphis Urban Farm School and Screwpulp went above and beyond with their assignments. MUFS created their Facebook page at 10am and by 4pm already had 200 “likes.” Guild Local had 50 posters designed and printed as part of their extra credit points. And for the requirement to interview at least ten strangers, Screwpulp approached some of Memphis’ finest in MPD.

The defining mission of the Amazing Risk, however, involved clues that led to three 90-second pitches. Each team pitched to Marvin Stockwell and his team at the Church Health Center, to Brittany Cabigao of South of Beale gastropub, and [drum roll…] to Judge John Fowlkes in federal court. Nibletz was on hand to document the latter; check out their coverage here of what might be the most intimidating pitch assignment ever.

Finally, the three teams presented mini-investor decks to the crowd at Minglewood and to celebrity panelists Kym Clark of WMC, Andrew Hogin of LaunchTennessee and Kyle Sandler of Nibletz. When all was said and done, and points tallied, the winner of Memphis’ first Amazing Risk Startup Challenge was Screwpulp! Congrats to Richard Billings and his team who won $5k in cash and $5k in services for their digital publishing startup.

What’s a jam-packed, successful Global Entrepreneurship Week without a party? At 8pm we switched gears for a Risk City Soiree, featuring Fast Planet and the debut of  hot new sound by Marcela Pinilla and Danari Fowlkes. Ah…

It takes a village to develop a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, and we thank all involved in our Risk City: GEW 2012 programming, including sponsors Baker Donelson, LaunchTennessee, Loeb Properties, Marston Group and Waddell & Associates.

Our gratitude goes to those who enthusiastically and quite graciously supported the Amazing Risk: the Church Health Center, South of Beale and Judge Fowlkes (and… the security team members at the federal building). And again, our celebrity panel of WMC’s Kym Clark, LaunchTennessee’s Andrew Hogin and Nibletz’ Kyle Sandler.

And many thanks to those who spotlighted Risk City: GEW 2012 through media coverage. Check out this great feature by Daniel Hight of WREG:

Commonly Heard: I need a developer. Can you introduce me?


by Eric Mathews, founding CEO of LaunchYourCity

Many people walk in our doors with ideas they believe will change the world and make them rich.  The problem they invariably have is that they can’t build it.  95% of these potential founders have an idea for an mobile app or web app and they want the LaunchYourCity team to play matchmaker to a developer.  These potential founders don’t realize that the developer probably has his own awesome ideas.  Why would he switch from developing his ideas to developing yours?  These potential founders will get no where fast with developers because they have ignored the obvious: a developer is your first investor.

Like all investments you need to earn the right to ask!

Here is the typical scenario. A non-technical founder approaches a potential technical co-founder with just an idea. These potential founders usually have very little skin in the game. They haven’t invested a ton of their own time, but expect a developer to contribute 100s of hours. They haven’t even dipped into their own funds to get something mocked up or designed. These potential founders have not invested energy into determining who the customer is, understanding their buying behaviors, or even determine if they would want the app and pay for it. The outcome is always the same. The developer says no and gets annoyed with wannabe entrepreneurs and gets turned off to the startup world.

This is a very bad outcome for our entire community.  It could all be avoided.

Imagine going to a technical co-founder and saying the following:

“I have been working to validate an idea for a new app over the past couple of weeks.  I didn’t know if this was a good idea so I talked to 50 customers and found out that not only was it good, but also determined what the minimum features would be to satisfy the customer.  Because I wanted to continue to make progress, I taught myself to code a little bit.

“With a logo that I paid a local designer to polish up for me, I was able to get a one page website up and running articulating the features of the future app.  I also was able to code the website to capture email addresses from future customers.  I created a blog to talk about the industry and my perspective on the changes coming.  I got a lot of feedback and interest from the blog — one post has been viewed 10,000 times and has 56 comments.

“I started to market a bit to garner interest and I didn’t get 1,000 email signups — I got over 5,000 people to give me their email address.  Because I figured out how to market more effectively, I get about 100 signups day now on the website and I’m only spending $10 a day on ads.  I went ahead and contracted with a designer to get some wire frames done and some screen mock ups.  I showed them to some of the customers who signed up and they gave me feedback to refine the app.  I’m currently working on a new set of mocks ups with the designer.  Along the way I reached out to the CMO of a big local bank and he agreed to mentor me and my future team as we startup.  I think I’ll get another rock star mentor to commit next week.

“I did all this in just 60 days.  I’m looking for a technical co-founder that believes in me and how we can change the world.  I think you would be a great co-founder.  Will you join me?”

Guess what a technical co-founder will say after hearing this pitch?

People invest in execution, not ideas.  If you’re willing to do the work you will have no problems getting the right talent on the bus.  Prove that you are a worthy founder by doing the leg work before going to a technical co-founder and you will find many people jumping on board.

48 Hour Launch: Women's Edition on December 7-9


As part of our new Upstart Memphis initiative to empower more women through our entrepreneurial ecosystem, we’re hosting a special edition of our 48 Hour Launch. On December 7-9 we invite you to help launch women’s startups over a single weekend.

Pitch ideas. Collaborate. Develop products. Launch companies.
Not your average, ordinary weekend.

Are you a woman with an innovative idea and an entrepreneurial streak? You have two minutes on Friday night to pitch your concept and inspire the crowd. If successful you’ll get to publicly introduce your new company on Sunday evening.

More interested in applying your professional skills toward a goal that fuels economic development and elevates creative talent? Then vote for your favorite pitch, join a team and dive into development. Startups need marketers, lawyers, accountants, graphic designers, developers, and UX specialists. In short, they need you.

Please note: while we’re kickstarting women’s owned businesses, we invite men and women of all skills and backgrounds to be part of the teams that build these companies of tomorrow.

On Sunday evening each proud albeit exhausted team will present its business to the community. For every 20 attendees we create opportunity for another startup to be built. And the more entrepreneurs we recruit, the higher the chances of discovering bold, audacious ideas with high growth potential.

More than community engagement, this event fosters true community investment. Where else for only 48 hours and $40 can you:

  • Launch brand new tech-supported companies, contributing toward our local innovation economy and creating jobs;
  • Learn by doing, experiencing firsthand entrepreneurial principles that can be applied to any endeavor or work environment;
  • Connect with like-minded and talented professionals, developing your network;
  • Play an active role in Memphis’ entrepreneurial community, volunteering your current skills while learning new ones;
  • Eat and drink well, including all meals and copious amounts of coffee and Red Bull; and
  • Be a part of something this collaborative, creative and cool?!

So what are you waiting for? Register today for the one and only 48 Hour Launch: Women’s Edition, and get ready to spend your weekend doing something extraordinary- building both companies and community.

*Childcare will provided onsite for a small fee by Kid Station, fully licensed by the State of Tennessee as a drop-in day care provider. Additional details including hours available for daycare to be provided soon!


Startup Profile: Cloud for Good


Cloud for Good” is a local cloud consulting firm quickly becoming a familiar name nationwide for organizations looking to develop their own solutions on top of the Salesforce platform.

CEO & Founder Tal Frankfurt first had the idea to start his own business when working for a non-profit in Israel. He discovered Salesforce as a great tool to manage relationships and recognized a growing need to bring the power of Salesforce to other organizations.

Tal moved to Memphis and like many entrepreneurs before him, started operating out of his home. After discovering LaunchMemphis though, Tal promptly made the Launchpad his interim office.

It was a great opportunity to leave the house and to see people who were going through the same process as me. – Tal Frankfurt

After just six months in the Launchpad, Tal hired his first employee and moved into new office space at Emerge Memphis. Today, Cloud for Good has eight employees and a rosy outlook on the future.

Some entrepreneurs have built and operated highly successful businesses from home, but most require separation between the home and the office. If you are a local entrepreneur trying to start a business, you should definitely look in to working out of the Launchpad until you can get your business off the ground!