The Nashville area built a reputation and an economy on health care, music, and higher education, and now that reputation is expanding thanks to an influx of innovative startups and a network of resources that nurture, support and promote entrepreneurship.
Nashville’s growing reputation as an entrepreneurial hub is reflected through events like the annual 36/86 entrepreneurship and technology conference, an event that brings together founders, investors and ecosystem builders from across the Southeast. The event is organized by Launch Tennessee, a public-private partnership that promotes entrepreneurship across the state.
Yet another valuable resource is the NashPreneur program, a digital resource that helps connect entrepreneurs to resources and other local thought leaders, as well as the business community’s events calendar.
“The NashPreneur platform [also] offers businesses the opportunity to post social media content in a searchable, shareable, categorized framework using their existing channels,” says Chris Cotton, director of business growth initiatives at the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.
And there’s the Nashville Entrepreneur Center (NEC), one of just 11 North American tech hubs in the Google for Entrepreneurs network, which provide a venue for developers and the wider tech community to engage directly with companies and training partners, while also hosting events and workshops and providing co-working space for entrepreneurs. To date, 155 companies have graduated from the center’s programs, and NEC companies have raised more than $32 million in venture funding.
‘Let’s Help Each Other’
One of the NEC’s members is the Credit Union Travel Club, which offers credit unions and their members the opportunity to book flights, hotels, cruises, car rentals and activities at discounted prices. Credit Union Travel Club’s president, Matt Boeshore, explains the idea using the analogy of Walmart vs. Sam’s Club:
“Anyone can buy anything off the shelf at Walmart, but in order to get discount, wholesale pricing at Sam’s Club, you have to be a member,” he says. “Our average savings is $40 per night, so if you stay three nights and save $120, you can either lengthen your stay or have additional money for another activity.”
Boeshore, who moved Credit Union Travel Club from Atlanta to Nashville last year, says being a part of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center has proved a rewarding experience, noting that there is a camaraderie among members and a mentality of “let’s help each other and all be successful together.”
“What makes Nashville a cool city is that people are willing to meet and help each other, especially in the entrepreneur space,” he says. “A lot of other cities don’t have that culture or atmosphere.”
Filling Empty Seats
In fact, this spirit of cooperation among residents helps explain the success of Hytch, a free app that encourages carpooling and ride sharing by paying drivers and passengers alike whenever they share a ride.
“It’s about coming together and not going it alone—and that includes entrepreneurs supporting other entrepreneurs and city and state leaders who are engaged in the business of business,” says Hytch CEO Mark Cleveland.
Cleveland’s fast-developing company has already won numerous accolades, and was recently recognized by the Nashville Technology Council as Emerging Company of the Year. It has also attracted the attention of major corporate sponsors—including Nissan and Franklin Synergy Bank—who are paying bonuses of 5 cents and a penny per mile, respectively, for users who share rides in select Middle Tennessee counties.
“Even our corporate giants are acting more and more entrepreneurial,” says Cleveland. “They recognize innovation that excites”—a reference to Nissan’s tagline—“and are willing to do business with new ideas and capable people in small companies.”
For his part, Cotton isn’t surprised that companies like Hytch and Credit Union Travel Club are finding success in the Nashville area.
“When it comes to launching or relocating entrepreneurial companies, Nashville checks all of the boxes,” says Cotton, “including Tennessee’s tax environment, business-friendly policies, diverse economy, quality of life, and competitive cost of living. There are a few other things that are harder to quantify, though. Nashville has always been a city with a personality. Moreover, the success we’ve experienced in the past several years has only added to the excitement and momentum.”