Nashville EC Provides Connections, Tools for Real-World Success
More than 50 percent of small businesses fail in the first four years - a sobering reality facing entrepreneurs nationwide. (Throw in a global pandemic, and today's visionaries are navigating completely unchartered waters.) Fortunately, one non-profit is lending a hand to promising entrepreneurial companies and transforming Nashville's healthcare community in the process.
Circle of Giving
The Nashville Entrepreneur Center was founded as a vision of the Partnership 2010 initiative of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. Built from a partnership of local and state government support, private interests and the Nashville business community at-large, the EC's mission was to raise the quality of resources available to Nashville's entrepreneurial and small business communities. To date, the EC has served more than 10,000 entrepreneurs, with 800-plus businesses supported by EC programs.
"Entrepreneurial spirit is the tapestry of this city," said Jane Allen, CEO of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. "When this organization first started, the idea was successful business people and entrepreneurs giving time and money to help the next generation. Our volunteers have given time, wisdom and experience, with the goal that one day these entrepreneurial companies will also be in a position to give back."
That circle of giving is something EC leaders speak about with every new class. "We're all here because people believe that helping to connect entrepreneurs to critical resources helps them succeed, and it is wonderful to have the ability to work with such innovative and forward thinking people each and every day," Allen added.
Addressing a Need
From helping to create business plans to growth strategy and connections for important resources, EC staff customize curriculum tailored to the needs of their community. The model has proven very effective. EC's high-touch programs have an overall 84 percent success rate and have generated more than 1,600 jobs and $233 million in capital ... $50 million in healthcare revenue alone.
"Our entrepreneurs are solving real-world problems, and we get to align with them on their entrepreneurial journey," Allen said.
EC programs are designed to meet entrepreneurs where they are. The Advisor Program offers access to a 290-member advisor network that provides coaching and mentorship. Preflight is a 14-week program for early stage start-ups, while Inflight is a yearlong, accelerator-level program for early to mid-stage local companies. Project Music is a yearlong, accelerator-level program supporting the growth and development of music technology startups across North America, and Twende is the EC's yearlong, accelerator-level program driving the growth of Nashville's founders of color and the city's minority ecosystem at large. A full one-third of EC clients are participants of Project Healthcare - a yearlong, accelerator-level program supporting the growth and development of healthcare startups across the country.
Mitesh Rao, MD
OMNY founder Mitesh Rao, MD, traveled to the EC from San Francisco after learning of the program from his Nashville attorneys. "I realized I wanted to find the right partners to not just accelerate the company, but help grow and support us as founders," said Rao, who completed Project Healthcare in 2019.
"We got connected, and that synergy has been nothing but a blessing to us going forward. It's also helped us think strategically, from hiring and recruiting to fundraising. It's really hard to figure a lot of this out but having people to support and give guidance is something you can't put a value on," Rao continued.
During an initial meeting with prospective entrepreneurs, EC team members and advisors determine whether the EC's high-touch programs are a good fit the applicant or whether other resources might be more beneficial. "We want to make sure we're selecting companies we really can help, who are really solving problems of the local healthcare community," Allen said.
Those accepted into a program pay a small monthly fee and follow a program schedule. Project Healthcare includes five in-person meetings consisting of immersion visits, mentor meetings, marketing connections, training and pitches.
"Our community spends a lot of time working with these entrepreneurs, and we want to make sure it's a good fit for all involved," she added.
EC Program Manager Jeremy Raley said the center was founded on the idea of mentorship, which continues to be their emphasis. "At the end of the day we're about creating opportunities, because surviving entrepreneurship is a tough go and can be lonely ... like you're on an island every single day," he said. "We try to surround them with the most critical resources we can."
Project Healthcare includes 70-plus mentors armed with real-world legal, financial and business insight. Entrepreneurs also use their own experience to help pull each other along. "Our entrepreneurs didn't just walk in off the street with an idea," Raley said. "Many have tons of experience, and some have launched other successful ventures in the past. Our team helps connect those dots in the human game and creates special opportunities for conversations to help push a business forward."
Many of those opportunities stem from the EC's growing relationships with the Nashville Health Care Council, which provides mentorship with the industry's most respected leaders. "That's the magic that Nashville has and that the EC has an opportunity to leverage," Raley said. "The Health Care Council has become so woven into big institutions here and has really helped bridged a gap for the EC, becoming the missing piece that allows the right folks to come to the table."
Connecting the Dots
Despite its success, the Nashville Entrepreneur Center remains one of the best-kept secrets in Nashville's business community - something Allen hopes to change as the organization continues to grow and thrive.
"If you're an entrepreneur, it doesn't matter where you are," she said. "If you have questions, come talk to us. We're really a place where entrepreneurs, investors and the business community can connect and help everyone achieve their goals."