Nashville has long been home to countless small music venues and hole-in-the-wall bars, where on any given night you might just find yourself listening to the next big country music star. In a similar fashion, the city’s now home to a growing number of startup accelerators and incubators, where on any given day, you may bump into America’s next breakout technology company.
Scattered throughout Tennessee’s capital city, these Petri dishes for entrepreneurial innovation are giving rise to a fresh crop of promising startups in both industries and beyond. These resource-rich organizations and programs make it easier for startup founders and their teams to plug into the area’s larger entrepreneurial community, connect with valuable mentors and, ideally, access early investment capital as well.
“There are so many incubators and coworking spaces popping up all over Nashville,” said Eller Mallchok, program manager of Jumpstart Foundry, a healthcare innovation incubator and fund that invests in seed-stage health-tech companies in the area. “Those spaces invite entrepreneurs to Nashville by providing a collaborative, cost-effective, and fun place to work and innovate. Accelerator programs in Nashville also serve as a front door for first-time entrepreneurs.”
Many of the urban hub’s first-time entrepreneurs specifically hail from the technology sector, one of the major driving factors that contributed to Nashville’s recent rank of No. 15 among top U.S. cities for startup growth and activity, per the 2016 Innovation That Matters study, a joint research effort by Free Enterprise, 1776 and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Here’s a look at some of the leading incubators and accelerators fueling Nashville’s sizzling startup scene.
1. Launch Tennessee
This statewide incubator works closely with several large corporate partners to build and enhance Nashville’s — and, on a broader level, Tennessee’s — business landscape. Among the big businesses Launch Tennessee connects startup founders with to help them shift from concept to market include: Dell, Comcast, Delta, Eventbrite, IBM, J.P. Morgan and many others.
Mentorship, networking and investment opportunities are also provided by Launch Tennessee in public-private partnership with various trade associations, such as the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturing Association and the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council, as well as with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
2. Nashville Entrepreneur Center (NEC)
Founded in 2007 as an outgrowth of a partnership with the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, the NEC’s mission is to raise the quality of resources available to the city’s small business communities and entrepreneurs. Operating with the support of several local and state government entities — and, more recently, with the support of Google for Entrepreneurs — focuses on incubating music tech, health tech and publishing startups.
3. Nashville Business Incubation Center (NBIC)
One of the longest established entrepreneurship resources in Nashville, the NBIC cultivates the growth and development of small businesses — helping them to sprout from “tiny acorns to mighty oaks” — by offering one-on-one and peer support, mentoring and education.
Established in 1986 as a project of Tennessee State University, the incubator also offers management and technical services to startups for up to five years. With an estimated success rate of 86 percent, the businesses that take up temporary residence at the NBIC inject an average of 41 jobs a year into the local economy.
4. Jumpstart Foundry
This healthcare-focused seed-stage incubator and investment fund backs and supports startups through a systematic, multi-step approach. In addition to connecting founders and entrepreneurs with critical venture capital, Jumpstart Foundry envelopes them into its extensive entrepreneurial community network, providing resources and mentorship to help them not only jump start their budding businesses but also succeed over the long term.
5. Vanderbilt University Summer Business Institute (VUSBI)
Offered by the university’s Owen Graduate School of Management, this accelerator blends a rigorous classroom curriculum with hands-on learning experiences to help aspiring student entrepreneurs pitch, launch and market innovative startups.
The intensive, 4-week summer program is a bootcamp for undergraduates “looking to gain insight into the intricacies of the business world” by engaging in 100-plus hours of business classes and 250-plus hours of consulting for major companies.