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MEMPHIS CROSSROADS: The Entrepreneur's One Stop Shop

The following post is an article from the Fall 2014 issue of Memphis Crossroads digital magazine. To see the original article or view the full magazine click here.

At first he struggled. Dr. Carl W. Schulter was an expert in prosthetic dentistry but he didn’t possesses the expertise to efficiently and effectively launch his innovative dental implant devices. He wanted to get his inventions into the market to help people eat and speak more comfortably. He wanted to help people like the ones he saw every day at his Memphis practice. But he needed help.

Initially his only guides were attorneys. They were helpful with information about patents and licenses but what about market research and prototyping? What about how to attract the kind of skilled people Schulter needed as employees? What about picking business partners? He needed experts at startups.

That’s where the accelerator Memphis Bioworks entered the picture. Schulter and his fledgling company, Cagenix Inc., got answers and concrete help. Through Innova, a venture capital firm created by Bioworks, Schulter was introduced to Daryl Newman, now Cagenix’s CEO. Newman’s background is in business, marketing, sales and business development.

“It would have been so much more helpful if there had been one place,” said Newman, who told the story of Cagenix’s startup. “One place to go.”

Now there is one place. That place is the Memphis Entrepreneurship Powered Innovation Center, or EPIcenter. It was created last March as a “single front door” for people who want help to create a business. The Chairman’s Circle of the Greater Memphis Chamber benchmarked Memphis with other successful communities and determined that to achieve the “moon mission” of creating 1,000 new entrepreneurs in seven years, a concerted effort would have to be launched to organize the entities that serve startups around a common strategy.

The EPIcenter will focus on Memphis’ existing economic strength – logistics and emerging technologies, healthcare and bioscience, and information and software technology that supports those sectors. Memphis Bioworks was selected as the lead organization due to its experience and results.

The varied organizations that assist startups, like Emerge Memphis and Start Co., have signed on to work together under the EPIcenter.

“We haven’t had a front door for entrepreneurship,” said Dr. Steve Bares, president and executive director of Memphis Bioworks and lead for the EPIcenter. “We’ve had some really great successes,” he said of startups, “but there was no collaboration. Now they find the right organization faster.”

Through the beginning of September, 130 entrepreneurs have walked through EPIcenter’s so-called front door. Leadership is continuing fundraising efforts to power the strategic components of the vision. And officials have launched the EPIcenter Growth Academy, geared toward entrepreneurs who’ve graduated from accelerators but still want guidance. The academy, which includes pairing participants into teams to share ideas and practices that worked for them, also is open to small business owners since “the line between a startup and a small business is often very blurry,” Bares said. Monthly symposiums are scheduled.
The business leaders on board launching the EPIcenter “moon mission” expect the entrepreneurs they foster won’t stop at 1,000 new startups. Entrepreneurs like being entrepreneurs. They create. They finish one project and start up another. This sustainability feature is exciting to Phil Trenary, president and CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber. He called the EPIcenter strategy “key to accelerating the entrepreneur structure that’s already here in Memphis.”

“It just builds on itself, and people want to be here,” Trenary said. “It’s going to change the way we look and think about ourselves as Memphians.”

The vision for the entrepreneurial ecosystem comes at a time that Memphis is at a “critical juncture,” according to EPIcenter’s executive summary, and a common, strategized effort is vital to attract the best entrepreneurs.

“The EPIcenter has the potential to transform this community because few things are as powerful as an idea whose time has come, and nothing impacts a region more than the creation of scalable companies. Only growth and job creation will reinvigorate our local economy, and this coordinated effort will strengthen Memphis’ potential to produce and attract talented and resourceful entrepreneurs," said Richard W. Smith, Vice President, Global Trade Services at FedEx Express and Chair of the Entrepreneurship Team of the Chairman’s Circle.

The impact is expected to be 500 high-growth companies with at least 4,500 new jobs. The anticipated economic impact would be $600 million.

While many organizations that give hands-on, concrete help to new entrepreneurs have existed in Memphis, their numbers have grown. Memphis Bioworks was created 13 years ago. Its successes include formation of 17 companies with investments in 39 others. There’s been “a great realization lately,” said Newman with the dental implant device startup Cagenix, that government, civic organizations, nonprofits and other groups need to work together to support growth.

Stephen King (not that Stephen King) saw such cooperation on the West Coast, where he’s spent the previous 30 years of his career. He recently became president and CEO of Restore Medical Solutions, which manufactures new designs of modules to help organize and improve cleaning of surgical tools. The founder, Ryan Ramkhelawan, moved the startup from Atlanta after learning about Memphis Bioworks and its ZeroTo510 Medical Device Accelerator. He loved the reception he received from the Memphis business community. In other cities, organizations like Memphis Bioworks are part of the structure of business, King said. He expects EPIcenter to be a natural part of the Memphis business, interwoven with the landscape, in 10 to 15 years.

Start Co., which runs accelerator programs focused on “closing the digital divide,” is among the EPIcenter partners. Its president, Andre Fowlkes, defined the current situation with the EPIcenter as “engaged and at the table. This is a very exciting time.”

Maggie Owsley, creator of Play-tag, a tag and app for owners to know the location of their pets at all times, looked all over the country before finding a good launch program at Start Co. She moved to Memphis from Brooklyn to participate. Delighted with the results, Owsley sees the benefit to the one-door EPIcenter model. “There’s so much to do when you’re first starting a business,” she said. “Something to make finding resources in one location would be helpful.”

Carlton Crothers, CEO of incubator Emerge Memphis, said while EPIcenter is in its infancy and thus isn’t yet fully implemented, the benefits are already clear. Having a center as a point of contact for entrepreneurs routes them to the organization best suited to help them and “it’s a good way of really telling the story of Memphis. Before it was a fragmented story,” Crothers said. “There’s one voice now.”

Dr. Bares said the collaboration that entrepreneurs will find at the EPIcenter is “a natural extension” of what was already going on between startup helpers. Now entrepreneurs will be funneled into the EPIcenter structure, and information about the particulars of the products will help EPIcenter officials find appropriate matches for marketing, funding and other needed launch resources.

“They had to kind of find their way around the ecosystem,” Bares said. “Now we’re making it a lot easier.”

EPIcenter 101

What? The EPIcenter is the front door for entrepreneurship in Memphis. Born from a vision to produce 1,000 new entrepreneurs in the city in 10 years, EPIcenter interfaces with a network of accelerators, incubators and mentors to cater to the individual needs of each start-up.

Who? The EPIcenter will help any entrepreneur starting a business but focuses on the city’s strength sectors - logistics and emerging technologies, healthcare and bioscience, and information and software technologies that support those sectors.

When? The EPIcenter's next Growth Academy Symposium - entitled "The Right People Doing the Right Things" - is February 19, 2015 from 9:00 - 11:30 a.m. at Memphis Bioworks. Click here to register for this event on attracting and retaining the talent your organization needs, and use the code "GMCpeople" to get a discount!

To learn more: Visit or phone the EPIcenter at (901) 866-1448.

Written by: Toni Lepeska
Photo by: Troy Glasgow
Posted: 2/10/2015 2:47:17 PM | with 0 comments

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