Launch Tennessee hit a Grand Slam with their fifth annual 36/86 entrepreneurship conference June 5th through 8th in Nashville. It is the Southeast’s premier technology event for entrepreneurs and investors, named for the longitudinal coordinates of Nashville.
This year was star-spangled featuring Fred Smith, founder, and CEO of Fed-Ex, Governor Bill Haslam, former Senator Dr. Bill Frist, and AOL founder and entrepreneurship maven Steve Case. Each offered keen insights into innovative change, better education, job creation, geography as an asset, scaling tech to customers, imaginative healthcare, investing in women and diversity, and manufacturing with 3D printing. Launch Tennessee CEO Charlie Brock and his team put together the best entrepreneurship event of the year combining quality startup pitches with carefully selected topics of current interest.
Notable interviews included Case along with Jay Rogers of Local Motors and Jon Schieber of Tech Crunch discussing Steve’s new book The Third Wave of the Internet. This new paradigm in which entrepreneurs transform energy and food will change the way we live our lives. Tech companies must re-think their relationship with customers, competitors, and governments. One example is Rogers’ Local Motors micro-factories which use digital manufacturing to drive production.
Contemporary topics like trends in sports tech, using geography as a favored position, and raising money locally kept the audience sharply engaged. The story of combining Wal-Mart’s e-commerce with traditional retail was especially interesting. Jeremy King, Wal-Mart Chief Tech Officer, described their acquisition of fifteen internet companies (jet.com, shoes.com), some for products and others tech skills. The focus now is on customer experience, and zeal-Mart is experimenting with employee/associate deliveries en route home after work. Ninety percent of all Americans live within five miles of a Wal-Mart. They’ve also added a speed shopping method for Sam’s Club. Using an app, three items can be checked out in five minutes.
A great feature of 36/86 is its pitches. They are interspersed throughout the conference and act aas breaksbetween presentations. Lasting only two minutes, the audience voted for each company’s sales pitch on a conference app. Ten finalists from each segment then had four minutes to pitch on the last day to a panel of nine experienced judges. They, in turn, selected the winner of a Fed-Ex $50,000 grand prize. This year’s winner was Wzyerr, Inc., a Covington, KY-based company using artificial intelligence to provide enterprise-level market search.
Two other components of this exceptional entrepreneurship conference are the ambiance and networking. Set in the Schermerhorn Symphony Center centrally located next to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Bridgestone Arena, the venue is a grand palace with an outdoor patio used at the end of each first day for a street fair. This open-air block party features local food, live music, Tennessee craft cocktails, and, this year, a playoff Predators hockey game on a big screen.
One theme touched on often was the coming “Internet of Things” (IoT). It will someday enable every item we use to become a computer -kitchen appliances, automobiles, lighting, plumbing, and tasks of every kind. IoT connects devices and sensors to allow remote monitoring, manipulation, and evaluation. It will be used to improve decision-making, provide better customer understanding, and improve operations through cost reductions.
Optional workshops the last day allowed attendees to choose between “How to CEO”, “Win Your Clients Inbox”, “No-Cost Marketing”, and a “formula for finding after product-market fit. The latter, so critical to lean startup success, was presented by Sean Sheppard of San Francisco’s GrowthX Academy. Their market accelerator program can help grow a company through predictable and profitable revenue using UX Design, which enhances user satisfaction. Using their “SPIN” Cycle (situation, problem, implication, and needed pay-off). GrowthX crafts a unique value position validated by an end user.
All left the 2017 version of 36/86 better informed and connected. Speaker caliber, pitch selection, and cutting-edge topics made this conference special. Kudos to Fred Smith to personally support his generous Fed-Ex gift to the conference and entrepreneurship. He remains a shining example of American startup success.