Shooting for the Moon

The Commercial Appeal ran a story last week about the Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle and its “Moon Missions.”  While the details remain nebulous, The Chairman’s Circle consists of private sector leaders that contribute funding and business perspective to identify, analyze and define solutions for some of Memphis’ greatest challenges. They are meeting to imagine and create the future of Memphis, serving as the voice of business.

Memphis is long on passion, short on cohesive plans.  We are excited to see this more innovative approach to economic development and some new thinking from a business chamber of commerce.

And why not shoot for the moon? Why has Memphis been sitting on the sidelines as cities like Nashville, Atlanta and Austin are reinvented? We like your spirit Chairman’s Circle. This initiative could set a great pace that might spur some action in the thinking about things differently department.  A Memphis department in need of a comeback.

We are keenly interested in the Circle’s efforts on the entrepreneurship front and we look forward to learning more about the strategy over the coming months of 2014. They’ve set an ambitious goal of 1,000 start-ups launched over 10 years. We trust that they are actively studying the dynamics of today’s struggling start-up climate and designing an innovative approach to set these companies up for success.

In our assessment, Memphis does not have a hospitable environment for start-ups on account of three factors: limited high-growth deal flow, a dearth of growth capital and disparate efforts that spread limited resources thin. Organizations in the entrepreneurial ecosystem are redundant, do not collaborate effectively and investment money is hard to come by.

Outside of Bioworks and the life sciences initiative, few start-ups have survived. Entrepreneurs looking to start businesses outside of the life sciences industry are effectively on their own. The few that succeed possess a scalable business model and are running on the aforementioned Memphis passion. Memphis’ lack of entrepreneurial infrastructure and aversion to risk, certainly has not made it easy on them. They are succeeding against the odds.

Memphis must innovate to solve the critical problems that are barriers to its success. As usual, we strive to instigate bigger thinking.  As we imagine a future for Memphis, we believe that we must invest beyond the city’s existing core strengths. Given the state of healthcare and the long path to market, it makes good sense to diversify our economy and support start-ups in a broader set of industries.   Also, perhaps we should rally our talent and capital resources around fewer start-ups over next 10 years? Let’s generate some disruptive business concepts and then give them the proper care and feeding. 1,000 companies are apt to die on the vine of starvation without good fertilizer.

It’s time to shoot for the moon. We’ll see you there.