Healthier NTC will refocus on venture ties and serving Nashville region
When Jeff Costantine laughs while he's talking, it usually means he's delighting in something large or small. Most of the time, the chuckles are a storyteller's prelude to a serious twist in the tale he's telling.During his recent interview with VNC, Costantine's brief ripple of laughter was prompted by the fact that his last day on the payroll of the Nashville Technology Council is not far away, on Dec. 7.
The laughter gave way to reflecting on his three years at the helm of NTC. Costantine, who has already ceded his Commerce Street office to his successor, and who's visage no longer appears on the NTC staff page, will soon let go the baton he's been methodically passing to Tod Fetherling (left), since Fetherling's arrival Oct. 16.
Asked to comment on NTC achievements during his tenure, Costantine said he's proud that "the Technology Council today is more about the community." He offered NTC's increased partnering with local universities as an example.
Costantine said that during his tenure he's emphasized having the board and NTC members become "the face of NTC," and has striven to support them by creating the business processes, increased member communications, sponsorship fundraising, member recruitment and programming needed to grow the organization.
Costantine, 58, said NTC corporate membership has grown from 210 members in June 2006, to 340 currently. The record indicates NTC membership was closer to 300 in 2005, but that included a category of sole proprietors that was being discontinued, contributing to plummeting member rolls.
Costantine said that 60 percent of NTC member-companies have fewer than 10 employees. Costantine said NTC's budget increased from about $310,000 in 2006, to $716,000 budgeted for the current fiscal year, ending June 30, 2009.
Said Costantine, NTC's circumstances were "kinda bleak" when he took over. Since then, he added, "This has been fun for me...the time has flown by," he said.
Among highlights, he noted that launching such initiatives as NTC's "Turning the Tide" initiative, which seeks to link employers and universities and create student-industry internships, has been particularly gratifying, even though he adds, "I under-estimated the amount of effort in the T3. It takes quite a bit of time."
Things he wishes he'd pursued more aggressively? Without hesitation, Costantine replied, "The biggest shortfall was that I've not been able to make any inroads in the entrepreneurship community," mainly because of energies devoted to rebuilding core activities.
NTC's original role providing administrative services to Nashville Capital Network Executive Director Sid Chambless had ended prior to Costantine's arrival, putting more distance between the two organizations.
Under serial entrepreneur and now NTC President Tod Fetherling, the venture component seems likely to be restored.
In exchanges with VNC, Fetherling credited Costantine, whom he's known personally for about 13 years, with numerous achievements, including restoring NTC's financial vigor and budgeting discipline, executing well and building a high-energy staff. Fetherling now will build upon the NTC foundation.
Fetherling told VNC, "In the first few days of being on the job, I have found several consistent themes. First, the NTC needs to become a more active 'Voice of Technology' in the Nashville community. Second, the NTC needs to collaborate more with the entrepreneur and digital community in Nashville. Third, Nashville needs a few success stories in the technology field so that we can begin to craft the story of Nashville as Techville.
"Fourth," Fetherling continued, "the NTC needs to diversify in geography (Rutherford, Sumner, Dickson, Robertson, and Wilson Counties) and content verticals (Healthcare, Music, Publishing, Manufacturing. Fifth, the NTC needs to grow, just like the overall technology community, in order to support [increasing the numbers of] tech employees and companies in Greater Nashville."
Fetherling and Costantine explained that NTC is currently conduct a "BrandPrint" audit of its brand, communications and strategy, extracting advice and information from key stakeholders.
That auditing process may also help Fetherling determine how to shape his relationship with such groups as Tennessee Technology Development Corporation (TTDC)and Rutherford-based Mind2Marketplace (M2M).
Costantine's final weeks are producing a series of new initiatives, including a trade mission to India; a long-contemplated annual awards program for tech companies; a fresh attempt to map the locations of NTC members in "Techville"; and, exploring such things as creating a fund to help underwrite charitable contributions of technology, as well as potential new member offerings, such as health insurance products.
Costantine's term has been characterized by a high level of involvement by his board of directors. He acknowledged that a strategic-planning process that was ending as he came aboard was not fruitful – leading him, ultimately, to set NTC's agenda by working primarily with Chair Beth Chase, Past Chair Damien Creavin and, later, Chair-Elect Andy Flatt.
The board's larger executive committee includes Costantine, Chase and Flatt, as well as Belmont's Glenn Acree, Boult Cummings' Chris Sloan, Magazine.com's Jay Clarke and former Nissan CIO Bob Greenberg, now a consultant.
On Nov. 18, NTC will hold a Costantine going-away party, but he's already taken to the sidelines -- his favorite low-profile spot for closely directing the small squad of NTC staffers he's hired since his arrival.
Costantine succeeded Ray Capp (left), who served about a year, before resuming full-time leadership of local incubator ConduIT Corporation.
Capp had succeeded David Condra (right), who had served as president five years, following the creation of NTC by its former chairman and executive director, Warren Ratliff. Condra established the group as a full-blown association, with close ties to the NCN angel network, which Condra helped form.
Ratliff now lives in Atlanta, but he and NTC have reestablished ties since VNC's recent report on Ratliff's role in the history of NTC, which will observe its 10th anniversary, next year. (Resource: NTC President's recruitment job description, here.) ♦