STUART MCWHORTER, soon to become CEO of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, is poised to conduct a 30-day survey of how best to build on the foundation established by Founding CEO Michael Burcham and the EC's backers.
McWhorter told Venture Nashville today that, while the EC was established for Nashville and surrounding region, its roles in collaboration with LaunchTN and other organizations statewide remain vitally important, and the EC is sure to continue serving as a resource for other groups locally, statewide, nationally and internationally. McWhorter's appointment was announced April 2.
The EC will, however, only undertake what it can execute with adequate quality and value, he said. "The EC needs to be the best it can possibly be for the city, our region and the state," he added.
With all that in mind, one of many ideas that may be on the table is that of more closely aligning the EC's CapitalTN program with related efforts of LaunchTN, he confirmed when interviewed for this story. He added that he and LaunchTN CEO Charlie Brock have previously discussed related matters.
Now, given that he'll be leading the EC, McWhorter said he's likely to take the subject up with Brock, anew. Among numerous possible outcomes there might be a freestanding capital-oriented group or an expansion of LaunchTN's existing capital-formation efforts.
Either way, said McWhorter, he'd like to see more support for investors collaborating locally, statewide and beyond.
McWhorter had several years ago taken steps toward creating an independent nonprofit group, the Tennessee Venture Council, but later shelved the idea. He said today he senses that the Nashville region and the state would still benefit by some such additional resources.
CapitalTN is a separate members-only program of the EC, convening events and investor demo days for "professionals at private equity, venture capital, or other institutions directly involved with investing in privately held businesses," according to its webpage.
LaunchTN maintains an advisory group called the Investors Committee, which includes both LaunchTN board members and outsiders. According to a report earlier this year, its outside members included Sid Chambless of Nashville Capital Network (and affiliates), and Joe Cook III of Mountain Group Capital (and affiliates). According to the same report, the LTN Investors committee was chaired by Frank Williamson, who is managing partner of Chattanooga-based Four Bridges Capital. Williamson succeeded Brock as managing partner of that firm, after Brock was named LTN CEO by Gov. Bill Haslam, in 2013. Pittco Management Managing Partner Andrew Seamons also was listed as an Investor Committee member.
Since news of his EC appointment last week, McWhorter has stressed that Healthcare inevitably remains an important target for the city's flagship Entrepreneur Center.
However, he made clear today that exploring ideas for adding more industry-specific accelerators is very much on his to-do list; and, when asked, he affirmed that he will be exploring the recently surfaced notion of creating an accelerator for Financial Technologies (Fintech).
In that context, he noted his long-standing friendship and business association with FinTech entrepreneur Joe Maxwell, who, as reported by VNC, has been among those exploring the FinTech option. Maxwell has also made clear during an after a Feb. 13 VNC event on the subject of FinTech that any such program must be well supported, on the front-end, if it is to add value to other U.S. FinTech accelerators that have accepted some Tennessee companies.
Burcham told VNC last July that the EC could accommodate more accelerators, though he has consistently also emphasized the need for adequate industry and community support for such initiatives.
All such ideas, McWhorter said, will be subjected to tight diligence and quality and results will be paramount concerns. Thus, he's keeping a close eye on Project Music, which is nearing graduation of its first Music/Enteretainment cohort, in partnership with the Country Music Association (CMA) and a bevy of investors.
Advocates for any proposed vertical, McWhorter stressed, would have to demonstrate "how much support [it can] get from the investor base, mentors, advisors" for a given vertical. "If we think we can get quality entrepreneurs in a cohort and it has broad-based support," then the EC will have options that include diverse accelerators serving a broader number of sectors, or it might opt to have fewer and "go deeper," in the interest of concrete success.
"I definitely think we can do more," but the EC must be selective, he said.
Thus, with an eye toward the foreseeable needs of the next five to ten years, McWhorter is beginning to seek feedback from staff, members of the EC's board of directors and other supporters about "what has worked well and what are the real assets" that constitute its foundation, "and then really taking those things and building on that."
Relative to Burcham's "startup" role at the nearly five-year-old EC, McWhorter, who's also been active in launching new companies over the years, acknowledged that in taking the helm of the maturing EC he might be described as "the scaler" who'll take the organization into maturity.
"Michael deserves all the credit for taking an idea and building this wonderful asset we have in the city and in the state," he said.
Asked about EC finances, McWhorter added that in operations and in raising capital, Burcham "has been a good steward," with the EC at breakeven or better on an operating basis. While fixed on his EC duties, Burcham, as serial healthcare entrepreneur, has for months been preparing for the launch of Narus Health, which provides non-clinical support to patients with "significant illnesses," according to its website.
Bullpen Ventures, a Seed-investment firm-in-residence at the EC, was founded by McWhorter and by EC Chairman John Ingram (Ingram Content Group, Ingram Industries) with three other investors. It invests only in EC portfolio firms and contributes a portion of its carried interest to the EC. No changes are expected in Bullpen's operations.
McWhorter, 46, said that during his shift to full-time work with the EC, he's juggling both the transition and his duties with Clayton Associates (CA), the VC firm that, in 1996, he co-founded with his father, Clayton McWhorter, who was also the founding chairman of the EC, and is now its chairman emeritus. The younger McWhorter remains chairman of CA.
Both McWhorters are well known for their civic and philanthropic dedication, and for relatively low-key style, laced with easy humor.
Less well known is the fact that while Stuart McWhorter pursued his bachelor's in management at Clemson University in South Carolina, he spent many gamedays in the coveted bodysuit of the Clemson Tiger mascot. He also earned an master's in Health administration at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
McWhorter also was chairman and CEO of Medical Reimbursements of America and was a founding member of OrthoLink Physicians Corporation, with roles including VP-Managed Care and VP-Acquisitions, among other experience.
McWhorter, his wife and their five children reside in Davidson County. VNC