|Nashville 'venture creed' could be powerful
|Published April 15, 2008
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Google has shaken and stirred the world by harnessing intelligence, technology and a corporate creed that draws a line in the sand: "Don't be evil."
While some see only immaturity in Nashville's slower pace and more conservative investment mindset, Nashville could leverage that to honor both the city's quality of life and its prudence -- adopting a creed: "Do deals you can live with."
The power of that idea may be at the center of Marc Krejci's determination to keep his Bravato Music startup right here, in Nashville.
Krejci, now 27, is creating an online marketplace that connects live-performance bookers with individual performers. During the past seven years, he's worked and learned in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville and elsewhere, in roles that included artist management and booking. He has closely studied the inefficiencies and data flows within the traditionally phonecall-driven performance-booking process.
Krejci wants Bravato to take the stomach knots out of the current booking process, which people "hate," by creating a market driven by strong metrics and services that earn trust among all parties. Bravato's core technology is near-final and Krejci is traveling the region, signing customers for alpha and beta stages he'll launch this year.
The 27-year-old St. Louis transplant entrepreneur came here in 2004, and now qualifies as one of Nashville's True Believers. Married with child, he takes pains to emphasize he's "excited to be building this business here in Nashville, and I wouldn't want to be doing it anywhere else!"
That said, he acknowledges that raising capital would probably be easier "on the coasts," because they've already built communities and networks around "businesses just like mine."
In a series of phone calls and e-mail exchanges in the past few days, Krejci said he believes he'll find sufficient local funding to keep Bravato here; but, at another point he said it sometimes seems "my hand is almost being forced out to the coasts," where investors routinely screen similar deals.
The Nashville tech scene is far from dormant, of course. There are increasing numbers of healthcare-related IT deals and the progeny of incubators at Vanderbilt, Cumberland Emerging Technologies, Cool Springs Life Sciences and ConduIT quietly come and go. Also, Nashville regularly funds deals that involve familiar faces, services, technologies and, of course, "at least one" paying customer. Cases-in-point: Documentary Channel, MyOutdoorTV, and the ever-"promising" video-on-demand play, 21e Inc., for which FaithTV is a beta site.
However, while Music City gets high marks for overall entrepreneurial ambition, the city often suffers in comparison to some other cities' venture infrastructures.
Krejci suggests Nashville can create a more level playing field by doing more to facilitate relationships among entrepreneurs and investors. He said the local Chamber and the Nashville Capital Network are helpful, but early-stage ventures need easier access to deeper, broader networks. Meanwhile, he adds, because of Nashville's quality of life, "it's a challenge well worth facing."
What more might Nashville do to help? It's certainly not as simple as suggesting entrepreneurs get on Southwest Airlines, go to LA and bring the money back here. In that scenario, the startup is likely to end-up domeciled in California -- like GetBlaze, the Nashville venture that now seems lifeless in the hands of its Irvine-based investors.
There are many ways Nashville might leverage this "startup" opportunity, which is only masquerading as a mini-crisis.
For instance, create a funnel: Launch a formal tech entrepreneurs network to mirror local investor networks; introduce new business-plan education and contests; revisit ideas previously dismissed; create an R&D park; and, conduct startup weekends and venture-capital forums. Recent news also suggests local actors could do more to monitor the tech sector and try to retain companies that might emigrate in response to incentives from other cities.
Apart from formal incentives (something to think about), maybe those companies just need a good listenin' to, and a reminder of what they'd be leaving behind.
Any new initiatives will require leadership and dedicated resources. The most likely immediate source of that leadership is the Chamber-Partnership 2010-led Entrepreneur Project. The EP is studying Nashville's opportunities and constraints, and is due to report its findings by about June 1. ♦