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New LaunchTN CEO Brock cites innovation 'momentum', surveys challenges
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Charlie Brock

CHARLIE BROCK'S widely anticipated appointment as CEO of LaunchTN was confirmed today by the high-growth advocate's board of directors.

Brock, 48, takes-up his duties later this month. An ardent advocate of entrepreneurial initiatives, he is co-founder of FourBridges Capital Advisors and Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, and has served as CEO and executive entrepreneur for Chattanooga's Company Lab, as previously reported by VNC in an extensive backgrounder on Brock. His nomination was unanimously approved by the group's board this morning.

LaunchTN Chairman Bill Hagerty, who also doubles-in-brass of Gov. Bill Haslam's economic development commissioner, said board member Stuart McWhorter, co-founder of Clayton Associates and Bullpen Ventures, had agreed to be nominated to the board's vice chairmanship, and that appointment also passed unanimously.

Hagerty told the board this morning that Gov. Haslam is "excited" about plans for economic development and for LaunchTN, adding that entrepreneurship and trade are to be focal-points highlighted by the governor in his forthcoming State of the State Address.

Brock said he has no exit plan inplace to leave the new role; rather, he said he hopes he'll serve at least three to five years, adding that, given his passion for the state and for entrepreneurship, his service could go longer, at the pleasure of the chairman, the governor and the board.

In response to a question from board member A.J. Bahou this morning about potential for conflicts with Brock's current roles in various organizations, Hagerty explained that he had previously had the "big boy conversation" with Brock about the need to avoid such conflicts and that Baker Donelson attorney Bruce Doeg, a LaunchTN board member, provides counsel in such matters of corporate "hygiene."

Reached for an interview by VNC today, Brock largely deferred comment on his possible priorities at LaunchTN, pending a review of its budget and planned one-on-one's with what he referred to as LaunchTN's "terrific" staff, which has been led the past nine months by Interim CEO Brad Smith.

Both Hagerty and Brock referred this morning to Smith's laudable work in setting near-term strategy for LaunchTN, selecting additional staff, and more. Brock said he'd been in touch with staff and board members for more than four weeks.

Brock acknowledged today that some initial conversation about his possibly becoming a candidate for the CEO role had taken place while the Chattanooga GigTank project was still ramping-up in the first half of 2012, but his commitments in Chattanooga made that a non-starter, from his perspective.

By the time he'd recovered from the GigTank push, he "had become more and more convinced" of the importance of LaunchTN, and felt that the "momentum" the state had achieved on the innovation and entrepreneurial fronts must be preserved and increased. That momentum is reflected in a growing array of events and initiatives undertaken by a LaunchTN that has been resurgent, following the organization's transition to the Administration of Gov. Haslam from that of predecessor Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Asked today about what, if any, threats exist to the state's momentum, Brock said he's still contemplating such matters, but then noted that disunity among the state's innovation actors must be avoided, and leaders from all regions and sectors must be "on the same page." Assets and opportunities are in-place, and must not be neglected, he noted.

Hagerty has previously stressed LaunchTN's need to recruit more of its resources from nongovernmental sources, in coming years. The organization aims to raise about $1MM from private sources in the coming 12 months, management has previously indicated.

Brock said today he'll be reviewing plans and resource requirements, spending controls and other matters; and, will be working with his board of directors to reach out to potential funding sources, including perhaps the Tennessee General Assembly, to fulfill its requirements.

When asked by VNC, he also expressed his particular "passion" for the work of the state's nine regional accelerators, which face similar local fundraising challenges, as state funding now inplace begins to tail-off.

Brock is the first permanent CEO of LaunchTN (officially, Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, or TTDC) in nearly three years, since April 2010 when then-CEO Eric Cromwell was succeeded by Interim CEO Leslie Wisner-Lynch. In the past six months, LaunchTN's board of directors has been repopulated and its staff expanded to a level unprecedented in several years.

Perhaps in anticipation of Brock's appointment, FourBridges recently announced its appointment of Frank Williamson as managing partner, a role previously held by Brock.

Meanwhile, over at The Company Lab, that organization's former lead mentor, Mike Bradshaw, is said to be stepping-up to an entrepreneur-in-residence post, to backstop Company Lab chief Sheldon Grizzle, as Brock previously did.

Brock will continue to reside in Chattanooga (where he said the Brock family has resided for four generations), sometimes working remotely or traveling the state from that basecamp, but also in-office at LaunchTN most weeks, he said. Asked about his base of operations by Bahou, Brock also noted that he's scouting for a rental unit in downtown Nashville. VNC


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Tags: A.J. Bahou, Bill Hagerty, Brad Smith, Charlie Brock, Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, Company Lab, Eric Cromwell, FourBridges Capital Advisors, Frank Williamson, Gov. Bill Haslam, LaunchTN, Leslie Wisner Lynch, Mike Bradshaw, Sheldon Grizzle, Stuart McWhorter, Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, TTDC

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