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NW TN's Donaldson leads The Mill's emergence as LaunchTN regional EC
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Chris Donaldson

NEARLY seven years after Tennessee Technology Development Corporation dba Launch Tennessee severed contract ties with its original partner in the region, Northwest Tennessee Entrepreneurship Inc. dba The Mill has signed-on for grant funding through LaunchTN, with an eye toward contributing to economic and entrepreneurial gains in nine counties of Northwest Tennessee.

Formation and launch of the new company as a nonprofit is led by Chris Donaldson, 50, a longtime Dyersburg small-business owner, a native of northwest Tennessee, and an alumnus of University of Tennessee campuses in both Martin and in Knoxville.

Interviewed this morning, Donaldson said he's "really excited about coming into a mature network," where he can tap colleagues statewide for the mentoring he needs as a new entrant, and for collaboration on new initiatives.

Donaldson said he's eager to help current and prospective business owners get "unstuck" in planning their strategy and operations, as well as helping them navigate business-funding options, including credit and debt, as well as capital options.

Among other things, he said he hopes to ally closely with the Reed Center at University of Tennessee-Martin and other postsecondary institutions, as well as with three Tennessee State Business Development Centers, peer regional entrepreneur centers, mentor networks and other partners. Related info.

Given his farflung service territory, Donaldson said one of his early emphases will be working with certified participants in Tennessee Main Street Programs, among others.

Rather than always requiring business owners to travel to Dyersburg, he said he hopes he can arrange many meetings in owners' respective towns.

Small traditional businesses and rapidly scalable tech startups are all possible participants in The Mill's program, Donaldson said, noting that rural entrepreneur centers often prioritize retail, food, beverage, and agricultural entrants.

Having been born and reared in a farming family of Tiptonville in Lake County, he said he has long dreamed of doing more for farmers, perhaps emphasizing value-added ag goods and services.

At the same time, as a technologist -- at a time when broadband technology and digital businesses are proliferating in all locales -- he said he naturally remains interested in helping tech entrepreneurs conceive, shape and grow ventures with Tennessee ties, no matter where they're born, or where they're bound.

Donaldson is also sole proprietor of Tencom Services, which has provided IT managed services, cybersecurity, web design and digital marketing since 2001.

He also owns two neighboring buildings on Dyersburg's South Mill Avenue, one of which includes a co-working space that is to be homebase for the new entrepreneur center, operating with the street brand of The Mill Workspace.

Donaldson said the new regional entrepreneur center expects to receive some grant funding during the state's current FY24, pending the new organization receiving IRS approval of its nonprofit status.

The IRS review was accepted for expedited treatment, and the application is now under active IRS examination.

The Mill's priority service area includes Benton, Carroll, Crockett, Dyer, Gibson, Henry, Lake, Obion and Weakley Counties.

Benton, Carroll and Lake Counties are listed this morning as either economically At Risk or Distressed on a state website that reports on the well-being of the state's 95 counties.

Donaldson and his wife have two children and reside in Dyersburg. Donaldson's LinkedIn profile is here.

The reestablishment of pro-entrepreneurship services in northwest Tennessee brings to mind very similar efforts made the past three-plus years in East Tennessee by entrepreneur Heath Guinn.

Nashville-based Launch Tennessee now continues to seek a central regional partner in Southern Middle Tennessee -- serving rural communities and towns such as Pulaski, Tullahoma and others. The window remains open to all candidates for that role.

VNC reported four months ago on what seemed then a realistic option of Pulaski as a hub for that region's entrepreneur center, story here.

In the months since that story, several sources have told VNC that the Pulaski concept has not yet borne fruit, in large measure because UT Southern is in the midst of chancellor recruitment, and the interim administration did not want to distract from existing transitional priorities, or preempt the next president's options on such matters.

Meanwhile, according to a press release in August, LaunchTN has in recent months granted more than $94K for nine different projects in the SoMid region.

LaunchTN is the nonprofit public-private partnership that operates as part of Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, as required by state legislation in 1997. TTDC assumed its LaunchTN brand under the Haslam Administration.

LaunchTN's is currently led by Chairman Stuart McWhorter, who is also commissioner of Tennessee Economic and Community Development, and by President and CEO Lindsey Cox.

LaunchTN's development director is Emily Masters; partnerships and development manager is Ashlin Smith.

Today's LaunchTN press release about partnering with The Mill is here. VNC

. last edited 1957 10 October 2023


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Tags: Ashlin Smith, Chris Donaldson, economic development, Emily Masters, entrepreneur centers, Heath Guinn, Launch Tennessee, LaunchTN, Lindsey Cox, Lyndsey Cox, Northwest Tennessee Entrepreneurship, Stuart McWhorter, SyncEC, SyncSpace, Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, The Mill, TTDC, UT Southern


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