State's TechDevCorp adapting to threats and opportunities
By Milt Capps Updated 6:27 AM Oct. 27, 2009
Published Monday, October 26, 2009 1:50 pm
Gov. Phil Bredesen
Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, which augments state government in tech-driven economic development, is demonstrating some agility in the face of adversity.
TTDC won't know for months whether or not resilience and perseverance will be enough to win continued state funding and keep the organization alive. TTDC's initial state funding is expected to be virtually exhausted by June 30, unless the Bredesen Administration opts to press the General Assembly to provide a second round of funding for TTDC.
TTDC management recently said in a report to its board that it is generating creative strategems, in the hope of ensuring that TTDC's "10-year history of false starts and truncated initiatives" does not repeat itself.
Gov. Phil Bredesen, Finance and Administration Commissioner Dave Goetz and other Cabinet officials will begin reviewing all state agencies budget requirements next month. TTDC has relied almost entirely on Tennessee Economic & Community Development Commissioner Matt Kisber for support in that arena.
As previously reported by VNC, TTDC has begun to compile the case for further funding, based on achievements the TTDC board believes the organizations has logged during the past two years.
However, acting on the assumption that funding will be tight under even the best of circumstances – and, given the tough slog TTDC has experienced in attempting to transform economic-development apparata at the state, regional and local levels – TTDC is making contingency plans that might enable key programs to keep advancing, if traditional funding falls through.
Perhaps most notably given the rise of the state's new TNInvestco capital-formation program, TTDC management has raised the possibility of asking the TTDC board to consider supporting the spinning-out of TTDC's Tennessee Capital Formation Board, to create the "TCFB IP Holding Company," which could help manage the licensing of intellectual property from universities, research institutions and companies to entrepreneurs.
TTDC management's rationale calls for the IP Holding Company to support an estimated half-dozen newly chartered TNInvestco-certified investment companies, which are to be identified by the state within a week or so, and which will then be funded with at total of at least $84 million for use in venture-capital investments in Tennessee firms, beginning in January.
As described preliminarily by TTDC, the IP Holding Company would help match entrepreneurs with technologies and mentors; and, could help coordinate pre-investment valuation efforts, as well as design and support related programs and processes.
During a recent TTDC board meeting, TTDC President and CEO Eric Cromwell said that he believes supporting entrepreneurship – leveraging a proposed entrepreneurship network and the IP Holding Company – "is where we'll hang our hat."
In a related report to the board, TTDC staff stressed that TNInvestco, alone, is not sufficient to "deliver a future economic reality for Tennessee that matches the 'aspirations' communicated 18 months ago," an apparent reference to the resumption of TTDC operations in earnest, after years of operating at the lowest ebb.
The report went farther, warning that the economic-development potential of TNInvestco "will not be fully realized" without complementary efforts such as those which TTDC proposes to continue, under some form of statewide coordination.
Beyond this, TTDC President and CEO Eric Cromwell (at left) has also asked his board of directors to begin mulling the possibility of spinning-out the Tennessee Strategic Research Board as an independent nonprofit membership organization.
The TSRB was formed to improve relationships among scientists, technology transfer officials and investors, in order to "advocate for greater state support and industry involvement in strategic research initiatives and policies that support R&D activities in Tennessee," according to a TTDC report.
As an independent membership group, a repositioned TSRB could supposedly raise its own funding.
TTDC staff are also considering proposing to re-launch the dormant Tennessee Entrepreneurs Network (TEN). The relaunch strategy calls, in part, for inviting allied groups to serve as trustees of a newly independent nonprofit TEN, which would be supported by state grants and philanthropy. The TEN trustees would be drawn mostly from local and regional organizations now providing similar services, and would thus theoretically gain critical mass and support, quickly.
TTDC has undertaken a review of its entire portfolio and priorities. In November, TTDC plans to convene a meeting with key partners and contractors to finish, reconfigure or terminate existing projects and refine TTDC's overall strategy. The goal of all this calibrating is to ensure the organization is prepared for any eventuality, before the state's current fiscal year ends, June 30.
Conferees participating with TTDC in its November project overview and strategy session will include, according to a recent TTDC document, Nashville Capital Network, Mercury Technology Labs, Technology2020, Memphis Bioworks Foundation and Mind2Marketplace. ♦