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Will Nashville technology community 'mushroom'?
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Skip Franklin is not alone among Nashville digerati who believe the city's about to experience a techno Big Bang of some kind. Of course, only time will tell.

Meanwhile, if 'getting the talk right' will help, we're on our way.

During a VNC interview yesterday, Franklin, who's beginning his fifth year as here senior vice president with PassAlong Networks, made clear he senses a groundswell in Middle Tennessee.

The erstwhile Seattle serial entrepreneur said, among other things, "Nashville's on a roll right now," "the environment here for startups in Nashville is just really hot" and "there's a lot of talent here."

Franklin's observations may carry a little more weight that those of the average technophile. According to his bio, Franklin, 48, has been developing software since the early 1980s. Among his achievements, thus far: building a community of more than 1 million mountain-sports enthusiasts, via MountainZone.com, which was reportedly sold for $25 million. He was also co-founder and executive vice president of Amaze Inc., which provided animation and graphics tools.

Franklin (pictured at right) is among a handful of tech entrepreneurs who recently launched Digital Nashville, to provide a gathering place for Nashvillians working in "user interactive, animation, design," digital media generally and related fields, which he believes are underserved in the region. He said digital workers here are often working on the "bleeding edge," and need help connecting with others who are tackling similar problems, using similar tools.

He said he "wouldn't be surprised" if Digital Nashville "mushroomed over time to be something extremely powerful and successful," much as he witnessed in Seattle following the formation of what was then known as the Digital Media Alliance.

Asked about pursuing the same ends here via Nashville Technology Council (NTC), Franklin reflected a moment, then explained he perceives NTC as oriented toward "back-end" subjects as database development, healthcare transactions and other core issues. He stressed that Nashville scores very high with respect to backend functions.

Digital Nashville is but one of the most recent meetups and events launched outside NTC, but typically with promotional ties to the trade association. Forthcoming Startup Weekend Nashville (Oct. 10-12) and BarCamp Nashville (tentatively, Oct. 4) are among others. And, lowkey media-orirented groups like Nashville Geeks hold regular breakfasts.

Organizers of these and other virally driven events invariably stress -- often adamantly -- the need to avoid what they see as the "formality" of more institutional or established trade and professional groups, in the interest of building communities of like-minded individuals with shared interests, including a desire to overcome isolation.

The two camps may be routinely missing opportunities for greater collaboration. For example, Franklin noted that in Seattle it took many years for local colleges and universities to understand the kind of knowledge Microsoft wanted its workers to have upon completing their degrees. He said that despite strong tech programs at Belmont University, Middle Tennessee State University, Vanderbilt and other institutions, he senses much remains to be done.

Meanwhile, NTC's "Turning the Tide" initiative seeks to address similar alignment issues, although without the giant pure-tech companies Seattle/Redmond enjoy. The NTC initiative is, for the most part, limited to NTC members.

Franklin, who is responsible for business development and partnerships for PassAlong Networks, said yesterday he was not sure whether or not his company is a member of NTC.

This morning, NTC President Jeff Costantine confirmed for VNC that while PassAlong executives had been invited to participate in NTC programs and membership, there's been no such involvement, to date. Costantine indicated Digital Nashville has just now popped-up on his radar, but said he would welcome the opportunity to partner with the group, possibly to focus on the music industry. He said that at the outset he would be concerned with determining how to "sustain" such a new initiative, in the interest of promoting technology within the region. ♦

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Tags: BarCamp Nashville, Belmont University, Digital Nashville, entrepreneurship, Innovation, Jeff Costantine, Middle Tennesee State, Nashville Technology Council, PassAlong Networks, Skip Franklin, Startup Weekend, Talent, University, Vanderbilt University

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