“Who Wants to be an Agriculture Entrepreneur” – Ideas from NW Tennessee

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For the past two years, the tiny corner of Northwest Tennessee had made news headlines leading Tennessee’s monthly unemployment figures.  With the closure of several major industries during recent years including Goodyear Tire, there are a high number of residents still without a steady paycheck.  With that said, there are several opportunities for those who have the ideas to venture out on their own and one group is encouraging residents to return to their “roots.”

REED CENTER

The REED Center (Regional Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Center), housing the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC), was established to meet the needs of existing and potential business owners through one-on-one consultations and interactive training programs.  www.utm.edu/reed

Located in historic downtown Martin, The REED Center serves as a hub of information for prospective entrepreneurs and owners of existing small businesses who need individual consultant services, group training services and technical resources. The REED Center offers courses, workshops and training sessions that respond to the needs of small businesses and supports regional economic development.

Recent workshop topics include: Using Social Media to Market Your Business, Small Business 101: How to Start a Small Business, E-Commerce and Your Business, How to Sell Your Stuff Online, The Plan: Business Plan Basics for the Entrepreneur and Tax Issues and Your Small Business.

The REED Center’s primary service area includes Weakley County, Henry County, Benton County, Carroll County, northeastern Gibson County, and Obion County. The Center’s secondary service area includes the remainder of Gibson County, along with Crockett, Dyer and Lake Counties.

NORTHWEST TENNESSEE ENTREPRENEUR CENTER

Just a few blocks from downtown Martin is the The Northwest Tennessee Entrepreneur Center. www.ntecconnect.com

Located on White Street in Martin, the Northwest Tennessee Entrepreneur Center was created because of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s INCITE initiative, which is designed to focus on innovation, commercialization, investment, technology, and entrepreneurship in Tennessee.

NTEC serves the nine counties of Benton, Carroll, Crockett, Dyer, Gibson, Henry, Lake, Obion, and Weakley.  NTEC is a public-private organization that provides mentoring, education and training, strategic and technical support, and assistance identifying sources of capital for entrepreneurs.

Executive Director, Carol Reed said  “Our goal is to help regional entrepreneurs accelerate the process of creating profitable, growing businesses. In turn, this produces new jobs and economic growth within our nine-county area. Having community support of our efforts is vital to the success of NTEC.”

WHO WANTS TO BE AN AG ENTREPRENEUR 

Recently, NTEC teamed with Memphis Bioworks Foundation on a partnership to launch an agriculture innovation accelerator to help start and grow new agricultural businesses in NWTN.   “Agriculture is our strength in Northwest Tennessee,” said Reed.  “Chattanooga has technology.  Memphis has transportation.  In rural Northwest Tennessee we have to focus on our best asset and that’s agriculture.”

Ag entrepreneurs will be coached by mentors with several years of experience in entrepreneurship, farming and commercialization of technologies. Program staff and mentors will work with prospective entrepreneurs on refining business ideas and strategic planning, commercializing technology and taking products and services to the marketplace. In addition, the program will identify technology at the region’s universities that could be brought into the accelerator and commercialized in Northwest Tennessee.

The agricultural innovation accelerator launched this summer. Participants  include entrepreneurs with new ideas in the start-up mode as well as existing companies that are working on developing a new technology or innovation.   One entrepreneur has a an idea of what to do with old grain silos.  Another is working on ways to use plant based dyes in clothing rather than synthetic dyes.

Other ideas cover a wide range of  agriculture-related technologies, including biobased products, food processing and safety, precision agriculture and software, smart phone/tablet apps, livestock reproduction and nutrition, identity preservation and new crops. The candidates will participate in a rigorous five month process that will take the idea and turn it into a fund-able business.

Through a competitive application process, eight entrepreneurs were selected to participate in this intensive, six-month program of business instruction and mentorship to guide their development.  At the conclusion of the program, the participants will pitch their business plans to a group of investors in hopes of securing capital to grow those ideas into commercial reality.  One catch to winning the financial backing of an investor is that the business must locate in Northwest Tennessee.

“By 2050, there will be nine billion people around the world who need food, materials, energy, and delivery systems, and innovation will be the key to developing sustainable sources for these products and services,” said Reed.   “This new accelerator will create new opportunities for our region to participate on a larger scale in the growing global markets being created in anticipation of this population growth, at the same time creating an entrepreneurial culture in our rural area.”

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One thought on ““Who Wants to be an Agriculture Entrepreneur” – Ideas from NW Tennessee

  1. Carrie Brown says:

    Fantastic, Misty! As we talked about in class, sometimes even small towns have a lot going on, though people often wrongly assume otherwise. I think the ag project sounds really interesting!

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