As part of a national entrepreneurship tour, Memphis leads the "rise of the rest"

Memphis has been selected to join the “Rise of the Rest” tour of emerging cities for entrepreneurial culture. As part of the national tour, Memphis will also receive a $100,000 investment from Revolution, a Washington, D.C.-based investment firm.

Revolution has led seven “Rise of the Rest” tours since 2014, the focus of which is to encourage and highlight emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems that lie outside of U.S. coastal cities.

“It brings the attention of the world outside of Memphis to the investability of Memphis, which means our companies will start to get more access to capital, customers and talent, which we are ripe for right now. We are ready at this moment to receive the extra capacity,” said Leslie Smith, executive director of Epicenter.

Chattanooga joins Memphis on the 2018 tour. Nashville was a stop on the tour on its first go-round, making Tennessee the only state that has earned three stops on the tour. So far, 33 cities have been selected nationwide.

On May 8, the 12-hour daylong event will kick-off when the bus arrives in Memphis at 7:30 in the morning. A pre-breakfast and press announcement will be held, which will include comments from political leaders. It will be followed by a breakfast event with 100 local entrepreneurial leaders. During an ecosystem crawl, attendees will get back on the bus to visit the ServiceMaster Innovation Center, FedEx Institute of Technology, and other development hotspots.

“This is an extraordinary leveling up of our efforts by putting them on a national stage, not just a regional stage,” said Smith.

There will also be a fireside chat hosted by national industry leaders. Steve Case, chairman and CEO of Revolution, as well as an accomplished entrepreneur, will talk about the importance of developing entrepreneurship and about the work of “Rise of the Rest.” A pitch competition will then be held among local entrepreneurs.

“The winner gets a $100,000 investment, but all those that didn’t get the investment will have pitched and become known to a much broader network of potential investors,” said Smith.

Businesses can apply online. All entrants will be invited to attend a workshop put on by Case and his team.

“In the ‘Rise of the Rest’ concept, Case is recognizing that while there are a lot of great things happening on each of the coasts in the U.S. and that middle America represents this huge opportunity for founders, entrepreneurs, investors, partners, and customers to find great innovation, it feels that they’re missing out if they are only looking at the edges of the country,” said Smith.

Last year, Epicenter board member Spence Wilson, Jr. had an opportunity to meet with Case. They talked about Memphis’ entrepreneurial efforts and investments, which piqued Case’s interest in the city’s ecosystem.

“Once Steve and his team learned about us from Spence, he reached out to Charlie Brock at Launch Tennessee, who also supported our efforts,” said Smith. Brock is the president and CEO of Launch Tennessee, a public-private partnership that promotes entrepreneurship. It partners with entrepreneurship centers, like Epicenter, in six regions across the state and offers development, sources of capital and resources for entrepreneurs.

“I applaud any efforts that lift the profile of area entrepreneurs and increase their capacity; the ‘Rise of the Rest’ tour is a win for those companies and for Memphis and Shelby County,” said City of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

During the application process to be a “Rise” city, Memphis touted its diverse base of participation with both tech and non-tech innovation. An evaluation subsequently gauged the city’s hospitableness to startups: is it collaborative, connected, and supportive of new ideas? Are there startups ready for investor interest? Is the community engaged? The application process took about 3 to 4 months.

“I think what’s most exciting about being chosen, it is such a validation of the work we’ve been doing as a community to life up entrepreneurs and build solid companies around great innovation,” said Smith.

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Read more articles by Kim and Jim Coleman.

Kim Coleman is a journalist with over 20 years of experience in newsrooms as a reporter, editor and graphic designer, including ten years with The Commercial Appeal as Design Director/Senior Editor and Print Planning Editor. 


Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.