Entrepreneurism Will Pave Recovery’s Path

The following BioBiz posting was published in the Commercial Appeal as a guest column on May 13, 2009.

Financial and economic optimism are hard to come by these days. Everyone is asking: When will the bleeding stop and what can possibly bring about a turnaround?

Perhaps a better question is: Who creates jobs?

I would argue that the best source of jobs and the real fuel for economic recovery is entrepreneurism. Entrepreneurs don’t care whether the economy is booming or busting; they only care that they are able to bring their idea, their product or their discovery to market. The most promising path out of this current economic challenge is the path of the idea generators and those who support them.

In mid-March, Clean Tech Open of San Jose, Calif., issued a call for “Entrepreneurs to Create 100,000 Green-Collar Jobs in America” over the next five years. One hundred thousand is a lot of jobs. But, when you think of it from the entrepreneurial foundation, no one has to take responsibility for thousands of new jobs, or even hundreds. Entrepreneurism creates a classic snowball effect, and soon the economy is climbing again.

Memphis Bioworks Foundation believes that what we call the “Cycle of Entrepreneurship” deserves the support of all Memphians, and we are doing everything we can to enable those thinkers and inventors and investors who create new jobs.

Memphis has an impressive track record of entrepreneurism. From Clarence Saunders’ first self-service grocery store in 1916, to Kemmons Wilson’s first Holiday Inn in 1952, to Fred Smith’s vision for next-day delivery in the late 1960s, to GTx’s creation in 1997, Memphis entrepreneurs have changed the world.

Each of these Memphis “start-ups” was a single idea that took root. Today, Memphis has the foundation in the biosciences for more than the next great single idea. We have the foundation to become one of the nation’s entrepreneurial hotbeds, resulting in better jobs, better opportunities and a more vibrant community.

Technology and bio-entrepreneurism require that many elements come together. If one element is missing, the chance for long-term and meaningful success is greatly diminished. Bringing an idea successfully to market requires six critical elements:

— Education to develop and inspire young minds.
— Scientific and technological discovery, the product of great minds.
— Investment, the fuel to further discovery.
— Leadership, the guidance and experience to move discovery forward.
— Facilities, the space for discovery to grow and mature.
— Talent, the people to fill the jobs.

Every investment by a corporation, an individual or an academic institution plays a part in fueling the Cycle of Entrepreneurship.

Many people know Memphis Bioworks for our development of the UT Baptist Research Park, a key facilities element of the cycle; or for our launch of the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, a critical piece of the education element; or for our role in bioscience initiatives in orthopedics, agriculture and community outreach. As a key element in fulfilling our vision, we have recently introduced efforts focused on some of the more fundamental aspects of the cycle.

We recently opened dedicated lab space in our building at 20 South Dudley and celebrated the launch of TECworks, an entrepreneurship development organization with a focus on technology entrepreneurship and commercialization. Specifically, TECworks will offer education and mentoring for entrepreneurs and facilitate the development of their products for the commercial space, education for potential investors and the creation of an “Angel Network” in which qualified individuals can invest in the business opportunities.

TECworks will work with the other critical entrepreneurial organizations in town. These include EmergeMemphis and its Technology Institute; LaunchMemphis; the Memphis Minority Business Council and its entrepreneur programs, and the many technology transfer, entrepreneur and school of business programs at the University of Memphis and its FedEx Institute.

TECworks complements Innova, an early-stage investment organization launched by Memphis Bioworks in 2007 to fund innovative technology and defensible service companies based in Memphis — including medical device, biotechnology, AgBio, logistics and other bioscience sectors. Initial investments by Innova have focused on research developed in Memphis that is on the verge of distribution to the consumer marketplace.

Within the laboratories of our universities, in small independent office and lab spaces, within the scientific experiments of our extensive medical community, in the agricultural fields, and within the minds of dreamers are the seeds of economic recovery through entrepreneurism and scientific commercialization. Business and community leaders across Memphis should embrace the spirit of entrepreneurship evident in so many areas of our city. Together, we can ensure no idea dies because an element of the Cycle of Entrepreneurship is missing or underfunded.

As this recession ends, we will find those investments are among the best we ever made.

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