For two days last week, the State of Tennessee leadership focused on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at the Tennessee Technology Development Corporation’s (TTDC) 2011 Tennessee NEXT Conference.  Billed as the state’s premier event devoted to innovation-based economic development, participants met and heard from more than 40 panelists, presenters and speakers about all that is happening across the state in terms of entrepreneurial economic development.

Memphis Bioworks Business Association was one of the conference sponsors, along with other innovation and incubation organizations from Memphis and across the state.  As I reflected on the two days of activities, what stands out most to me is the leadership that our Memphis community is showing in this critical area.  Everyone seems to like to look back to Memphis’ past success stories in entrepreneurism – overnight delivery, hotels and hospitality, grocery stores, medical devices, etc. – but, attending this event shows that our entrepreneurial future is just as impressive as our past.

Memphis showcased itself well at the event.  While some from across the state try to position the number of Memphis organizations dedicated to innovation and incubation as complex, those who know Memphis realize it is an abundance of talent and initiative that has created our dynamic environment.  Whether it is the Memphis Research Consortium, Memphis Bioworks Foundation, Emerge Memphis, Launch Memphis, or some other group, there is a place in our community for entrepreneurs to turn.  Each group is developing its own space and attracting its own attention.  That is good.  In the case of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, it is entrepreneurism in cleantech, biosciences, biologistics, technology, industrial biotechnology and rural AgBio space where we have the clear leadership role.  For other “ideas,” another local resource may be the best fit.

While the entrepreneurial organizations from Memphis were demonstrating their collective leadership, the entrepreneurial companies were holding their own at the conference as well. Several companies from Memphis won recognition and People’s Choice awards during the two days.  These included such a variety of ideas as:

* Green Turbine (Alternative Energy/Sustainability category), a company focused on a patent pending turbine to harness the energy of the Mississippi River.

* Work for Pie (Technology/Electronics category), a company that allows software developers and technical content producers to create a showcase for their skills.

* How’s The Living (Digital Media/Entertainment category), an online community for college students.

* BioDimensions (Alternative Energy/Sustainability category), a company focused on high-value renewable plant oils for the sustainable chemical and fuel markets.

Governor Haslam has made job creation and job innovation one of the hallmarks of his administration.  The governor announced his INCITE plan at the conference, a program focused on the cluster-based entrepreneurship that we have been building since we started.  Events like Tennessee NEXT are examples of that focus in action.

As Memphians, events like this are great showcases for the role we are playing and expect to play in our State’s economic future.   My challenge to everyone from our community is to use every opportunity to loudly and decisively declare that we – Memphis – intend to be the center of innovation for our great state.  We have a lot going on, and we have just touched the surface.