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SSTI Feature: Epicenter Memphis seeking big impact in regional innovation network

January 17, 2019
By: Mark Skinner

A note from the publisher (aka, Dan Berglund): Two of the most frequent questions SSTI staff is asked are: “What program, initiative, movement has piqued your interest?” and, “Who should we be watching and learning from?” While the answers are somewhat implied in what we cover in The Digest, host webinars on, and feature in conference content, look for occasional pieces in 2019 labeled “SSTI Feature” that offer a sampling of our answers to those questions.

Some folks hope sharing a pot of coffee might be enough to spur entrepreneurial revolutions. Meanwhile, Leslie Lynn Smith, her team at Epicenter Memphis and their growing network of regional partners are working on a better way to create a region-wide movement to support innovation and entrepreneurship with tangible impact in a big way. So much of the entrepreneurship, innovation, and capital literature focuses on the celebrity of the individual person, program or company undertaking the mission. Epicenter Memphis demonstrates that the real work of regional innovation is done by emphasizing shared goals — and achievements — in the pursuit.

The venture development organization, conceptualized and initially funded by members of the policy-focused Chairman’s Circle of the Greater Memphis Chamber, has been busy since its founding in 2015. In 2018 alone, Epicenter Memphis secured a $10 million challenge grant from FedEx Corp and matched it with $30 million in community funding to support the nonprofit organization’s engagement with the region’s entrepreneurs and regional innovation initiatives.

Running several accelerators and its own co-work collision space already, Epicenter Memphis also partnered in 2018 with a local CDFI to create a $15 million flexible loan fund focused particularly on women and minority-owned businesses. Additionally, Epicenter also became a founding collaborator in 2018 on the $9.2 million, five-year innovative 800 Initiative, a multi-faceted, targeted commitment to help the 800 black-owned Memphis firms with employees to grow their revenues by $50 million

With its goal of turning the $40 million challenge fund into $100 million, Epicenter Memphis will be fun to watch in 2019.

The following video highlights one of Epicenter’s pilot capital programs designed for small entrepreneurial businesses in the Memphis area to meet a one-time capital milestone.

Epicenter - Friends and Family Fund: Replenish Kombucha from SSTI on Vimeo.

innovation, ssti features