While Nashville is known as Music City, it’s also home to one of the nation’s top private universities: Vanderbilt. With a vibrant business school, Vanderbilt’s alumni are well-entrenched in the region’s business community. Eric Johnson, Dean of the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt, says there have been many successes coming out of Nashville. And while Nashville seems to have a healthy homegrown ecosystem, Johnson says there’s room for improvement.
“For Nashville, one of the challenges we often face is firms can find early stage capital pretty easily here in town, but as they grow, keeping them fed into a series A, series B, series C round many times having to come from outside of Nashville,” he says. “And I think that's common for many midsize cities like Nashville.”
Speaking on the Smart Business Dealmakers Podcast, Johnson share his thoughts on how Vanderbilt is working with the regional dealmaking community and how the dealmaking dcommunity is supporting Vanderbilt.
There are many interesting venture funds in Nashville, according to Johnson. For instance, the Nashville Capital Network, which was incubated at Vanderbilt’s business school over a decade ago, today is a robust seed fund along with a significant group of angel investors who co-invest together on the fund with startups in town.
“Many of the companies that will come through dealmakers or other places around town, often had some path through the National Capital Network or its affiliates overtime,” Johnson says.
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It's important, Johnson says, for the school and the city as efforts continue to be undertaken to build out that ecosystem. For him, that means being involved with the alumni who are starting companies and cheering them on.
He points to a few significant successes in the last few years. For example, Brian Fox’s confirmation.com was incubated at the Owen Graduate School of Management, and Veran Medical Technologies, which exited out in a nine-figure deal to Olympus Corp., is another venture that was incubated in the Owen School with, he says, faculty, alumni and student involvement the whole way through.
“And so those grand slam hits keep me jazzed and coming back and thinking about, ‘How do we do a better job the next time around?’” he says.