The South and Silicon Valley: 4 Tips For Bigger, Better Entrepreneurship


In Nashville last week, LaunchTN gathered entrepreneurs from 10 states and over 70 investment firms for a shindig known as SouthlandSE. The “investor-conference-cum-Southern-festival” goes on alongside Bonaroo. It is gaining steam as the “SXSW” of the South.

This year, CEOs from Silicon Valley companies, such as Box, Bonobos, PayPal, and Pando, shared the stage with top startups from Atlanta, Chattanooga, Memphis, and even Mexico.

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As these cultures collided and collaborated, a few thoughts emerged to encourage all entrepreneurs:

1. You don’t need to be in Silicon Valley to get serious funding.

Miles Clements, Partner at Accel Ventures out of Palo Alto, said out of Accel’s last 40 investments, 36 were outside of northern California.

“We are investing in global great ideas—not in Silicon Valley.”

His tip to entrepreneurs outside the Valley seeking funding is, “distribution is how a company outside of the valley can differentiate itself.”

2. Find fixes, not faults.

Tristan Walker, founder of Bevel, the black shaving product, shared about his journey to be the “black” Proctor & Gamble.

“The hardest job I have as a CEO is balancing empathy and realism,” Walker said.

Walker also stated that the conversation about race and merit in Silicon Valley needs to be reframed:  “It’s not about explicit bias. It’s about implicit bias. It’s rampant, and real. No one is willing to work on those implicit biases.”

He urged entrepreneurs to think of fixes when they find faults, even faults like racism.

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“I send a monthly update to my investors and I ask for recruiting help. I say, first think of women of color and black people who would be outstanding fits. Then if you can’t think of any stellar people like that—share others. That simple fix has made us have a minority culture at my company.”

3. Men in tech need to talk differently about women.

Andy Dunn, CEO and co-founder of Bonobos, has a four-digit-per-square-foot retail success storyranking with retailers like Apple, Tiffany and Lululemon.

Dunn says one thing he believes is how the world will change for the better for everyone as women are empowered.  He shared his very personal tie to this transformationhis grandma was born in rural Pakistan and married at 12. Arranged against her was a lack of education, poverty, miscarriages, and a series of refugee camps as she followed her husband between Pakistan and India.

As Andy  shared the story of how the women in his own family gained equality, he urged more men to do their part in making our culture one with rights to education, marriage and equality for all.

“The day my daughter Bella was born, we were funded by Accel Partners. My grandma said the day my child was born, if she was a girl, she’d bring great wealth,” Dunn said.

4. The internet is moving from “intent” to “content.”

Bill Ready, CEO of BrainTree, says the internet is undergoing a shift in its foundational business model because of mobile.

“For the last fifteen years, the internet was intent driven,” Ready said. “I search, I find, I buy. With mobile, we have a different way of interacting—it’s not intent driven, it’s content driven. There’s a context to the experience.”

Ready pointed out that “the promise and the threat of mobile is that the context of the experience—the one touch buy—if the device knows enough about you to serve you well, it can be magical.  The flip side is, if people don’t understand it, it goes from magic to voodoo.”

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Image courtesy of Lisa Calhoun.

About The Author

Lisa Calhoun, MBA, is founder and CEO of Write2Market, a B2B marketing and public relations company that is recently recognized among the Top 100 Agencies in the United States. She is a contributor for for Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fast Company and, and a former president of Entrepreneur’s Organization Atlanta.