Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Spotlight: Nashville, TN


Nashville, known around the world as the Music City, is also known as the nation’s best area for women owned businesses with a high rank for entrepreneurial growth.

Nashville, TN, known as the Music City, is the state’s capital and most populous city. In the mid 19th century, due to steamboats accessed on the Cumberland River and railroads, Nashville became a hub for trade and enterprise. In the years to follow, after hardships centered on the Civil War and the Great Depression, the city and its people pushed forward and rebuilt. By the mid 2oth century, Nashville’s population and job market grew and prospered thanks to the manufacturing and construction industries. Nashville is an example of strength and perseverance.

It ranked 29th in the “Access to Resources” category in WalletHub’s 2019 rankings of the best cities to start a business. In 2016, the same site ranked the Nashville metropolitan area as the nation’s best for women-owned businesses.

Based on these rankings, FundingSage has reviewed the resources that makeup Nashville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem:

Entrepreneurial Meetups:

CONNECT Nashville, with over 3,000 members, is a large networking group that hosts regular events for local entrepreneurs, small business owners, and other professionals. They have networking business meetings every month.

Greater Nashville Networking is a group focused on and ran by small business owners. With over 900 members, this group encourages all forms of startup businesses to attend their multiple monthly events.

This group provides regular networking opportunities with a weekly business luncheon. Attendees are encouraged to bring business cards and given ample opportunity to ask questions and learn from seasoned entrepreneurs.

Nashville Online Entrepreneurs, with over 1,700 members, offers opportunities for those who run an internet-based business and for those who wish to learn how to start one. They focus on how best to monetize an online business with 20 differing business models as examples.

Priding themselves on a more personalized approach, Network Middle Tennessee is a group that emphasizes the importance of networking and growing a close-knit entrepreneurial community. They hold meetings multiple times a month and they are completely free.

Known as the largest REI in Tennessee, Real Estate Investors of Nashville is a nonprofit organization that gives real estate investors of varying experience levels and those just starting out a solid networking opportunity and access to helpful resources.

SCORE Nashville provides its 851 members with educational opportunities and introduces them to important business resources. They focus on educating entrepreneurs in matters such as developing business plans. identifying funding options, and marketing plans.

The ULYPMT aims to help develop young professionals through workshops, education, and community outreach. With almost 2,000 members, the ULYPMT offers monthly meetings for young and aspiring professionals.

The “Word of Mouth Entrepreneurial Networkers” organizes and hosts regular events designed to help women grow their businesses. This group primarily focuses on building a network through word of mouth referrals.

Connect Nashville Business Networking is a referral networking group with more than 1,000 members. Established in 2017, they hold events every week.


Entrepreneurial Events & Startup Competitions:

Named, for Nashville’s coordinates, 36|86 is an annual entrepreneurship and technology conference hosted in Nashville. Innovators, pioneers, investors, and visionaries come together to discuss five primary tracks: Health, Entertainment, Culture, Build and Scale.

The Nashville Chamber of Commerce hosts events for small businesses and entrepreneurs, talent development, international business resources, and investor partnerships for the year. Also included are an annual awards ceremony and several workshops and networking events.

NAWBO is a 40-year history of representing and supporting businesswomen from all backgrounds and industries propel forward in social, economic, and political spheres globally. The Nashville branch of the National Association of Women Business Owners hosts monthly networking events in addition to hosting other events and workshops.

The Nashville Business Journal hosts a variety of events every month. They are intended to recognize industry leaders and to promote professional networking opportunities.

The Nashville Smart Business Dealmakers Conference is an opportunity for thousands of entrepreneurs with varying experience levels to come together to network and broaden their knowledge. This conference offers seminars ranging from investing, raising capital, and even buying and selling companies.

Lipscomb University’s Center for Entrepreneurship hosts a pitch competition with awards paid for by alumni Marty Kittrell. The event is held twice a year and is a great opportunity to find funding and support for budding business ventures.

The Business Plan Competition is MTSU’s main entrepreneurial event. Students with interests in for-profit, non-profit, social enterprise, and even corporate entrepreneurship have the opportunity to expose their ideas to potential investors.

Sponsored by the Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization and co-hosted with the Wond’ry, the Vanderbilt Flash Pitch Competition judges the contestants presented ventures based on quality presentation and investment potential.

Village 36 is a competition held every year at the 36|86 Conference in which entrepreneurs compete for a chance at the $50,000 FedEx Innovation Prize. This competition focuses on a Southeastern demographic that is often underrepresented.

Held by the Nashville Entrepreneur Week, the Catfish Tank Pitch Competition calls for the top startups in the Nashville area and offers a chance to win $10,000. Startups in all shapes and sizes are welcome, whether you’re a one-woman show, a brick-and-mortar shop, or a high-growth tech start-up.

Pitch For Good, held by the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, is a competition intended to provide more accessible entrepreneurial opportunities. They will even host thematic events to highlight varying demographics. In 2020, the event was labeled a “Black Founders Edition” in an effort to support Black and minority business founders and help increase the success rate during their first three years of launching their startup.


Co-working & Makerspaces:

Studio 615 is a versatile and inclusive working space that has indoor and outdoor workspaces ranging from 1,400 to 15,000 square feet. In addition to traditional co-working space and private offices, Center 615 also has top-of-the-line photography and video studio.

Less than 4 miles from Downtown, Collaborate Nashville offers not only convenient workspaces but the resources necessary to help a new business grow. Collaborate offers a variety of resources to entrepreneurs, including administrative support, bookkeeping, and networking opportunities.

Deavor, which offers several membership levels whether you need a space for a day, a week, or a year. Deavor also provides a wide array of amenities, prides itself on a creative community of clients.

Combines the functionality of C-level executive suites with shared office commodities to create a professional environment for entrepreneurs, startups, and corporate teams. Amenities include 24/7 access, location manager assistance, free parking, coffee and snacks, wifi, and IT support.

InDo, which stands for Inspiration Domain, provides an inspirational workplace for creative people as well as a songwriting studio available to rent. They have varying levels of membership for those looking for a temporary workspace, and those looking for the long-term.

Industrious Office’s Nashville location is The Gulch – a brand-new LEED Certified building just a few minutes from downtown. They have the capacity to accommodate businesses varying from small startups to corporate ventures.

Refinery Nashville not only offers low-cost working space, but they also provide members with networking opportunities, free WIFI, and even free refreshment along with a diverse entrepreneurial community.

WELD co-working space offers various levels of membership and access to unique spaces and a creatively stimulating atmosphere. There are varying levels of membership available.

WeWork Offices offers two co-working locations in Nashville, both of which include private offices of varying sizes available. They also provide flexible lease-agreements and all-inclusive amenities.

With multiple locations around the city of Nashville, Regus co-working space offers freelancers, part-time workers, startups, and businesses of various sizes 24/7 accessibility. Those interested in using this space can rent for mere days, or for multiple years.

Fort Houston boasts varying specialties in art, design, and creative direction. Administered by the Fort Houston Artisan Support Project, the maker spaces maintain a 45,000-square foot workshop that includes office space to rent as well as a full woodshop, print shop, metal shop, and 3D printer.

A large maker space in East Nashville opens 24/7 to members with regular free build nights and events open to the public. Founded in 2012, Make Nashville is a volunteer-led organization.

The Nashville Public Library offers a number of workshops and labs across its locations. This includes places for photography, music production, film production, and writing. They offer multiple opportunities for teens from 12-18 years old.

The Wond’ry is a unique maker space in that it has a large and various selection of tools that are available to the Vanderbilt community. From sawdering irons, bandsaws, and vinyl cutters to a photo booth, 3D printer, and even sewing machines.

3SL Workspaces is a low-cost and flexible working space that offers a customizable working environment. They also pride themselves on maintaining a multicultural business environment.


Incubators & Accelerators:

Jumpstart Foundry provides capital, networking, and education to seed-stage healthcare startups. With 93 portfolio companies across 30 states, Jumpstart values growing internal cultures and forming strong connections along with growing revenue.

The Nashville Entrepreneur Center has 4 different phases that categorize its members. These phases help to place entrepreneurs into a group that suits their needs: whether they are just starting to nurture a new venture, or are ready to invest in others.

The Nashville Business Incubation Center provides support, mentorship, programs, and classes to startups and small businesses in Middle Tennessee. They are a leading entity in business development in Middle Tennesse.

Citizen Kitchen, a food business incubator, provides those who are looking to start food-based business access to licensed kitchen space, commercial equipment, and even business support in the Nashville area. This incubator is unique in its specialized business focus.

The Greater Nashville Technology Council, NTC, began as a volunteer-led foundation with help from the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. Over the years the NTC has formed into a leader in the development of technology bases initiatives with almost 500 members.

Downtown Nashville Partnership is an accelerator that endeavors to grow and maintain local enterprise in downtown Nashville. With $6.5 billion private and public investments, more than 900 events each month, and a 23.4% increase in employment over the last 10 years, Downtown Nashville is bursting with potential for entrepreneurs of any and all experience levels.

An accelerator program for all undergraduate students at Belmont University interested in starting a business, the Belmont Accelerator offers private office space, mentoring with the Entrepreneur in Residence, and resources that are essential to turning a dream into a real and growing business.

Project Music is an accelerator that focuses on bringing together music, technology, and business together for under-supported music-based business ventures. This accelerator sets itself apart from others in its unique focus.

A four-week accelerator program that provides college students and recent graduates with entrepreneurial education and real-world experience, the Vanderbilt Summer Business Institute focuses on cultivating leadership skills and assisting budding entrepreneurs in creating their own brand.

Bunker Labs offers resources and assistance to entrepreneurs with military backgrounds. They have generated more than $800 million in revenue and over 37 new business connections made through the organization.

Incubators & Accelerators: Which Best Fits Your Needs?



Belmont’s Center for Entrepreneurship offers a number of resources and programs to help students interested in entrepreneurship as well as a B.A. degree in entrepreneurship. 75% of Belmont’s alumni business startups are still in business, with over 500 established in cities around the world.

Lipscomb’s College of Business added the Center for Entrepreneurship in 2011 to help provide students with the resources they need to succeed. While they do not have a major in entrepreneurship, they do offer a minor program.

MTSU provides a variety of resources to students and offers both a major and minor in entrepreneurship. This university focuses on the spirit that inspires entrepreneurs to take the next step towards their goals and strives to spread entrepreneurial awareness through their Blue Spark program.

As the first business school in Nashville to earn dual accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, Tennessee State University offers a variety of business-related programs of study. From majors in Business Administration, Business Information Systems,  and accounting to concentrations in Supply Chain Management, Marketing, Tourism Management, and several more.

In addition to maker spaces such as the Wond’ry and the accelerator program, Vanderbilt provides a number of other valuable resources, programs, and events to help educate and support students.

Fisk University, the oldest institution of learning in Nashville, is ranked #6  among historically black universities. While the university may not have a specific entrepreneur program, they do offer a Business Administration degree with specialized concentrations in international business relations, management, accounting, and financial economics. They also offer a Masters of Business Administration.

Nashville State Community College, which has been accredited by Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), offers an Associate’s in Applied Science in Business with concentrations in entrepreneurship, logistics, management, marketing, and retailing.


Angel Groups/VCs:

Claritas Capital Equity Group offers partnerships to both entrepreneurs and investors. They focus on technology and healthcare-oriented businesses and assist in connecting with new clientele and building strong management teams.

Founded in 1988, GCA is a private investment firm based in Nashville that works with middle-market corporations in manufacturing, distribution, and basic service companies.

LFM Capital provides investments and capital to companies with revenue from $10 to $100 million in the private industrial manufacturing and industrial services sectors. This organization has a strong interest in building long-term partnerships.

Nashville Capital Network, with more than 100 professional investors and $75 million under their management, was founded in 2003.  They focus on helping early-stage companies grow into successful, long-term ventures.

NueCura is a Nashville-based angel group that invests in early-stage companies in the healthcare industry. This organizations main goal is to mold early-stage healthcare ventures in diverse and efficient business that value innovation and integrity.

Petra Capital Partners prides itself on offering investors a unique opportunity to invest in a non-traditional way, setting the organization apart from other investor companies. In addition, they also offer a flexible and collaborative method that has proven itself successful since 1996.

Headquartered in Nashville and Dallas, Pharos seeks to provide capital to established healthcare companies in underserved markets. They are intently focused on improving patient outcomes and expanding access to healthcare.

TVV Capital is an investment firm that acquires and grows businesses in the manufacturing, distribution, and service industries. Founded in Nashville in 1997, TVV Capital focuses on U.S.-based businesses that specialize in engineering-focused and specialty products.

Sheltowee Angel Network is a syndicate of angel groups that spans Nashville, Knoxville, and Louisville that focuses on technology, SaaS, medical devices, biotech/life sciences, digital / web media, financial, energy, and clean technology industries.

Founded in 2009, TriStar Health Partners have helped to create 23 businesses in healthcare. This investor organization is run by professionals with multiple decades of experience and have seen lucrative financial returns from their investments.

Screening Meeting with the Angel Group: Are You Prepared?


Entrepreneurial Newsletter Coverage:

Nashville has a branch of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, which is a large worldwide network of entrepreneurship. They also offer a newsletter and a peer-network with more than 14,000 influential business owners.

In addition to providing entrepreneurs with resources and education, Launch Tennessee also offers a weekly newsletter covering entrepreneurial news. They are partnered with organizations across the state of Tennessee focused on economic growth such as Nashville Entrepreneur Center, The Bix Foundry, and others.

The Nashville Entrepreneur Center offers a weekly newsletter to keep entrepreneurs in the area up-to-date. They focus on events and resources such as the NEXT awards, weekly events, alumni events, mentorships, and more.

Startup Southerner focuses on the dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem of the South. It highlights on Technology and Makers in the region and offers a regularly posted newsletter.

The Nashville Business Journal offers a free newsletter and stays up-to-date on a variety of news. From job searches, sale prospecting, and even networking events in the area, this platform has detailed accounts on the cities play-by-play.

The Nashville Post has a large variety of news-related information to access. Not only do they report the latest business-related events, but they also have a specified section dedicated to entrepreneurship in the area.

Venture Nashville Connections is a news outlet that focuses on advocating for small tech startups in the Nashville area. They even maintain a calendar marking important tech events.

More than 150,000 Tennesseans access the wealth of news coverage provided by the Tennessee Tribune. They have many focused sections based on your needs, specifically a business section that breaks down even further to local business updates.

A peer network exclusively offered to entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurs Organization has been in operations for more than 25 years. Members are kept up to date on local startups, events, surveys, and so much more.

Are you familiar with the entrepreneurial ecosystem infrastructure in Nashville not included in the article above?  If so, let us know via a comment, and we will add it to the article. 

Interested in Ecosystem Spotlights of other cities in the USA?

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Article by Quinn Pilkey

Quinn Pilkey

Quinn is a journalism major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He also serves as a freelance author for Hashtag Basketball where he writes about the NBA's Charlotte Hornets and at FundingSage where he researches and writes about entrepreneurial ecosystems.