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Tech Founder Community: Nashville

I'm forming a community to enable and encourage engineers turned entrepreneurs.

A few weeks ago, I asked on LinkedIn why there aren’t more companies in the Southeast started by engineers. It prompted a lot of great conversations both online and offline. The tl;dr: I’m starting a group in Nashville for engineers-turned-entrepreneurs. You can sign up or read more about the details at techfounder.community.

What is the Tech Founder Community?

Taken from the website:

The goal of this community is to encourage and enable engineers to leverage their technical and domain expertise to build a thriving business. We do this by connecting interested folks in local networks with peers, mentors, advisors, and maybe even capital.

Nashville already has a lot of startup-type groups. Why one more?

The short version: existing support networks in Nashville do not target engineering audiences.

Nashville does have a lot of great things going for it. Programs like the Nashville Entrepreneur Center Pre-Flight and Inflight programs are really great ways to support growing businesses. However, this tends to support either business development types (think MBA graduates) or domain experts. This tends to lead to a lot of business founders looking for “technical co-founders”, often in exchange for sweat equity1.

There’s also a very active engineering community in Nashville. Many of them have either launched their own business or have considered doing so. According to one survey from Packt in 2018, 1 in 3 software developers hope to found their own company.

The phenomenon of engineer-turned-entrepreneur is embraced in many coastal cities, but this simply isn’t the case in middle America. I want to change that, at least for Nashville, by providing a peer support network, veteran mentors, and more. We can leverage existing infrastructure (like the EC) where appropriate but focus on enabling and encouraging folks with a technical background.

What makes you think you’re qualified to host this group?

  • I’m both an engineer and entrepreneur. I started writing software professionally in 2000, and started my first company in 2004. I co-founded Stratasan in 2011, grew it to about 100 people, and then exited in 2022.
  • I’m a big fan of the “open concept” meetups. I was an active participant in OpenCoffee circa 2008 (that’s me in the center of a photo on Fred Wilson’s blog). I’ve seen how useful these informal groups can be in encouraging an ecosystem of peer support.
  • I have experience managing communities. In fact, I met my wife on such a community (that I started) back in the mid-90s (that’s some nerd-cred, right?). When I moved from engineer to manager, I started a monthly breakfast group for engineers-turned-managers ten years ago.

Why now, in 2024?

  • The macroeconomic big picture.
    • We’re in a weird time. The tech economy is struggling. Due to lay-offs, a lot of engineers have some free time on their hands. Some of them have fairly nice severance packages. What better time to dip your toes into entrepreneurship?
    • With all of the tech lay-offs, many of us are wondering how we can control our own destiny. You’ve poured your heart into a company. The upside is the company does well and you make someone else a lot of money. The downside is you get unceremoniously cut when the economy lags (or management makes poor decisions).2 “Job stability” is not so much, so you might as well roll the dice and potentially see some upside.
    • Economic slowdowns are the time to start a company!
  • COVID19 made many re-evaluate what they’re doing. Some have chosen to prioritize lifestyle changes (reduced working hours). Few companies are willing to hire folks at less than 40 hours a week, so that narrows options down to starting your own thing.

I’m interested, where do I sign up?

If you’re interested and in Nashville, go to the Tech Founder Community website and find the “Sign up” link. You’ll also find additional information on the vision for this and the approach I’m taking.

  1. Given that an experienced software developer can (often) bring home a six figure salary, sweat equity often does not make sense. An experienced software developer still has overhead expenses to pay (housing, healthcare, etc). ↩︎

  2. I have had a lot of conversations with entrepreneurs who worked under poor management and it made them think, “I could do better job running a company than these knuckleheads.” Prove it! ↩︎

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