TENNESSEE Technology Development Corporation (TTDC), the public-private partnership devoted to tech-driven economic development, may be reaching another inflection point.
The 14-year-old organization with a New Economy-oriented mission was created in 1998, during the Administration of then-Gov. Don Sundquist (R). Since then, TTDC has repeatedly faced budget uncertainties, politics and turbulence, as reported in recent years by VNC.
Now, an issue that has always been in the background for TTDC could eventually come to the fore: The need to seek philanthropic support and new sources of income; going forward, TTDC seems unlikely to rely as heavily on funding flowing from the General Assembly via Tennessee Economic & Community Development, led within the Haslam Adminstration by ECD Commissioner and TTDC Chairman Bill Hagerty.
During last week's meeting of the TTDC board of directors, Hagerty, who does not strike observers as someone given to casual utterances between the gavels, lightly mentioned the notion of TTDC needing to address the issue of self-sufficiency as it continues its long-running collaborative effort with ECD to develop a new, or at least updated strategic plan.
Occasionally over the years, the self-sufficiency topic has given rise both to cautiously optimistic comments about the likelihood of success of any such efforts, as well as expressions of concern regarding TTDC being placed in the position of competing with other nonprofits -- some of whom are its constituents -- thereby leaving program funding subject to the vagaries of the philanthropic marketplace.
Asked for her reaction to the resurfacing of the notion of TTDC turning to non-ECD sources for underwriting of its programs, TTDC President Leslie Wisner-Lynch told VNC this morning via e-mail, "Increasing alignment of the innovation-focused initiatives of ECD and TTDC has provided our organizations with an important opportunity to determine the most effective way to organize, invest in and coordinate these initiatives that are key to expanding Tennessee's innovative business base and the jobs they create. I look forward to working with Commissioner Hagerty and members of the TTDC board over the next several weeks to explore these options, including funding, and finalize a plan that will emphasize Tennessee's long-term commitment to supporting a strong innovation economy."
In a recent written report to her board, Wisner-Lynch said, in part, that "the increased goal of alignment and coordination" has helped produce a "growing relationship" with ECD; and, she noted that TTDC's financial support from ECD "should be finalized by mid-February."
After a year of getting acquainted with the very hands-on management style of Hagerty's ECD, TTDC has regained a degree of the budget visibility it had lost during a 2010 management shakeup and subsequent Bredesen-to-Haslam control of state government reins.
Wisner-Lynch reminded VNC that TTDC ended-up with a [corrected] $2.2 million allocation form ECD covering the two-year period, F2011-12. TTDC also expects soon to sign a $1 million contract that is designed to span five full years of operations, through which TTDC will administer the Haslam-Hagerty INCITE co-investment fund, as previously reported by VNC. INCITE application forms remain in development, and their release seems imminent.
TTDC received $431,000 from ECD during 1H F2011; at the end of 1H, TTDC assets stood at $190,000, according to management's report to the TTDC board.
TTDC's INCITE role was again scrutinized last week by the TTDC board, with several members continuing to urge caution regarding ensuring the adequacy of the contract's value and performance expectations, as well as such issues as litigation risk, which the group decided was a non-trivial, but manageable issue.
Along with the rest of state government, TTDC will navigate the General Assembly's budgeting process now underway; and, TTDC may not know its precise budget fate til late summer. Thus, as with actual state agencies, the future funding of TTDC's tech maturation, tech transfer, capital-development and commercialization and entrepreneurship initiatives remains uncertain. Wisner-Lynch declined to comment on current budget deliberations.
Meanwhile, TTDC has begun planning to support Gov. Bill Haslam's April 26-27, 2012, state innovation conference, to be held in Nashville.
In addition, TTDC staff reported to the board that it expects by March 31 to have "a fully functional innovation portal prototype" available for demonstration by March 31, 2012. Delivery of such a prototype has been expected from contractor Cumberland Center, which is allied with MyWerx, a Nashville intellectual property management mobile/SaaS startup, as previously reported by VNC.
TTDC reported that among those consulted regarding the portal's criteria were seven executives identified as based in the Nashville area; two from Memphis; and, one-each from Chattanooga, Knoxville, Oak Ridge and Johnson City. VNC