2024 Leaders Program Cohort Announced!

April 15, 2024, 9:04am EDT

By Rachel Cronin

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, fostering entrepreneurship is vital for economic growth and societal progress. Recognizing the importance of cultivating innovation, the Partnership’s newest initiative, its Leaders Program, is geared towards fostering vibrant hubs for startups and fostering economic growth through enhancing community leaders and entrepreneurial ecosystem networks.

At its heart, entrepreneurial ecosystems are an innovative concept, serving as complex networks of interconnected elements that support and nurture startups. These elements, sourced from public, private and community-focused industries, include universities, incubators, investors, mentors and more. Uniting reputable leaders from these sectors across the region creates a powerful foundation for resilient and widespread entrepreneurial ecosystems.

The Partnership’s Leadership Program is crafted to set itself apart from all existing leadership programs. One of its unique qualities is its approach in challenging innovators to develop community-based public-private teams with a project that encourages localized economic development. After further challenging applicants through its rigorous application process, the Partnership is proud to announce its selection of the four championing teams of community innovators in the 2024 Leaders Program.

The Albany, Georgia team will develop an entrepreneurial support center, focusing on utilizing the collective efforts of the community to develop best practices in relevant entrepreneurial training and resources. Through this, it will create an entrepreneurial support center within its downtown sector. Tonita McKnight, a spearheading leader of the Albany team, said, “The PIN Leadership Program presents a transformative opportunity for both personal growth and community impact. I foresee it sharpening my leadership skills while fostering collaboration and innovation for a resilient and thriving community.”

The Montgomery, Alabama team will develop an entrepreneurial support center focused on small business development. Its Small Business One Stop Shop (SBOSS) will gather thought leaders and resources from a diverse combination of nonprofits, government agencies and consultants within the area, providing both an online platform and a place-based resource for businesses within the area.

Jennifer Anderson, a major actor in the innovation community of Montgomery, said “This initiative stands to catalyze the development of Montgomery’s entrepreneurial and innovation landscape through an inclusive approach, ensuring broad-based community benefits. For me, it’s an opportunity to learn practical skills and best practices in leading such initiatives. The program’s structured framework, encompassing team-based collaboration, applied learning and expert guidance, aligns with our objectives to foster economic resilience and prosperity. It is a pragmatic pathway towards achieving sustained economic growth and innovation within our community.”

The Tennessee-Kentucky regional team, composed of innovators from Kentucky Commercialization Ventures and the Tennessee Technology Advancement Consortium, will establish a technology transfer office, serving as a foundation of centralized resources for universities and their researchers within smaller communities throughout the two states.

Chuck Layne, a statewide innovator serving as the Tennessee team lead, said, “This Partnership program offers a tremendous opportunity to elevate Tennessee’s technology transfer landscape. By collaborating with established entities like Kentucky Commercialization Ventures, we can expand access to innovation resources for underserved universities within our state. Furthermore, this program fosters broader Southeast partnerships, allowing us to learn from each other and leverage the expertise of Kentucky, Georgia, and other participating communities. This collaborative approach holds immense potential to benefit not just Tennessee, but the entire Southeast region.”

The Thomasville, Georgia team will establish the city’s first Community Development Loan Fund (CDLF), which will provide opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs within the city and its surrounding communities.

Willie Allen, an integral leader in the Georgia education and innovation community, said the program “will serve as a beacon of transformation for Thomasville and Thomas County, igniting a wave of progress and prosperity across our communities. It will lay the foundation for a more inclusive innovative ecosystem, empowering us to address local challenges with global solutions. For my personal leadership development, this program will be a crucible, refining my skills, expanding my vision and deepening my commitment to fostering an environment where every voice is heard, and every idea has the potential to spark change.”

The 2024 Leaders Program, masterfully crafted by Jamal Lewis, brings together carefully chosen partners to offer innovation training from renowned national thought leaders, site visits of reputable local innovation hubs and opportunities for peer learning, creating a well-rounded and impactful experience for community-up economic development.

The collective efforts of the developers, facilitators and selected teams are promising factors for transformative and impactful outcomes of both individuals and communities, a resonating theme amongst the leaders’ individually submitted responses regarding their involvement in the program. The teams will convene in Atlanta for the opening ceremony in the next coming month, where the entrepreneurial network building will begin. To learn more about the selected communities and their skilled cohort of teammates, visit the project pages and team portfolios.

Albany, Georgia 2024 Leaders Team
Tennessee Kentucky Regional Team - 2024 Leaders Program
Thomasville, Georgia 2024 Leaders Team

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