Event Recap: 3686 Fest Hosted by Launch TN

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October 11, 2022

Written by:

Margo Norton (Cogliano)


Last week, attendees from all over gathered in Nashville to connect, learn from some of the heaviest-hitting fund managers in the space and celebrate the progress and potential of those supporting Nashville’s growth.

Those who opted for the LaunchTN Connect pass were engaged in 1:1 meetings, which was a great opportunity for founders, investors, and corporate partners to connect before and during the event. The Launch Tennessee office was packed and buzzing with excitement.

Attendees were invited to a Founder Happy Hour at Tennessee Brew Works while others were invited to a Happy Hour at Cecret Gallery and a reception at the Soho House.

Don Merriman, Founder of Bordeaux Laboratories, and I spoke about the work he is doing to bring more awareness to diabetes and his development of everyday solutions for diabetics. Liz Bennet of the Holston Business Development Center and I discussed the growth and development in Kingsport and the Northeast area of Tennessee. I also spoke to Joel Kaiser, CEO & Founder of SpokeTek about his vision of a world where everyone can instantly become their own interpreter and connect regardless of the language that they speak.


The main stage for 3686 was housed at Marathon Music Works, an incredible venue inside what used to be Marathon Motor Works. The act of repurposing a building and reinventing it as a space where generations to come can enjoy it is a testament to the city’s desire to continue to grow while utilizing existing resources.  On day 2, there were 10 panels in total, some overlapping which allowed attendees to customize their day.

Chris McAdoo kicked things off with his opening remarks, speaking to attendees about flipping the script of the “No,” and emphasizing the power of “YES.” Launch TN published a fantastic article recapping the panel if you are interested to read more here.


Marlon Nichols sat down with Morgan DeBaun, CEO and Founder of Blavity Inc, for a discussion surrounding acquisitions, how to select the group to grow with, and how to retain talent.

Morgan’s success exemplifies that staying true to your brand and not just doing something because others are, is critical.  When it comes to selecting the group to grow with, the practical advice that was offered is that you need to be a realist and identify what you are good at, what you need to succeed, and who can fill those gaps. In creating your team, Morgan noted that it is important to be honest with one another about personal goals and business goals so you can continue to drive forward together.


In lieu of heading into the Metaverse, I opted to head across the street to the Foundry to hear Finix’s Chief Growth Officer, Jareau Wadé, moderate a discussion about the challenges of growth with some heavy hitting founders: Shani Dowell of Possip, Alex Steinman of The Coven, Lauren Glass of makeaRPL, George Yu of Variable, Inc., and Laurel Orley of Daily Crunch Snacks.

Jareau did an incredible job navigating topics such as hiring, navigating workforces, what to look for in investors, why it’s OK to say no to money, and finding technical talent. Common themes of being a founder were that you are your best salesperson, the importance of keeping a level head, and the ability to lean on your support system for help. Alex Steinman stressed the importance of getting feedback from users on what they want before and as they create. Lauren Glass commented that you need to be able to identify your shortcomings and partner with people that complement those areas.


Alto’s Eric Satz broke the ice by having everyone in attendance introduce themselves to 2 people; it was a great way to get the crowd engaged and ready to settle in after a hearty lunch. Panelists included: Charlie Brock of Brock Partnerships, Josh Payne of Amplify.LA, Eric Bahn of Hustle Fund, and Kim Seals of The JumpFund.

Topics included: what the group looked for when investing and the decision-making process; if the entrepreneur or the market held more weight in their decision; preferred stage to invest; what messages to include when passing on an investment; how ROI expectations may differ from the lens of a GP vs Angel investing; advice to companies in this eco-system; what questions founders should be asking GPs; how to connect in an effective way; if there can be conflicts of interest as an angel and a GP; and lessons learned from passed over investments.


Stuart McWhorter of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and Vanessa Presson of Ford Motor Company discussed Blue Oval City, a new manufacturing facility under development, and the goals that the state and company are working towards together.

Many factors drew Ford to the area, notably Tennessee’s business-friendly approach, the availability of skilled workers, the size of the space, and continued infrastructure investments that made the area marketable and attractive.


Khrys Hatch of Launch Tennessee brought his a-game in moderating this discussion with a group of incredible investors: Samara Hernandez of Chingona Ventures, Ian Rountree of Cantos, McKeever (Mac) Conwell, II of RareBreed Ventures, Sydney Thomas of Impressionism Capital, and Aia Sarycheva of Bessemer Venture Partners

Panelists discussed how founders can plan for a raise, how much and how long founders should plan for, predictions for the future, advice for bringing on customers, how to frame conversations when pitching, and how to stay focused. Mac commented that we are back to the old normal with fundraising, an exciting sentiment. In terms of planning, Samara and Ian suggested prioritizing what you need to get to your next milestone, not just your next raise, so you can prove your thesis and show that there is a path to revenue. The panelists agreed that founders need to have a pulse on the customer base and the more community engagement/involvement you can have the better.

Sydney’s closing thoughts really hit home for me: To stay focused, remember that your job is a big part of your life but not the only part. Sydney mentioned that she was leaving tonight’s event a little early to hop on a zoom call with family and friends – an authentic and friendly reminder that doing what feeds you personally allows you to be more focused professionally.


Following a long day of incredible panels, attendees switched to party mode to celebrate the launch of the $70M BuildTN fund for Tennessee’s startups and investors, where I met Justin Gray of Potluck, Inc. Cristina Pimentel of Universal Music Group and reconnected with Joel Kaiser and Liz Bennet.

Immediately following, Mark Flicklinger and Tami McQueen of Panoramic Ventures served as MCs for the exciting final round of the Startup Showdown Pitch Competition.

Guest investor judges included: Marlon Nichols of MaC Venture Capital, Haley Zapolski (Zap) of Jumpstart Foundry, Derrick Morgan of KNGDM Group, Chris Sloan of Baker Donelson, and William Hsu of Mucker Capital.

Judges were tasked with the difficult job of picking between 4 fantastic up-and-coming companies:

  • Arvo, a visual documentation knowledge suite helping to recreate business process documentation;
  • Care Sherpa, a consumer engagement platform that is bringing high-touch customer service back to heathcare;
  • Daba, a financial platform that allows investors to invest in African private and public capital markets;
  • Slip Bot, a company that has leveraged artificial intelligence to automatically organize and document files for reinsurance underwriters.
  • Venu, a company hoping to streamline ticketing purchases for consumers.

Although all were strong candidates, Slipbot was crowned the winner and took home the night’s $120,000 prize. Congratulations to Slipbot and the other founders, it was an incredible event!


Launch Tennessee’s goal is to empower Tennessee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and make #TN a startup-friendly state. After meeting members of the Launch Team, Chamber of Commerce, incubators, supporters, and entrepreneurs, I can wholeheartedly say that they are successfully achieving this goal.  To Monique Villa and the LaunchTN team, congratulations on a successful event! I look forward to tracking your success and watching Nashville continue to grow and evolve in the coming years!


Vector AIS is a next-generation fund administrator and technology company for closed-end investment funds.

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