TN Smart Start

By Wisty Pender • BERO615-741-8914[email protected]

Initiatives to Know About | Small businesses and DBEs

Initiatives within TNECD

  • TN Placemakers Entrepreneurship Fund

Fund is a pool of monetary resources dedicated to assisting entrepreneurs across the state create and expand their businesses.


  • Opportunity Zones

A federal economic development tool designed to spur economic development and job creation in low-income communities. (

  • Economic Gardening

Targets existing  second stage small businesses with  assistance on strategic issues and provides customized research so they can grow. (

Initiatives through Public-Private Partnership

  • Rural Opportunity Fund

Access to $18.75M in capital for loans and lines of credit ranging from $5,000 to $5 million for Tennessee’s rural small businesses. (

  • Driving Innovation

A mobile resource for youth and adults designed to create awareness and provide technical assistance for future and existing small businesses. All three platforms, theLab, theVenture and theAMP, are traveling the highways and byways of Tennessee. (

Resources| BERO resource overview

Tennessee ranks No. 2 in Small Business Friendliness.   Source: Thumbtack, 2018 Small Business Friendliness Survey  

Here’s what you’ll find…

  • Interactive guide for starting a business, including how register, referrals to entrepreneur support organizations for assistance locally, and a dynamic business model canvas, all of which are tailored to the user’s responses (TN SmartStart)
  • Static, PDF/hardcopy resources: (1) TN SmartStart™ Guide, a guide for new and existing small businesses and entrepreneurs, (2) a visual flowchart “How to Start a Business,” and (3) a blank Business Model Canvas (PDF Resources)
  • Procurement, certification, policy information and resources for small and DBE business owners (Topics in Economic Inclusion)
  • Access to current data for businesses that have employees or have no employees as well as data based on business ownership by race, ethnicity, gender and veteran status. (Dashboards)
  • Resources to help businesses and communities deliver better, with topics from advocacy to data collection, art to agriculture to tech. (Community Quick Links)
  • Funding opportunities for rural and urban core from the TN Placemakers Entrepreneurship Fund and Rural Opportunity Fund and access to resources for communities and businesses through TN SmartStart™ Communities and TN Driving Innovation mobile platforms – theLab, the Venture and theAMP (Programs & Initiatives)
  • Placemakers leverage local assets (human and natural) in a way that impacts the cultural, economic and social aspects of their community to intentionally create a good sense of place, and enhance a strong sense of community and well-being. (TN Placemaker Spotlight)
  • General information and annual reports (About BERO)


Resources| Tennessee SmartStart™

Smart Businesses Start Here

What is it?

Access to support and resources is crucial to early business success. This online tool will help you visualize your business model and connect with resources across the state.

Watch this video to learn how to use the app, and/or visit the website at  to get started now.


Business Model Canvas

Users complete a canvas that may be customized to the specific business.


It provides a simplified step-by-step guide to registering a business in Tennessee.

Tennessee SmartStart™

This is a Phase 1 of development. Resources will continue to be added and updated as well as become more localized. This tool is part of the mobile platforms (see Governor’s Rural Task Force Update) as well as the No Wrong Door/Front Door approach to reach the new and existing entrepreneurs and small business in Tennessee.

Other steps that are under consideration are soft referrals and virtual mentorship.

Looking for more inspirations? Look here.


Performance Metrics (Employer and Nonemployer and Economic Inclusion Data)


Small Business Employment

This dashboard includes employment at small businesses, job growth occurring among small businesses, and the age of Tennessee’s small businesses. The dashboard reflects private sector employers, thereby excluding nonemployers and government or other public sector organizations.


Nonemployer Firms

Businesses classifying as “nonemployers” have annual receipts of $1000 or more and are subject to federal income taxes. Most nonemployers are self-employed individuals…

The majority of all business establishments are nonemployers, but due to their small economic impact, these firms are excluded from most other federal business statistics.


Economic Inclusion of Businesses

This dashboard represents information on the economic inclusion of business owners by race, ethnicity, gender and veteran status in Tennessee. It includes data on businesses with and without employees. Data may be further sorted by industry (NAICS codes), geographic area (statewide, MSA or county) and by year (2012, 2007, 2002).


Tennessee Placemakers Entrepreneurships Funds Summary

Assists entrepreneurs and small businesses across the state create and grow businesses

Application Period

Open, rolling – it’s time for you to apply!

Contract Length:

Up to 24 months

Months 1-18: Implementation and utilization

Months 19—24: Observation period, data reporting and close-out of the grant

Total Funds Available:  $700,000

Max/Grant: $100,000

*10% match require



  • Assess and Plan: Maximum funding

Allocation: $15,000

  • Build and Sustain: Maximum funding

Allocation:  $75,000

  • Support and Train: Maximum funding

Allocation: $25,000


Eligible Applicants


Educational institutions

Nonprofit Organization – TN Main Streets, economic development organizations, Chamber of Commerce

Partnering and collaborating highly encouraged!


How to apply

Details and application can be found at

Ask questions before applying

Be sure to watch the webinars and pull down the presentations.


Opportunity Zones

Opportunity Zones are a new community development tool established by Congress in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. This new tool is designed to drive long-term capital to low-income communities. The new law provides a federal tax incentive for investors to re-invest their capital gains into Opportunity Funds, which are specialized vehicles dedicated to investing in designated low-income areas, specifically 176 census tracts.

 A tumultuous decade widened the national – and Tennessee’s – growth divide.

20 percent of the population resides in a prosperous zip code and 26 resides in a distressed one.


Tennessee Economic Gardening Initiative

Who should you refer?

To be eligible for the Tennessee Economic Gardening Initiative, participants must:

  • Be a for-profit, privately-held company that is currently headquartered and operating in the state.
  • Generate annual revenue between $500,000 and $50 million
  • Employ between 3 and 99 full-time equivalent employees.
  • Demonstrate growth in employment and / or revenue during two of the past five years.
  • Provide products or services beyond the local are to regional, national or international markets.
  • Be referred by a participating economic development or entrepreneur support organization.


Rural Opportunity Fund: Pathway Lending

Tennessee ranked No. 1 in Small Business Growth in 2017 according to PayChex

What is it?

In partnership  with the State of Tennessee and member banks of the Tennessee Bankers Association, Pathway Lending provides loans to small businesses in rural and distressed areas of the state through the Tennessee Rural Opportunity Fund. Loans and lines for credit ranging from $5,000 to $5 million for Tennessee’s rural businesses.

Why does it matter?

Access to capital…access to capital for Tennessee’s rural small businesses.

To assist companies in the retention and expansion of its operations to retain and create jobs.


TN Driving Innovation

It is a mobile program that supports economic and workforce development in Tennessee’s rural communities. Funded by the Governor’s Rural Task Force, Driving Innovation works in 55 counties across the state. TN Driving Innovation has three mobile innovation labs focused on

  • STEAM education (theLab),
  • Entrepreneurship and small business support (the Venture),and
  • Community placemaking (theAMP)
  • These mobile labs tour the state and equip rural areas to support small business owners, advance STEAM education, and enhance their community’s spaces.