36|86 Director Lindsey Cox takes us behind the scenes of LaunchTN’s upcoming festival to highlight what makes 36|86 vital for entrepreneurs of all stages and backgrounds.
One of the most anticipated events for entrepreneurs across the Southeast is right around the corner. From Aug. 28–29, founders, innovators, and industry leaders from across the US will come together for two days of connection, dialogue, and cutting-edge programming at LaunchTN’s annual 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival.
We sat down with 36|86 Director Lindsey Cox to discuss what sets 36|86 apart among entrepreneurship and tech events, to revisit some key conversations with past 36|86 attendees, and to preview the programming planned for this year’s festival.
Foregrounding diversity to empower founders
Named for Nashville’s coordinates, 36|86 represents the convergence of an entrepreneurial community. Cox and her team have worked hard to make sure that all the voices of that community are welcomed and represented. “We want every person in the audience to look up on that stage and see themselves reflected back,” Cox explained.
Last year’s programming comprised 50% women and minority speakers, and this year the festival will exceed that figure.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing those anecdotal stories about how there’s actually a line for the [women’s] bathroom at our event,” Cox quipped, “which never happens, apparently, at other tech conferences.”
36|86 has also established a Scholarship for Underrepresented Founders. The program began last year, when FedEx gave 104 entrepreneurs the opportunity to attend the festival at no cost.
Courtney Hale, Chief Hope Dealer at Knowledge Bank, was one such attendee. “I truly believe in creating pathways to get more people to experience the benefits of entrepreneurship,” he said at last year’s festival. “We need more small business owners, and we need to be more intentional about creating those opportunities that encourage and promote and prepare more small business owners.”
An event designed for making connections
It takes a village to raise a startup. As former Dorm Room Fund CEO and 36|86 speaker Rei Wang said at last year’s festival, “It’s really helpful to be able to talk to another entrepreneur who’s already gone through that process, and have them share their best practices and lessons-learned with you.”
36|86 is designed for networking. “There really is an ability for attendees to connect with the speakers,” Cox noted. “We don’t have many people that just come in for their session and leave, which we’ve definitely seen at other events.”
One of the things that allows 36|86 attendees and speakers to connect is the festival’s multi-venue format. “We do multiple programming pieces across multiple venues, so you’re moving throughout the day,” Cox explained. “You’re not just butt-in-seat, connecting with the people who are immediately around you. You are constantly in motion, leading to more and more connections.”
This approach also gives 36|86 attendees a chance to experience some of Nashville’s iconic venues. This year’s sites include Wildhorse Saloon, Acme Feed and Seed, B.B. King’s, and, new to 36|86, Ole Red.
“It’s just a different way to experience Nashville and it’s definitely a different way to experience a technology and entrepreneurship event,” Cox said.
An ever-evolving experience
Each year, LaunchTN forges creative partnerships and builds upon past festivals to ensure that 36|86 is always an exciting, cutting-edge event. This year’s festival features several new elements, including a fully integrated 36|86 Student Edition.
“In the past [36|86 Student Edition]’s been a separate event on a separate day — it still had great components to it, but it wasn’t really fully incorporated,” Cox said. “So we are incorporating it this year into 36|86 proper.”
This year’s Student Edition will feature conversations with speakers like HBCUvc CEO Hadiya Mujhid, Venture for America CEO Amy Nelson, and Overtime President Zach Weiner, as well as a Student Pitch Competition, where $60,000 in prizes will be awarded to Tennessee-based student companies.
“Though [Student Edition] is dedicated to student founders,” Cox said, “I really think the programming pieces are going to appeal outside of that.”
36|86 is built to fuel innovators and equip entrepreneurs to thrive at every stage in their journey. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran of the entrepreneurial ecosystem or a student with a big idea, be sure to join us.