But, as the summit created by Launch Tennessee kicked off, she had what she describes as a "field of dreams" moment, determining that this was the event that she wanted her startup publication to fully embrace as a destination conference.
So, a year later, PandoDaily and Launch Tennessee are co-producing Southland, both with high expectations for its second year. For Launch Tennessee CEO Charlie Brock, it's a chance to prove last year's strong debut wasn't a "one-shot wonder" and to further catapult the Southeast's startup community onto the national stage. For Lacy, it means being able to create what she envisions as an ideal conference for entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts nationally.
"Nashville is such a special city and is in such a special moment right now, and I think the tech world wants a new destination conference," Lacy said. "The goal is to put on a really great event this year and make that event a little bit better next year and a little bit better the next year."
Launch Tennessee created the concept for Southland last year to bring attention to the region's startup activity and to give Southeast startups more access to investors that have typically looked to the West and East coasts for opportunities. Scheduled days ahead of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, the conference also highlights elements of Southern culture — barbecue, whiskey, jazz and country roots — that regional entrepreneurs have helped establish or capitalized on over the decades.
"It helps put a stamp on Tennessee and, in particular, Nashville, as a place where there is a lot happening, where there is a center of activity in entrepreneurship and in the early! -stage capital scene," Brock said, whose conference drew close to 650 people last year. "At the end of the day, we are doing this to attract investors to look at our companies so they can help fill that capital gap."
Lacy has been attending and planning tech conferences worldwide for 15 years while writing for Businessweek, TechCrunch and, now, PandoDaily, and the 2014 Southland format is based on her observations over the years of what works well — and what doesn't.Al Gore: Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore sits on the board of Apple and was a senior adviser to Google. He is also co-founder and chairman of Generation Investment Management, a senior partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and chairman of the Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit devoted to solving the climate crisis. (Photo: FILE) Fullscreen David Marcus: He founded GTN Telecom and served as chairman and CEO until 2000, when it was acquired by World Access. He also founded Echovox, a mobile monetization company, and Zong, a mobile payments provider for gaming and social networking companies. After Zong was acquired by eBay/PayPal in 2011, Marcus became vice president and general manager of the mobile division of PayPal. In April 2012, he became president of PayPal. (Photo: SUBMITTED) Fullscreen Phil Libin: Serving as Evernote's CEO since 2007, Libin is an entrepreneur and executive who has led two Internet companies from the very beginning to proven commercial success and helped three others through rapid growth. (Photo: SUBMITTED) Fullscreen Christy Turlington Burns: With nearly 30 years at the forefront of the fashion industry, having graced every magazine cover from Vogue to Time, Christy Turlington Burns has established a diverse career as a model, writer, entrepreneur, spokeswoman, advocate and filmmaker. She founded Every Mother Counts, a nonprofit dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother, after her own childbirth complication. (Photo: SUBMITTED) Fullscreen Andy Dunn: He co-founded Bonobos Inc., a men's clothing company, in 2007. He launched Maide, an online pro shop for classic golf apparel, under Bonobos Inc. in 2013. He is also co-founder of Red Swan Ventures, which has invested in Birchbox, Warby Parker, Hailo and more. (Photo: SUBMITTED) Fullscreen Like this topic? You may also like these photo galleries:ReplayAutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext Slide
For starters, that means no panels — they're boring, Lacy explains — and only one session at time, because multi-track venues mean attendees inevitably miss good content. Instead of keynote speeches, the conference will feature two-sided conversations with a star-studded lineup of guest speakers.
As part of the conference, a group of 10 companies will vie for $100,000 in equity that is provided from the investors judging the competition, putting more skin in the game for judges, and thus more engagement, Lacy said. More than 40 companies, including four from Nashville, will be able to demonstrate their products as part of the conference's "Southland Village."
The event, which will be held at Marathon Music Works from June 9-11, will also include "salon sessions" during which attendees, paying $1,500 for tickets, will be able to interact with guest speakers in smaller, informal groups.
In describing the value of this type of conference, Lacy points to South by Southwest, the music and tech eve! nt that n! ow draws more than 70,000 people to Austin, Texas, and has put Austin on the map as one of the most vibrant tech and startup cities in the United States.
"Austin actually hasn't yielded very many high-growth, huge startups, but there is an amazing creative class there," Lacy said. "What they've done very well is they had SXSW grow year after year so that basically everyone in the tech industry at some point has gone through Austin... We have seen in every place that had a big destination conference like this, there is a massive brand and halo effect that makes investors and developers and entrepreneurs willing to get on a plane, willing to think about that place as a place where they could build something or fund something."
The idea is not to replicate South by Southwest, and Southland has intentionally limited its attendance to close to 700 this year to ensure quality networking opportunities for attendees and startup groups seeking to interact with investors and speakers, Brock said.
While Nashville still has a ways to go in establishing its business dynamism beyond its health care legacy, Lacy said the city that always seemed to be constantly changing its brand has grown on her.
"It's very clear that, whether it has been an opportunistic move or not, Nashville is very in touch with its roots and what makes it distinct right now," Lacy said.