Marrying Healthcare, Tech and Entrepreneurship in Nashville with Tod Fetherling
September 30, 2020 / Share:
For 10 years, the Nashville Entrepreneur Center has been the “front door” to entrepreneurship in our city, making Nashville the best place in the country to start and grow a business.
In the “Power of 10” blog post series, we’re telling the story of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center through the eyes of the entrepreneurs who built it. These 10 interviews will explore the history of the EC, and the impact it’s had on the community, building a strong foundation of entrepreneurship that made Nashville the city it is today. This is the third of 10 posts in this series; check back soon for more!
When Tod Fetherling began his work with the Nashville Technology Council, he wasn’t expecting to also have a hand in helping found the Entrepreneur Center—though to be fair, he wasn’t originally expecting to serve as president of the Tech Council, either. After selling one of his businesses in 2008, Tod was looking forward to some time off to relax and oversee a home renovation project. However, those plans changed when he got a call from Jeff Constantine, former president of the Tech Council, asking Tod if he would be interested in interviewing for the role. Upon being offered the position, Tod initially wasn’t sure if he would accept.
“It was a long night thinking about if I wanted to go work for a nonprofit, which I’d never done before,” he remembers. “But Jeff told me that it was the right time and that the city needed it, so that helped convince me.”
At the time, the Tech Council was co-located with the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, and it wasn’t too long before Chamber leaders Ralph Schulz and Janet Miller approached Tod to help them execute on a plan to build up the city’s entrepreneurial community, following a recently completed report studying the issue. Once again, it was a long night of thinking, since Tod had only recently settled into the work with the Tech Council. He ultimately decided to participate, and he, along with the other founding members of the EC team, worked tirelessly to put together a plan of action that set the stage for the EC’s launch in 2010.
For Tod, a key element of the plan was the emphasis on the EC serving as a front door for entrepreneurs in Nashville. “That’s what spoke to me as an entrepreneur—trying to raise money, start a business, attract talent—there was no place in Nashville at the time where you could go do that,” he says. And the work to build the EC couldn’t have come at a better time; according to Tod, several factors coalesced in that period, including the invigorated tech and entrepreneurial scenes, to help propel Nashville to “It City” status.
When asked about what he thinks makes Nashville special, Tod points to people’s willingness to collaborate, which he credits to the songwriting community and its roots that permeate into the healthcare and technology communities today. A sense of community, bound together by common roots and a desire to see the city succeed, is a key component of the EC and a goal to continue striving for, according to Tod. “The original vision for the EC was to bring the entrepreneur community together. And even though we may go on to something else, we always need to come back to our roots in the entrepreneurial community,” he says. By reinvesting energy and resources into the next generation of entrepreneurs, the community can keep the cycle of innovation alive.
To help do his part in keeping that entrepreneurial cycle going, Tod’s goal is to continue serving as a resource and mentor for other entrepreneurs, to help them along the way. “Several companies I’ve helped mentor or make connections for have then accelerated out of the EC and become a great success story,” he explains. “Those are the things that really make you proud.” His years in business, including starting his own companies, have helped prepare him to serve as a mentor; as he explains, years of learning—and making a few mistakes along the way—put him in a great position to advise others. After all, his most recent venture, the healthcare company Perception Health, has already grown to manage more than 28B claims and counting since being founded in 2014.
Tod explains that entrepreneurship “found him,” in a way: as the first head of interactive marketing for HCA, he was tasked with building a department and a practice in a field that was just beginning with the dawn of the internet. “We were figuring things out as we went,” he says, and that taught him a lot about how to be an entrepreneur and find success. In 2014, the opportunity presented itself to address a void he’d seen in the health data space, and he founded Perception; the rest is history.
“A previous boss had once told me, ‘whoever has the information usually wins,’ and I thought that made sense,” he says. “I looked at the internet as one big database to mine, and it’s certainly proven to be that and a lot more.”
We asked Tod: What’s your favorite memory from the early days of the EC?
“My favorite memory is probably the first day we cracked the lock on the Trolley Barns lot and walked into that place. We realized that there was a lot of work ahead of us, but also that this felt like home. There are a lot of special memories I have from those early years, but that one moment felt like it changed a lot of things.”