MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Sept. 16, 2020) – Epicenter announced today that Leslie Lynn Smith, founding president and CEO, is stepping down to lead a new national technology initiative.
Smith has been selected as the national director for Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities, an initiative designed to accelerate the representation and leadership of women in tech through the development of inclusive tech hubs across the United States. GET Cities is led by SecondMuse and Break Through Tech in partnership with Pivotal Ventures, the investment and incubation company created by Melinda Gates.
“Leslie has not only exceeded our expectations in creating the conditions necessary for an equitable and thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, but she has also developed the teams and architecture necessary for its perpetuation,” said David Waddell, chair, Epicenter Board of Directors. “Leslie catalyzed this major movement forward for Memphis and has, unsurprisingly, attracted national attention for it. While Memphis will surely miss her, I cannot wait to see what she can do on a national stage. Godspeed Leslie Smith!”
Epicenter’s Board of Directors have appointed Jessica Taveau, previously the organization’s chief brand officer, as interim president and chief executive officer. The leadership team – Russell Ingram, chief operating officer; Jan Bouten, partner at Innova and chief investment officer; Regina Ann Campbell, chief program officer; and Fayre Crossley, chief grants and compliance officer – will remain in place, and there are no further recruitment plans at this time.
Under Smith’s leadership since 2015, Epicenter, the region’s nonprofit entrepreneurship hub, has helped launch or scale more than 540 companies and supported nearly 1,100 entrepreneurs, 60% of whom identify as Black, which mirrors the demographics of the City of Memphis. She and her team have also: raised more than $70 million in local and national funding for capital and entrepreneur support services; piloted and expanded programs to fill gaps in the local ecosystem; convened and collaborated with regional partners who support a variety of business owners, creators, and students; and connected the Memphis ecosystem to national startup and small business policy discussions. More information about the organization’s impact under Smith’s leadership is available in Epicenter’s 2019 Annual Report or its 2018 Impact Report (2015-2018), VITAL.
“Leading the team at Epicenter, working with and within our community, and supporting the vibrant and creative entrepreneurs in Memphis has been some of the most personally fulfilling and impactful work I’ve done in my career,” said Smith. “Most of all, I hope our efforts have and will continue to positively change the way entrepreneurs equitably access resources and contribute to a growing economy. Even amid our current uncertainty, with entrepreneurs leading the way, and with our team and partners continuing to strengthen the environment where businesses can launch and grow successfully, Memphis has a bright future. I look forward to ongoing collaboration with the partners and friends I’ve made in Memphis as we collectively march toward justice, equality, and the fulfillment of our full human potential.”
Smith will transition to her new role on October 1 and will remain on the Epicenter Board of Directors Transition Committee through the end of 2020.
Epicenter leads the connected and collaborative entrepreneur ecosystem in the Memphis area. Using a systems approach, Epicenter drives strategy and measures impact among a network of economic development, academic, corporate, and government partners to increase support to new and existing tech startups, creative and community-based businesses, student entrepreneurs, and others across industries and stages of growth. Epicenter and its partners connect these entrepreneurs and their innovative ideas to programming, capital, customers, and talent in order to create a just, inclusive, and growing economy that accrues to all Memphians. More information is at epicentermemphis.org.