New TechColumbus CEO talks startups, young people, job creation

Though Tom Walker hadn’t lived in the capital city prior to starting his job as CEO of TechColumbus, he was familiar with it.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in aerospace and mechanical engineering from the University of Oklahoma, Walker launched his career at Columbus-based Battelle, where he was a research scientist and then a business development manager in an Oklahoma branch of the private non-profit.

Walker left Battelle to join i2E, a technology business incubator in Oklahoma. In 2007, he became its CEO.

During one of Walker’s early trips to Columbus, he met with with a group of more than a dozen entrepreneurs, and was impressed by the group’s commitment and passion, as well as their experience with starting and growing businesses.

“Columbus has a very passionate and motivated entrepreneurial community that deserves more attention and support,” says Walker, who has an MBA from Oklahoma City Univerisity. “There is great opportunity in our region for entrepreneurs to grow and succeed.”

To learn what Walker wants to share with Central Ohio’s young people, why he thinks the region can become a nationally recognized entrepreneurial economy, and what he likes to do in his spare time, keep reading.

The Metropreneur: What do you believe your role is at TechColumbus?

Tom Walker: My priority is to lead the company’s efforts in designing and providing services to high-growth startup entrepreneurs in our region, closing the access to capital gap for startups, and building a culture of high-growth entrepreneurship that leads to jobs and wealth creation.

[M]: When began your tenure as TechColumbus CEO in August, what did you want to do immediately?

TW: For me, the passion around entrepreneurship and supporting startup companies from all the community leaders I have met is very compelling. That passion shaped my approach to analyzing the TechColumbus programs to figure out how we can best deploy our resources to expand our support of the region’s entrepreneurs.

[M]: Are there any initiatives or programs at TechColumbus that you’re especially excited about?

TW: I’m excited about the new services that we will be bringing to the area’s entrepreneurs. We will deliver an expanded Executive-In-Residence program, including the types of targeted expertise that many startups need, but can’t really afford. For example, we will offer CFO-in-Residence services for startups that are in our portfolio.

I’m also very excited about how we integrate young people into our mission, so that early in their careers they can experience what it is like to be part of an entrepreneurial adventure. TechColumbus understands the benefits of being part of small, high-growth entrepreneurial businesses. We want to share that understanding with our young people and seed the spirit of entrepreneurship.

We want to share the responsibility of showing our college and university graduates  that Columbus is a great place to start and grow a business or that it’s a region rich in exciting  job opportunities in startup companies.

[M]: Recently, it was announced that TechColumbus was awarded $7.74 million by the state’s Third Frontier Commission. How will those funds be used?

TW: The Ohio Third Frontier is an important partner for TechColumbus in the support that we provide entrepreneurs.  The funding that we receive through the Third Frontier is matched by local partners and allows us to analyze and work with early innovations with the goal of starting businesses in our region.

[M[]: What are your primary long-term goals for TechColumbus?

TW: Columbus has the resources, momentum, technology base, and human talent to become a nationally recognized entrepreneurial economy, a standout region where advanced technology startups gain traction and grow, where we find efficient ways to commercialize technologies from academia and our outstanding research institutions, where we create net new high paying jobs.

TechColumbus will be a catalyst for these activities, leveraging the skills and resources of our organization in collaboration with the other excellent private and public sector organizations that are committed to grow a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem. TechColumbus will play a vital role in making that a reality.

[M]: Is there anything else you think we should know?

TW: I like baseball, fly fishing, and play the guitar. I’m fascinated by space exploration and travel.

I strongly believe that federal investment in the Small Business Innovation Research program can be a tremendous enabler for scientific discovery. I believe that angel investors are a vital asset class and absolute requirement for every region’s innovation economy.

I know that carefully structured state and federal incentives can encourage appropriate investment in early stage ventures. I am impressed and enthusiastic about the potential for entrepreneurial success in our region. I have been welcomed with warmth and generosity that makes Ohio feel like a new home.