LaunchTN board includes trio of locals

Eleven-person group named as public-private partnership unveils new website

Officials with Launch Tennessee — a public-private partnership focused on supporting the creation and development of high-growth companies statewide — announced today the entity’s new-look 11-person board of directors, which includes three Nashville-based members.

The LaunchTN board trio includes Dr. Jeff Balser, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; Stuart McWhorter, co-founder, chairman and president of Brentwood-based Clayton Associates; and Dr. David Owens, director of the Executive Development Institute at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management.

LaunchTN, formerly known as the Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, currently does not have a permanent chief executive officer. Brad Smith serves as the interim CEO.  

The board announcement comes as LaunchTN unveiled a new website (

An anesthesiologist by training, Balser had undertaken research that has been published in Nature and his work has been funded by the National Institute of Health, among others. Under Balser’s leadership, Vanderbilt has drastically expanded its commercialization and technology transfer programs and moved into 10th place among U.S. medical schools in funding from the National Institutes of Health.

McWhorter’s Clayton Associates has invested approximately $125 million in more than 100 operating companies in the Southeast. McWhorter has also served in executive roles at various companies, most recently as chairman and CEO of Medical Reimbursements of America. His community boards membership includes work with the Board of Trustees of Belmont University and the Board of Directors of FirstBank of Tennessee.

Owens previously served as CEO of Griffin Technology, a consumer electronic company based in Nashville, and has consulted on product development and other business issues for Apple, Dell, Gibson Music, NASA, Nissan Leaf and the Smithsonian. Owens is also author of the book Creative People Must Be Stopped! Six Ways We Stop Innovation (Without Even Trying).

“I am grateful that so many of our state’s leaders are willing to give their time to help support our local entrepreneurs,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in a release. “I know they will help make Tennessee the best place in the Southeast to start a company, helping to create jobs and economic prosperity for all Tennesseans.”

LaunchTN’s new board members also include the following:

• Dr. Brian DeBusk, CEO, DeRoyal Industries, Inc. (Knoxville)
• Marci Harris, Co-Founder and CEO, POPVOX (Jackson)
• Dr. Thom Mason, Laboratory Director, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge)
• Dr. Gregory W. Nelson, Chief Technology Officer, Eastman Chemical Company (Kingsport)
• Dr. Brian Noland, President, East Tennessee State University (Johnson City)
• Richard Smith, Managing Director, Life Sciences & Specialty Services, Federal Express (Memphis)
• Laura Whitsitt, Divisional Senior Vice President, Research and Emerging Technologies, Smith & Nephew (Memphis)
• Frank Williamson, Advisor, FourBridges Capital (Chattanooga)

Haslam appointed DeBusk, Mason, McWhorter and Whitsitt. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) appointed Nelson and Noland. House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) appointed Smith. The LaunchTN board of directors appointed Balser, Harris, Owens and Williamson.