The Cumberland Center: A Catalyst for Middle Tennessee Innovation

Middle Tennessee is poised to interface with the global marketplace, but there has yet to be a single hub capable of bringing the region’s many educational and economic resources together. Cumberland University is filling that gap—and leading the way in cutting-edge university-business partnerships in Middle Tennessee—with the Cumberland Center. A groundbreaking initiative, the Cumberland Center is designed to connect education with industry, innovation with economic development, and Middle Tennessee with global enterprise.

Established in 2010, the Cumberland Center is a university-business alliance dedicated to transforming innovation into prosperity in Middle Tennessee. Not so much a brick-and-mortar institution as a repository of ideas, the Center connects resources across Middle Tennessee by assessing regional universities and economic clusters, leveraging those resources into innovation and economic growth. In doing so, the Center is creating partnerships between economic sectors to help Middle Tennessee respond to the demands of a global economy. According to Dr. Scott T. Massey, who directs the Center, the initiative is unique in its mission to unite university resources in Tennessee.

“The Cumberland Center is the only vehicle formally created to support collaboration among the major universities of Middle Tennessee and the state,” Massey said. “Universities are waking up to the opportunities they have to be engines of economic growth, and Tennessee has an unprecedented opportunity to take a leadership role in this growing movement because of the strength of its institutions of higher education and the $3 billion of research funding flowing into the state. The Cumberland Center serves as a catalyst to this opportunity.”

That potential did not escape Dr. Harvill Eaton, President of Cumberland University, who enlisted Massey to create the non-profit Center. A national leader, strategist, and innovator, Massey brings over 20 years of experience as a nonprofit president and CEO to the Cumberland Center. Massey holds a doctorate in philosophy from Vanderbilt University, and he has founded and led learning and leadership institutions at the state and national levels. That experience makes Massey uniquely well-positioned to lead the Cumberland Center as it forges new connections between regional economic sectors.

Education and industry converge in the Cumberland Center, which unites universities and businesses from across Middle Tennessee. One of the Center’s chief goals is to serve as a hub connecting university researchers and thinkers with industry entrepreneurs and business leaders. To that end, the Center is working to create trust between regional entities.

“The Center is a trusted convener to connect universities, business, and government,” Massey said. “In an important sense, one of the central purposes of the Center is to promote trust by convening leaders and organizations that may not normally come together.”

That trust begins with practical collaboration, which the Center is working to facilitate through its Innovation Portal, a comprehensive, single-point-of-entry database inventory of regional academic resources, research and design capacities, patents, licenses, and expertise from area universities and laboratories. Once implemented, the Innovation Portal will play a critical role in promoting university research efforts by placing them at the fingertips of business leaders.

“In discussions across the state, we repeatedly heard that businesses wanted to work with our local universities, but found it difficult even to know where to begin,” Massey said. “The Portal is intended to make the first step of finding information easy.”

Regional universities have taken note of the Center’s growing potential. The Cumberland Center now counts institutions such as Vanderbilt University, the University of Tennessee, and Tennessee State University among its participating entities. The Center is also working with prominent organizations such as the Council on Competitiveness and Harvard University’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness. Leaders from those institutions are coming together at the Center through initiatives such as the Cumberland Agenda, a forum for participating university, business, and government leaders. Through such conferences, Middle Tennessee innovators are helping to develop a long-term strategic vision for the Center and the region.

The Center is leveraging those newly created university-business alliances to create a synthesis of innovation and economic development. In addition to promoting university research through its Innovation Portal, the Center is also planning to unveil a number of new collaboration initiatives in the near future.

“Our goal to connect [entities] is primarily executed through the emerging Innovation Portal and a new statewide television program called ‘Tennessee Pursuit,’ which will showcase creative, innovative people, universities, and businesses in the state,” Massey said. “Our plans include the development of a suite of ‘concierge enterprise services’ that promote collaboration between universities and businesses.”

These initiatives place the Center in the vanguard of Middle Tennessee’s integration with global enterprise. By creating vital university-business partnerships and connecting resources, the Center is working to create a flourishing regional economy ready to interface with the worldwide business community.

The Global South Summit is a part of that commitment. Now in its inaugural event, the annual C-Level leadership conference aims to bring together leaders from across the globe, leveraging technology and innovation into abundance in food and healthcare for a rapidly growing world population.

Every day, the Cumberland Center is forging new connections between universities and industries across Middle Tennessee, creating a basis for regional investment, growth, and progress. Through the Center, Cumberland University is not only meeting the need for a hub to link different economic sectors and ideas in Middle Tennessee, but also positioning itself as a thought leader in a dialogue of innovation.

“The Center represents Cumberland University’s historic leadership role as a ‘dissemination point’ for leadership and prosperity across the southeast,” Massey said. “As Cumberland repositions itself to flourish in the 21st century, the Center represents a way for the University to engage and inform the senior leadership of our community, our state, our region, and beyond.”