May 23, 2014

Spend a few days at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, and it’s easy to get swept up in the optimism and momentum of the city’s fledgling tech scene.

Spend four days on a bus trip to Texas, though, and you’ll start to get a sense of the mountain left to climb.

Each time the coordinators of this spring’s StartupBus competition in San Antonio announced a new round of advancing teams, there was a hint of incredulity in their voices when they called out On The List, a representative from Nashville.

“Whenever they announced our name … I think they were kind of surprised,” said Grayson Carroll, one of five Nashville natives at the helm of the startup, which uses corporate sponsorships to enhance concert experiences.

But the team’s name kept being announced, as On The List advanced from an initial group of 40 startups from across North America to the six-team final round.

“There wasn’t a lot of expectation of us doing well in the competition, because no one outside the region really understands the caliber of the startups that are in Nashville,” said Steve Repetti, co-founder of investment group Crunchfire Technologies, a recent Nashville transplant and the conductor of Nashville’s first StartupBus. “That single event put Nashville on the map of a lot of important folks that didn’t have a clue.”

Although it didn’t take home the grand prize, On The List is one of a handful of recent success stories for Nashville companies at out-of-state startup competitions and demo days. San Francisco online ticketing company Eventbriterecently chose Nashville over dozens of other potential cities — including tech hotspot Austin, Texas — as the home of its second office. And just last month, Silicon Valley venture firm Crestlight Venture Productions announced it will open a Southeastern partner office in Nashville.

Then there’s Google’s growing interest in Music City, as Nashville now serves as one of the California-based giant’s eight Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Hubs and was recently named one of 40 cities to split $1 million as part of a Google program aimed at fostering female entrepreneurship. The search giant’s interest may expand further if Nashville is selected for Google Fiber gigabit Internet. At the very least, that potential has driven AT&T to consider the metropolitan area for its own ultra high-speed service.