By Cortney Piper, President
Nothing big, bold or revolutionary happens in a vacuum.
I have been lucky enough to surround myself with people who have taught me many valuable lessons, but one person, Tom Rogers, president and chief executive officer of the University of Tennessee Research Park, has taught me the value of being bold.
Like so many others, I met Tom through Tom Ballard, chief alliance officer at PYA. Ballard introduced us when I began working with the Innov865 Alliance and attending East Tennessee Economic Council meetings. Later, when Piper Communications became a Protégé in the Department of Energy’s Mentor Protégé-Program, I asked Tom to be one of my program mentors. He looked confused and asked me, “Why? You already know what you’re doing.”
I appreciated Tom’s confidence in my abilities, but I also knew that I could learn a lot from him, not to mention the benefit of having him help me navigate the confusing nature of the federal procurement process. He eventually agreed, joining David Keim, director of communications at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, as one of my two program mentors.
The thing I appreciate most about Tom is that he has big, bold ideas that are changing East Tennessee. From identifying a need for the Innovation Crossroads program during his time at ORNL to launching the Spark Cleantech Accelerator at UT Research Park, he is playing a key role in building out our region’s cleantech entrepreneurial ecosystem. I believe these accelerators will have an enormous impact on future generations of innovators and fundamentally change our energy landscape.
As both a formal mentor and a friend, Tom has taught me how to be bold and visionary. I’m very comfortable and good at executing projects and getting things done. What I needed to learn early on was how to take a step back and see the bigger picture – what bold move could impact my work 10 steps down the line. Tom served as a phenomenal mentor by both demonstrating and actively teaching me how to be more deliberate and forward-thinking.
He has also been generous enough to bring me along as a partner in some of his bolder endeavors, such as the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council’s recent partnership with the Spark Cleantech Accelerator. That’s the thing about Tom – he’s not just bold, he’s strategic and knows that he can’t do everything on his own. To make generational change, you need skilled, invested partners.
After all, nothing big, bold or revolutionary happens in a vacuum. You can have an amazing idea or see how all the pieces fit together, but without partners, you may encounter obstacles or unforeseen challenges that limit your ability to execute your goals. Tom showed me how vital it is to bring in partners in order to constantly move forward and make a lasting impact on the community around you.
Being bold and understanding when to bring people together to create something extraordinary are now foundational principles of our work at Piper Communications. I’m grateful for colleagues like Tom who took the time to show me why being bold is essential and bring me along in his journey to make East Tennessee a home for cleantech innovation.