The Cumberland Center

About the CumberlandCenter

The CumberIandCenter is a university-business partnership to advance innovation and prosperity. The Center is affiliated with the Council on Competitiveness and with the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, Harvard University. University and research partners include:

Austin Peay State University, Belmont University, Cumberland University, Lipscomb University, Meharry Medical College, Middle Tennessee State University, Oak Ridge National Labs, St Jude, University of Memphis, University of Tennessee, and Vanderbilt University.

GOAL: Create a University-Business Alliance in Middle Tennessee to build a globally significant innovation hub that fosters a flourishing regional economy. How?: by assessing university-based assets and economic clusters – while working with key partners to align and deploy those assets strategically in investments that have the greatest capacity for wealth creation.

BACKGROUND: Today every county, every community, and every business are on the front lines of global competition – and global opportunity. Middle Tennessee possesses strengths that position it well for this competition. However, there are reasons for concern.

There is clearly a missing link in efforts to drive growth, jobs and new opportunities – namely, an innovation strategy linking the region’s greatest competitive assets – its universities.

Recognizing this missing element, Dr. Harvill Eaton, President of Cumberland University, commissioned Dr. Scott T. Massey, one of the country’s foremost regional economic strategists to create and lead The Cumberland Center (TCC) – a University-Based Business Alliance Focused on Innovation and Prosperity in Middle Tennessee and the state. The mission of the Cumberland Center is to compete globally by advancing innovation and prosperity in Middle Tennessee through targeted university-business engagement and enterprise creation.

Dr. Massey brings national expertise in university tech transfer, university-centered economic strategy, innovation metrics, regional leadership, branding and marketing. He fully comprehends the urgent need to create an innovation society if the United States is to maintain its competitiveness and standard of living in a global environment that has radically and irrevocably changed. And he most assuredly understands we’ve now entered into an era of turbulence, transition and transformation and must adapt to the seismic shifts that are reshaping the competitive landscape:

  • The Digital Revolution and global networked communications that allow digitally empowered production networks, information, capital and talent to flow across national borders as never before
  • The Meteoric rise of emerging economies that currently serve as today’s dynamic, volatile and culturally complex business frontier
  • The emergence of globally integrated businesses that not only open up supply chains, but create global talent networks to assemble knowledge and skills needed for new projects
  • The emergence of Global “trade in tasks” and 24/7 global labor arbitrage: if work is routine, rule-based, if it can be digitized, there’s a low cost source of labor somewhere in the world to compete for that work and those jobs
  • The ever growing challenges of food, water and energy
  • The global movement to a multi-polar science and technology world where biotech will unleash innovation in sectors ranging from health services and pharmaceuticals, to agriculture and energy, to materials and manufacturing

Dr. Massey feels strongly that, with the right leadership united in purpose with the Cumberland Center, Middle Tennessee’s tangible asset of multiple first class universities will automatically position our state in the forefront of global awareness to take advantage of these seismic global shifts. By connecting the dispersed assets of the many universities and research laboratories of the Mid South, the Center will help create critical mass, raise the competitive profile of the region, increase “traffic” for university-business engagement, and act as a catalyst to assure success in the marketplace.

An initial business plan has been completed. The business model includes a comprehensive set of programs and goals, but three shared platforms are at the heart of the design:

a.) Cumberland Portal: A comprehensive, single point of entry database inventory of regional academic resources, R&D capacities, patents, licenses, and expertise from the university/laboratory consortium that serves as a gateway to business partners and university and lab innovators. A system designed to be user-friendly by way of a cutting edge “tech finder” tool.

b.) Concierge Enterprise Services: In addition to the Portal, the Center will provide “high touch” concierge enterprise services through Relationship Managers who are well versed both with the academic experts, programs and opportunities within the universities and also intimately know the external economic clusters and businesses. Their job: to cultivate long-term client relations that yield a robust portfolio of transactions. Their mandate from Dr. Massey: to put the Mid South in the forefront of globally competitive regions known for innovation and economic growth.

c.) Cumberland Agenda: The Presidents of the participating universities, along with the Governor and key business parties, will play an important ongoing role in developing long-term strategic vision for the Center and region. Currently there is neither a permanent forum to convene the Presidents, or a long-term purpose/agenda to take action. The Cumberland Agenda addresses this need. Emphasis will be on definition of strategic university-business engagement activities and their integration with the overall creative culture of the region. These activities will include forums, summits, steering committees, publications, social media, broadcast, and public events—all designed to stimulate creative culture, reduce governmental barriers, and advance cross-sector, multi-county action.

The business plan is based on sequenced program development. The first year focuses on national and regional research, validity testing, business planning, portal design, and the launch of initial communications and marketing. In the second year, concierge business services begin with detailed milestones and defined deliverables. The first new enterprise formations and return on investment begin in year three.


No one state organization or discipline has all the necessary resources for high value, game-changing innovation. Ultimate success dictates collaboration. In point of fact timing couldn’t be better for building a world class innovation hub in Middle Tennessee. The task is daunting, yet infinitely achievable. Why? Because we begin the quest with a rich abundance of research and innovative/problem solving universities and labs that together are unique in our nation.

The Cumberland Center has been launched with three years of core funding committed as a solid foundation to leverage further gifts and investments. First order of business is to facilitate the aggregation of university, business and political leaders united in our common goal. Key to success from the outset will be active participation, promotion of, and asset utilization surrounding two world class institutions – Vanderbilt University and Oak Ridge National Labs. When you factor in the additional leadership and opportunities associated with revered institutions such as Meharry, TSU, Lipscomb, MTSU, Belmont, Tennessee Tech and Austin Peay, we have the foundation to create an innovation hub poised to tackle and exploit some of the nation’s greatest needs and opportunities. Result: new jobs, new business opportunities, new patents and an abundance of new investment dollars flowing into the region.