Introducing: Driving Innovation

Starting this month, theCO is launching one of their best-kept secrets.

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Using a grant from Governor Haslam’s Rural Task Force, theCO has been stripping out the insides of RVs to transform them into mobile platforms devoted to informing, equipping, and preparing our rural communities for emerging jobs. They’re calling the project “Driving Innovation.”

“Within the scope of our contract with the state of Tennessee, we will go to all nineteen distressed counties and half of the at-risk counties,” explained Bria Pittman, Program and Outreach Manager for Driving Innovation. “The purpose is to take resources to those communities. . . . So we’ll be rolling on in, literally.”

The idea stemmed from the CO:mobile, theCO’s Mobile Innovation Lab, which has been appearing at events around West Tennessee since it launched two years ago.

The focus of theLab, the first of the completed buses, is to present technology that encourages interest in manufacturing and STEAM education. It is outfitted with technology such as a laser cutter, CNC router, virtual reality stations, a drone, and robots. Although it has had test runs at a few different events, its first official tour starts March 9 at the TN REDI Conference in Putnam County.

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The purpose of the second bus, theVenture, is to promote a spirit of entrepreneurship. The Driving Innovation team plans to do that by conducting short business-themed workshops and bringing in experts to discuss different aspects of business, such as lawyers to talk about legal issues and accountants to discuss taxes.

The team has not decided on a platform for the third bus yet. Pittman has been busy putting together schedules for the other buses (which will be visiting two or three locations a week once they get rolling), tracking data for the different target demographics for each bus, and facilitating meetings. And she’s loving every second of it.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun working on a project,” she said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty and you have to go figure it out, but that’s fun.”

As an entrepreneur and someone who grew up in a financially strained family, the idea of Driving Innovation resonated with Pittman. When asked how she hopes the program helps different communities, she didn’t hesitate.

“Exposing people to things they don’t know exist, exposing them to things that they didn’t even know they could be a part of, especially the technology,” she said. “I get really excited about taking theVenture to at-risk and distressed counties. As an entrepreneur, I know how hard it is to start a business when you don’t have resources around you, so I do get excited about taking some resources. . . . Ultimately, you think of the long-term impact you can have, because that can change someone’s life. I get super excited about that and slightly emotional.”

Learn more about the Driving Innovation project at tndrivinginnovation.com.

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