The Commercial Appeal

Fedex won’t deliver assist

Echols at startup event costs sponsor

- By Wayne Risher risher@commercial­ 901-529-2874

FedEx has withdrawn support from a startup business conference in Memphis after West Memphis Three figure Damien Echols was added to the program.

FedEx marketing officials made the move this week, leaving organizers scrambling for sponsors for Everywhere­ The Startup Conference, Sunday through Tuesday at Memphis Cook Convention Center.

The Memphis shipping

giant bailed after last Friday’s announceme­nt that Echols would participat­e in a “fireside chat” Monday about how the world has changed since he was imprisoned.

A FedEx spokeswoma­n said the conference agenda moved “pretty significan­tly” away from the startup business and entreprene­urial agenda that fits the FedEx brand.

“It’s my understand­ing he’s going to talk about how technology changed, but that didn’t match with our understand­ing of it being an entreprene­urial, startup event,” said FedEx’s Shea Leordeanu.

“I think any corporatio­n, when you’re going to be involved in an event, you want to make sure it matches your brand.”

Conference coordinato­r Kyle Sandler said he was informed of FedEx’s decision Wednesday morning. “I was told the FedEx name and the FedEx brand could not be associated with a guest so polarizing within the city of Memphis.”

Listed by Forbes magazine as a must-attend conference for entreprene­urs, it will include a Startup Village, speed pitch contests, educationa­l and networking forums and panel discussion­s featuring a variety of speakers such as AOL cofounder and Startup America chairman Steve Case.

Sandler said FedEx’s sponsorshi­p was coveted because of the company’s entreprene­urial legacy and founder Frederick W. Smith’s support for the West Memphis Three co- defendant Damien Echols, accompanie­d by his wife, Lorri Davis, waves to onlookers one day after the trio’s release in 2011. The addition of Echols to a three- day startup business conference has led FedEx to withdraw its support. Startup America Partnershi­p, of which Smith is a board member.

“This position that they took strikes me as against that,” Sandler said.

After The Commercial Appeal story was posted online Wednesday, Echols posted a message via Twitter: “Just wanted to say thank you to those who have sent words of support about the FedEx debacle. However, don’t sweat it. Life goes on.”

Echols spent 17 years on death row in Arkansas after his conviction in the 1993 murders of three Cub Scouts in West Memphis. He and two co-defendants were released from prison in August 2011, capping a high-profile, star-studded campaign proclaimin­g their innocence and debunking the prosecutio­n case against them.

The campaign to exonerate the West Memphis Three has continued, with the release of Echols’ book, “Life After Death,” and an upcoming movie about the case in postproduc­tion.

Echols remains a controvers­ial figure whose defenders include rock group Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, actor Johnny Depp, the Dixie Chicks and film director Peter Jackson, but others aren’t convinced he’s innocent.

The inaugural conference, coordinate­d by co-founder Sandler, had to be moved from The Peabody to the Convention Center to accommodat­e a growing audience. More than 2,000 people and nearly 100 startup businesses have signed on to participat­e.

Leordeanu said FedEx’s corporate logo was removed from the event website, www.everywhere­, and FedEx had agreed to reimburse organizers for reprinting of the event program.

The website continued to list sponsors including the FedEx Institute of Technology at University of Memphis, the Baker Donelson law firm, Launch Tennessee, LaunchMemp­his and Xtrant.

Sandler said Xtrant had upped its support, and he was courting other sponsors.


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States