By Wayne Risher
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
FedEx has withdrawn support from a startup business conference in Memphis after West Memphis Three figure Damien Echols was added to the program.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 Everywhereelse.co: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 with Commercial Appeal reporter James Dowd 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."
Sandler said the only significant change since FedEx signed on in December was the addition of Echols.
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 Startup America Partnership, of which Smith is a board member. "This position that they took strikes me as against that."
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 Nibletz.com 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.everywhereelse.co, 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, LaunchTennessee, LaunchMemphis and Xtrant. Sandler said Xtrant had upped its support and he was courting other sponsors.
"The event is obviously good for the community," he added. "The show will go on."
Courtesy of the CommercialAppeal.com