Three Roots Capital roundtable reviews challenges, opportunities for region

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The final event of the first day of Knoxville’s “Innov865 Week” was a Monday evening roundtable hosted by Three Roots Capital, the newest player in the region’s access to capital sector. It was held in the Mill Room at Cherokee Mills.

About three dozen people participated in the discussion that featured a diverse panel of individuals, all involved in some aspect of entrepreneurship in East Tennessee. They ranged from the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of one of the portfolio companies in the region’s oldest venture fund to a State Senator who was the prime sponsor of the TNInvestco legislation.

“A lot is going on now, and it seems well-coordinated,” Stephen Culp of Chattanooga’s Smart Furniture said. “It’s different from 10 years ago.” That was a reference to starting the company in Chattanooga, but securing his initial venture capital from the Southern Appalachian Fund (SAF) based in Oak Ridge.

The situation is much different these days in his hometown, and Culp said the “Create Here” initiative launched 10 years ago with funding from the Lyndhurst Foundation was the catalyst. Two of the results are the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, now investing across the region with its second fund, and CO.LAB.

Culp’s points struck a chord with the event’s host.

“Capital is a tool,” Grady Vanderhoofven, President and CEO of Three Roots, said. “Entrepreneurs are the critical ingredient.”

As noted in this post from earlier this week, Vanderhoofven has been a senior executive in two other regionally-based funds – SAF, which invested in Smart Furniture, and Meritus Ventures.

Over the course of about 45 minutes, Vanderhoofven, Culp and their fellow panelists discussed a variety of challenges and opportunities for entrepreneurs in the region. Others participating were State Senator Doug Overbey; Terrence (TC) Carter, Director of Economic and Business Development for the Knoxville Area Urban League (see this recent post); and Herc Ligdis, Senior Vice President of SouthEast Bank.

Overbey reminded attendees that “government doesn’t create jobs and wealth. It needs to get out of the way most times.” Yet, he added that “from time to time, we can do what we did in 2009.” This was a reference to a severe economic downturn when the TNInvestco program was launched, and it did bring much needed capital to the start-up sector.

Attendees were reminded of the continuum of capital and the importance of matching entrepreneurs at whatever stage their start-up is to the appropriate source of funding. One of those tools is the Urban League’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund and another one operated by Pathway Lending based in Nashville.

“CDFIs try to make it (an opportunity) work when it does not seem it can work,” Carter said of the program designed for higher risk investments.

Ligdis offered two important points.

“If you create the environment, the entrepreneurs will come,” he said. “If we are willing to invest in ourselves, others will take note.”

 (Note: This article appeared previously on, a web-based service that was launched to spotlight and celebrate “all things” related to technology, innovation and entrepreneurship in East Tennessee.)

Alicia Caputo, Dimitriy Petrov preview pitches for “Startup Day”

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

WATE-TV is the broadcast media partner for “Innov865 Week.” As part of that relationship, the station has produced a series of “Elevator Sessions” featuring the six start-ups pitching on tomorrow (September 22) at “Startup Day.”

Today, we feature pitches from two of the six start-ups vying for the $5,000 prize.

First up is Alicia Caputo of Avrio Analytics. The start-up, previously profiled on, leverages proprietary technology to offer data analytics services at a fraction of the cost, as well as providing predictive capabilities not available from visualizations alone. Its services put the power of a data scientist at the fingertips of anyone.

Next is by Dimitriy Petrov of RushBrush LLC. The company creates innovative personal hygiene products. Its latest innovation is the RushBrush, a hybridized toothbrush that makes oral health on the go both more effective and convenient. Unlike ordinary toothbrushes, the RushBrush’s nylon bristles are coated with dehydrated toothpaste and the brush can be used right out of the package, no water required. The brush is produced using biodegradable materials, making it an environmentally-friendly option for consumers.

For more information and to register for “Startup Day” at the Bijou Theater, click here.

(Note: This article appeared previously on, a web-based service that was launched to spotlight and celebrate “all things” related to technology, innovation and entrepreneurship in East Tennessee.)

Day 2 of “Innov865 Week” focused on many micro-events

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The busiest day in Knoxville’s “Innov865 Week” was yesterday with six events including one private one. Reports indicate that attendance was about 150 at the five public events, bringing the total participation after two days to about 675 with the two biggest events still to come.

Obviously, the big news of the day was the announcement of the new “Innovation Crossroads” initiative at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. About 30 people attended the announcement at the National Transportation Research Center.

Earlier in the day, more than 40 people turned out for the “Big Data: Big Impact Lunch and Learn” co-hosted by PYA Analytics and NewsBreak Media Networks. Bob Bradley, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of NewsBreak Media, moderated a lively panel discussion featuring four individuals intimately involved in developing analytics tools and utilizing them for decision-making. They were: Brian Nelson, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer (CEO) of NewsBreak Media; Mik Bertolli, Co-Founder of Avrio Analytics; Blair Christian, PYA Analytics Lead Data Scientist; and Jian Huang, CEO of Survature.

Another three dozen people showed-up at the Casual Pint in Hardin Valley for Life Science Tennessee’s “Beer and Biotech” meet-up that featured a give-and-take discussion about entrepreneurship. Jeff Hubrig Jr. of Innovasan and Dan Close of 490 BioTech led the exchange of ideas and lessons learned.

While we were not able to attend two other events due to conflicts in schedules, we heard about 15 people participated in the “Growth Hackathon” arranged by Brandon Bruce of Cirruspath, and two dozen were pre-registered for Launch Tennessee’s “Angel Tax Credit Road Show.”

Today’s “The Works Demo Day” is expected to draw about 275 attendees, and more than 500 have pre-registered through yesterday for Thursday’s “Start-up Day.”

(Note: This article appeared previously on, a web-based service that was launched to spotlight and celebrate “all things” related to technology, innovation and entrepreneurship in East Tennessee.)

Knoxville officially proclaimed a ‘Maker City’ at first summit

By Ali James of the Knoxville News Sentinel

“Four months ago, three Knoxvillians ventured to New York City to be a part of the Etsy Maker Cities Summit,” said David Harman.

The creator of “Native Maps” attended the summit with Nanci Solomon, owner of Rala, and Joy O’Shell, outreach director at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.

“We listened to other cities talk about their successes and struggles, and it became clear that we needed to listen to our city.”

A month later they returned to Knoxville and formed @makeknox.

Read the full Knoxville News Sentinel story here.