Application extended for the 2017 Startup Day Pitch Competition

Knoxville, Tenn.– Applications are now being extended for Innov865 Week’s Startup Day 2017 pitch competition. The event will feature six East Tennessee startups pitching their businesses for a chance to win up to $15,000 in cash prizes. This is the fifth Startup Day pitch competition and the signature event of the second annual Innov865 Week, a celebration of Knoxville’s vibrant entrepreneurial community, September 18-22, 2017.

“Knoxville is quickly earning a reputation as one of the best locations in the Southeast for entrepreneurs to start and grow a business,” said Tom Ballard, Pershing Yoakley & Associates (PYA). PYA is a founding member of the Innov865 Alliance. “Innov865 Week is our opportunity to showcase our city and region as a hub of innovation and talent.”

To apply for the pitch competition, eligible startups must be located in the East Tennessee region and fill out an application, available on the Innov865 Week website: Applications will be accepted from June 16 through July 10, 2017. The Innov865 Alliance will review applications and select six startups to participate. Applicants will be notified of the Alliance’s decision no later than July 17, 2017.

Startup Day 2017 is Thursday, September 21, 2017 at the U.S. Cellular Stage at The Bijou Theatre.

New this year, the Startup Day pitch competition will feature two prize categories: judges’ choice and crowd favorite. Competitors will have an opportunity to win up to $15,000. T&T Scientific claimed the winning prize during Startup Day 2016.

In addition, the Innov865 Traction Award presented by UT Federal Credit Union will return this year recognizing a Startup Day alum who has made the most progress.

Innov865 Week 2017 promises another packed week of educational panels, investor roundtables, demo days, and networking opportunities. The week will kick-off on Monday with Future865, an event that will explore opportunities to help Knoxville leverage its many assets – social, cultural, and technical – to become THE destination for entrepreneurs in the Southeast. Other scheduled activities include a technology showcase hosted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee Research Foundation; The Works hosted by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center; the return of the Maker Summit and Elev865, an exclusive networking event for business leaders and entrepreneurs; and the roll-out of Olli, a self-driving, fully electric vehicle that was created and manufactured by Local Motors, a Knoxville-based company that designs and builds innovative motor vehicles.

The inaugural Innov865 Week in 2016 was a wild success, featuring 25 events and drawing more than 1,400 startups, entrepreneurs, makers, investors, business leaders, students, and community leaders from across East Tennessee.


Innov865 Week is presented by the Innov865 Alliance. The Innov865 Alliance develops, supports and promotes the Knoxville region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. It’s a collaborative effort to celebrate and showcase Knoxville as a great place for entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses and increase access to capital. Founding members include the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, PYA, UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Three Roots Capital, Launch Tennessee, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and TVA.

For more information, visit:

Eight growth stage companies sign-up for KEC’s modified 2017 “The Works” cohort

(NOTE: This article was originally published on

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) unveiled the eight companies that comprise the cohort for this year’s “The Works” accelerator at a kickoff party last night in The Old City.

It’s a slightly different mix of companies than the early stage nature of the ones that, for the most part, have been part of the past cohorts.

“I would say the main difference this year is that the program is growth-focused,” Jonathan Sexton, KEC’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence, explained. “Each year we have a different spin on the program.”

The energetic musician and entrepreneur in his own right noted that the program in the past was characterized by start-ups that had a media or content idea or fell into the coding category.

“This year the ticket in the door is having a product, users, and revenue,” Sexton explained. “I think it says a lot about the state of our ecosystem that we can do this. Three or four years ago, I’m not sure we would have enough companies that could check those boxes, and now we have to take this approach as a response to the needs of our market. It’s truly exciting and gratifying.”

The eight participants are:

  • Lirio which has two products – Fiveworx and Finworx;
  • SafeSurv, a Cookeville-based start-up that helps retail establishments with products that can only be sold to individuals who are 21 years of age or older manage their risks;
  • Buzzer Intel that is improving ROI on sponsorship investments at events;
  • CQInsights, a healthcare data analytics provider;
  • Unveil Events, a web app that outsources the calling and emailing of events;
  • Smart RIA that provides compliance management software for investment advisors;
  • BIT Dealership Software, a business management software provider to boat and power sports dealers, repair shops, and marinas; and
  • Prometheus Group, a company focused on helping businesses working across the globe utilize intelligence to better manage their risks.

With the shift in the stage of evolution of the companies, there will be a natural modification of the programming.

“The approach to working with a more advanced company is significantly different than idea stage,” Sexton said. “In years past, we’ve spent all summer on idea validation and often times can get much further than that. These companies are already there, so we can focus on other aspects of the business.”

He said the programming for the teams will be more individualized and focused, helping them identify two or three key strategic priorities based on a myriad of factors and use KEC’s full slate of resources to achieve those milestones.

“It’s also worth noting that our program still has a major media bent to it,” Sexton added. “We are experimenting to see if we can leverage media skillsets and talent to support each start-up. We believe that every company is a media company now, everyone is making their own content on social media or otherwise. After a few years of doing this kind of work, we are uniquely positioned to plan, create, and execute on content creation for our teams with the help of our specialist’s program.

The program began June 1 and runs through “The Works Demo Day” which will occur on September 20 during Knoxville’s second annual “Innov865 Week.”

For more details on the eight companies, read the KEC-provided summary (2017 The Works Cohort).


Brandon Bruce outlines Knoxville’s claims to #1 spot

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published on Brandon Bruce, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Cirrusinsight and Knoxville’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016, presented the following list of Knoxville’s #1s in a speech at the recent Muse Knoxville luncheon. It’s pretty impressive.)

In 1980, The Wall Street Journal called Knoxville “a scruffy little city.” What the writer would see today is a beautiful and thriving Knoxville. We live in a city and region that is truly world class.

For example:

We’re #1 in national parks with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in America.

We’re #1 in lifestyle media with Scripps Networks Interactive, RIVR Media, Jupiter Entertainment, NorthSouth Productions, and more.

We’re #1 in homebuilding with Clayton Homes.

We’re #1 in movie theaters with Regal Entertainment Group.

We’re #1 in travel centers with Pilot Flying J.

We’re in the #1 state for growth and innovation in education with programs like Tennessee Promise.

We’re #1 in recreational boating with over 20 manufacturers including Brunswick and Malibu.

We’re #1 in church management software and online giving with Ministry Brands.

We’re #1 in pursuing novel detection and treatment for cancer with companies including ProNova and Provectus and EDP Biotech.

We’re #1 in 3D printing with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Local Motors, and more.

We’re #1 in outdoor recreation with the Urban Wilderness, Ijams, and hundreds of lakes, rivers, and parks.

We’re #1 in nuclear safety and security with Y-12, Analysis and Measurement Services Corporation, and more.

We’re #1 in jewelry e-commerce with Jewelry Television.

We’re #1 in pet products with Radio Systems Corporation.

We’re #1 in public power with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

We’re #1 in important things that start with the letter B: beans (Bush Brothers), bacon (Benton’s), breweries (more than any other city in Tennessee), and barbecue (too many great places to list).

According to Forbes, we’re the #2 happiest city to work in right now, but based on all of the above, I’d say we make a strong claim to #1.

As we celebrate springtime in Knoxville with the Big Ears Festival, the Dogwood Arts Festival, the International Biscuit Festival, Earthfest, Outdoor KnoxFest, and the Rossini Festival, we can be sure that Knoxville is a pretty great place to live and call home. In fact, we’re #1.

ORNL unveils five entrepreneurs, four companies in inaugural “Innovation Crossroads” cohort

(NOTE: This article was originally published on

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) set a goal of finding up to five of the nation’s top young energy innovators and, by all accounts, it appears the recruiting team has achieved its goal with the inaugural cohort for the “Innovation Crossroads.”

ORNL leaders publicly unveiled the four start-ups at an event yesterday in Oak Ridge attended by the innovators, researchers with whom they will be working, and two top administrators from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

“If you look five, 10, 15 or 20 years ahead, where is the innovation going to come from to continue our nation’s economic growth,” Mark Johnson, Director of DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, asked. His answer was “programs like this.” Joining Johnson from DOE headquarters was Johanna Wolfson, Director of the Technology-to-Market Program.

In a conversation ahead of the event, Johnson described “Innovation Crossroads” and two similar programs at other DOE labs as a post-doc program. After all, the five innovators have either earned their Ph.Ds. or are in the process of completing them.

For ORNL, yesterday’s announcement was the culmination of a process that began more than six months ago with a solicitation of applications. Day-to-day responsibility for “Innovation Crossroads” is being handled by Tom Rogers, ORNL’s Director of Industrial Partnerships and Economic Development, and Beth Conerty, Program Lead for Entrepreneurial Support and Development.

As described in this September 20 article from, the program is part of a DOE effort to help accelerate clean energy technologies in an era of substantially limited venture capital. The ORNL initiative is the third in DOE’s Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program (LEEP). The pilot, named “Cyclotron Road,” was tested at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and a second program, named “Chain Reaction Innovations,” started last year at Argonne National Laboratory.

A quick review of the resumes of the five entrepreneurs shows impressive pedigrees. Two either have or will soon earn their doctorates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where one was Co-Director of the prestigious “MIT Clean Energy Prize,” the largest such student-led competition in the country. Another student is working on her Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University while also serving as a National Science Foundation Graduate Student Fellow. Yet another, ironically from Knoxville, just finished his doctorate at Cornell University. The final selectee is a local entrepreneur – Ming Qi – who has his own start-up named Peroxygen Systems and has already achieved significant recognition, winning a seed grant under DOE’s ARPA-E program and being selected to work with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the Departments’ “Small Business Vouchers” program.

Those credentials remind me of a frequent ad on the Golf Channel with a tagline of “These guys are really good.”

ORNL began accepting applications in mid-November and culled the initial round of more than 50 applicants to 16 semi-finalists who were brought to Oak Ridge for interviews. Nine finalists were selected for more interviews before yesterday’s announcement of the four start-ups that were eventually chosen.

The five Entrepreneurs – one team has two Co-Founders – arrived a few weeks ago to start the two-year experience. It includes a stipend that will help cover living expenses and healthcare, collaboration space at ORNL, up to $350,000 in R&D support from ORNL through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), business model development assistance, help with marketing strategies, mentorship, and introductions to other successful energy entrepreneurs as well as potential industry partners.

Local organizations are supporting the effort including PYA, the power behind In PYA’s case, the firm will be helping these bright engineers with business structure and accounting advice. Also, through the relatively new Launch Tennessee Networks initiative, “Innovation Crossroads” participants will be able to access the Energy Mentor Network operated by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council.

Click here to read the official ORNL news release.

Share your expertise with East Tennessee’s startup community by sponsoring an Innov865 Week micro-event

You now have the opportunity to host an Innov865 Week micro-event.

Visit the Innov865Week website where you can learn more about how to get involved. Want to host a breakfast, lunch or happy hour during the week-long celebration of East Tennessee’s entrepreneurial community to share your expertise and network? Now you can!

You can make your micro-event a sponsored Innov865 Week event for $500, just fill out this application to get started. We do include “non-sponsored” micro-events in the Innov865 Week calendar but they are not promoted by the Innov865 Alliance. The $500 micro-event sponsorship includes:

  • Event listing in Innov865 Week event calendar
  • Micro-event webpage with logo, photos and social media handles
  • Event description included in Innov865 email communications to more than 2,600 contacts
  • Promotion of your micro-event on Innov865 social media
  • Micro-event poster with your logo to post at your event location
  • Plug and play social media content to promote your involvement with Innov865 Week

Whether you choose to host a sponsored or non-sponsored micro-event, fill out the application and Allie Rapkowicz will be in touch to confirm the event details. If you have any questions, feel free to contact her at or 865-329-0553.

Local Motors’ Olli to make its debut in September during Innov865 Week

April’s Innov865 Happy Hour sponsored by Three Roots Capital welcomed a special announcement from Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, telling a hefty crowd at Scruffy City Hall that Local Motors’ self-driving electric vehicle Olli will soon be making its debut this September during Innov865 Week.

Olli was created at Local Motors’s micro factory in Hardin Valley using 3D printing technology.

Add that to the many reasons you should attend the Innov865 Alliance’s Signature Week celebrating entrepreneurship and the Knoxville startup community.

This comes after a series of technology announcements in East Tennessee. In Market Square earlier Thursday, Olli was unveiled for the public to get an up-close look at the innovation happening in Knoxville.

Knoxville Mayor Rogero announcing self-driving vehicle Olli will soon be taking over City streets.

It’s important to mention, Visit Knoxville is going to roll an Olli out on a test basis this fall at some events in places like World’s Fair Park and Chilhowee Park and Exposition Center.

The longer-term goal is to have Olli running on city streets, by the end of next year, for Visit Knoxville events and giving tours of the city following pre-programmed maps.

There was also a separate announcement on Tuesday from Knoxville entrepreneur Bill Malkes, founder of GRIDSMART.

The company has donated some of its new STREETSMART Wi-Fi data cameras for the City of Knoxville to pilot at some of the busiest intersections along Kingston Pike, specifically the intersection of Kingston Pike and Northshore Drive.

These cameras collect real-time traffic information on traffic flow and congestion, which City engineers can use to get better information about how and when traffic backs up on that corridor.

This will help the City make better adjustments to signal timing and eventually to respond immediately to changing conditions so that they can reduce congestion, reduce vehicle emissions, and get everybody where they’re going faster.

These two technologies combined could eventually become a fully connected smart transportation system, where you have vehicles like Local Motors’ Olli sending and receiving information to infrastructure like GRIDSMART’s cameras, allowing everything to move much more efficiently.

With both of these announcements and the work going on at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and across the Innovation Valley, Knoxville is well positioned to be on the forefront of smart transportation technology.

(L to R) Grady Vanderhoofven of Three Roots Capital, Bill Malkes of GRIDSMART, and Tom Ballard of PYA &

During the April Innov865 Happy Hour sponsored by Three Roots Capital, there was also a featured fireside chat with GRIDSMART Founder Bill Malkes and Three Roots Capital CEO & Meritus Capital Management Managing Partner Grady Vanderhoofven. The two, along with moderator Tom Ballard of PYA and, discussed the founding and growth of GRIDSMART and the role the company is playing in the intelligent transportation industry.

Bill and Grady talked about how the company was founded, raised capital, staffed the business, developed its product, established and expanded production in East Tennessee, and what the future holds for GRIDSMART.

April Innov865 Happy Hour hosted by Three Roots Capital

Special announcement from Knoxville mayor, featured fireside chat

The Innov865 Alliance invites you to join the entrepreneur and startup community in another engaging Innov865 Happy Hour, hosted by Three Roots Capital.

An evening of networking awaits you, Thursday, April 20, 2017 at Scruffy City Hall in Market Square from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

During this time, there will be a special announcement from Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero followed by a featured fireside chat with Bill Malkes, founder and CEO of GRIDSMART and Grady Vanderhoofven, Managing Partner of Meritus Capital Management and CEO of Three Roots Capital.

The fireside chat will be moderated by Tom Ballard of PYA and, where discussions will range from the founding and growth of GRIDSMART and the role the company is playing in the intelligent transportation industry.

GRIDSMART has evolved from a concept to the fastest growing company in its industry.

GRIDSMART, a company founded in Oak Ridge and based in Knoxville, provides technology that monitors and controls traffic at intersections and on roadways in 22 countries on five continents around the world.

Their products reduce congestion, increase efficiency, and reduce environmental impact. As the dawn of a new world of autonomous vehicles brightens, cars and traffic management systems will share information. Companies like GRIDSMART are leading the way.

Meritus was one of GRIDSMART’s early investors and has held a position on the company’s Board of Directors for years.  Bill and Grady will talk about how the company raised capital, staffed the business, developed its product (software and hardware), established and expanded production in East Tennessee, and what the future holds for GRIDSMART and intelligent transportation.

Save the Date: SBIR Informational Session

Happening Tuesday April 4, 2017

4:00 – 5:30 p.m.

West Wing, Haslam College of Business, UTK

Register here.

Have you ever thought about commercializing your research?

The University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) supports researchers by protecting the intellectual property of promising technologies and making them available for corporation and startups to license. One avenue available to researchers is to participate in an entrepreneurial startup that develops the technology into products and services that benefit society.

But where does the money come from to do this development?

Did you know the Federal Government supports technology commercialization?

Federal research agencies like NSF, DoD, DOE and NIH together set aside over $2.5 billion annually for Small Business Innovation Research grants (SBIR’s). SBIR’s are available to small businesses to prove feasibility, develop prototypes and commercialize technologies. The program is a peer reviewed, competitive grant program that can provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to a startup to help prepare the technology for market entry. In addition, most agencies provide programs for grantees to develop their business models in parallel with their development to ensure they are ready to compete in their chosen marketplace.

Some startups have raised several million dollars through the SBIR program.

Come learn about how you can participate in the SBIR Grant Program.

This program will provide a brief overview of the SBIR program, some incentives provided by the State of Tennessee and best of all, you will hear from a panel of 3 local SBIR veterans, who together have raised several million dollars of R&D funding for their companies.

The informational session will cover:

  • Where to find information about the SBIR Program
  • Strategies for successfully competing, and winning SBIR funding awards
  • Connections to successful award winners
  • The good, the bad and the ugly of SBIR’s as a funding strategy

Innov865 Week 2017 promises more opportunities for local startups, businesses

The Innov865 Alliance announced the return of Innov865 Week today and new activities to bolster entrepreneurship in the region. Innov865 Week 2017 will take place September 18-22, 2017. Now in its second year and an expansion of successful “Startup Days,” the week-long series of events celebrate and showcase Knoxville as a great place for entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses.

Educational panels, pitch competitions, investor roundtables, startup speed dating with investors and social events will be included in event programming throughout the week leading up to the signature event, Startup Day, Thursday, September 21, 2017.

“After the incredible response to this year’s celebration, the Innov865 Alliance is excited about enhancing 2017 programming and events to provide even more support to our entrepreneurial community,” said Jim Biggs, Executive Director, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC). KEC is a founding member of the Innov865 Alliance along with the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, PYA and Launch Tennessee.

More than 1,400 attendees participated in 25 events during the inaugural Innov865 Week 2016. Next year’s events will include expanding the number of startup speed dating sessions to match startups with sector and stage specific investors.

The announcement was made at the first Innov865 Week Happy Hour featuring Andrew Goldner, managing partner at venture capital firm GrowthX. Innov865 Alliance members will host happy hours every other month throughout the year for startups, entrepreneurs and makers to socialize, network and learn from VIP guests.

Launch Tennessee will host the next Innov865 Happy Hour the week of February 6, 2017. For more information and to stay updated on events, visit:


About Innov865 Alliance 

The Innov865 Alliance develops, supports, and promotes the Knoxville region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. It is a collaborative effort to celebrate and showcase Knoxville as a great place for entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses and increase access to capital. Innov865 Week is its signature event; however, the Alliance coordinates other activities throughout the year, including pitch competitions, educational opportunities, and social events.

Founding members of the Innov865 Alliance include the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, PYA, Launch Tennessee and Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. Learn more at

Startup Day 2016 video brings hype, celebrations to Knoxville

Before the power pitches, before the Traction Award announcement, and before nationally-recognized serial entrepreneur Paul Singh took the stage for Startup Day 2016, there was a video that brought cheers and excitement for Knoxville’s startups.

The near 2 minute long piece bragged about the accomplishments local entrepreneurs have made not only to the city but throughout the state, the nation, and the world. The video listed off the achievements with an uplifting chorus that at the end made its viewers feel empowered.

Knoxville has been busy for sure, and its citizens have known it all along. Since last Startup Day in November 2015, Bonnaroo was acquired by Live Nation, Sparetime Entertainment hit 260 million views, Fiveworx was acquired by Northshore Management, Local Motors launched its first self-driving vehicle, and Perfect Serve raised $21 million.

That’s not counting how Proton Power is also currently constructing a new $50 million hydrogen power plant, the University of Tennessee launched Cherokee Farm’s “Innovation Campus,” and Cirrus Insight broke into the top 50 of Inc. 500’s List.

Let’s not forget also how ORNL and Boeing broke the world record earlier this year for the largest 3D printed item ever. So while we take time to reflect on these triumphs let’s also welcome the next generation of dreamers and startups.

If you missed the video, that’s ok. Click here to find out just some of what Knoxville’s entrepreneurial community has been up to since last year.