StoragePug wins pitch competition at Startup Day 2018, 4th annual Traction Award goes to T&T Scientific

Knoxville’s sixth annual Startup Day celebrated East Tennessee’s thriving entrepreneurial community at The Mill & The Mine on Tuesday, September 25. Regional innovators, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and investors joined the East Tennessee community for competition and fellowship at the signature event of Innov865 Week, the city’s annual showcase of Knoxville as a great place to start and grow businesses.

An East Tennessee startup won both cash prizes at the Startup Day pitch competition, which featured six startups pitching their businesses before a panel of judges for the change to win up to $10,000. StoragePug earned the $7,000 Startup Day 2018 Judge’s Choice prize presented by the Innov865 Alliance, as well as the $3,000 Startup Day 2018 Crowd Favorite prize presented by SunTrust Bank.

Tommy Nguyen is co-founder and COO of StoragePug, a modern marketing company for self storage. Powered by scalable cloud and serverless computing, StoragePug creates intelligent marketing websites that connect customers to self storage through online rentals, bill pay, and lease eSign. Self storage exists to help people transition into new phases of their lives, and to help self storage owners be the best stewards to people in need and meet them where they are – online and on their smartphones. Combined with marketing intelligence, StoragePug has built a proprietary online rental station which empowers storage owners to rent more units with the convenience of eSign and autopay.

“SunTrust Bank is proud to play a role in East Tennessee’s advancement as a prime destination city for startups and entrepreneurs in the Southeast,” said Harry Gross, Knoxville President of SunTrust Bank. “We join the Knoxville community in supporting these startups and celebrate these entrepreneurs who are putting our city on the map as a hub of innovation.”

Amy Nelson, CEO of Venture for America presented an inspiring keynote presentation about her passion for training more entrepreneurs and retaining talented young people in middle-America cities like Knoxville. “Entrepreneurs are the backbone of our economy. When cities invest in innovation and come together to lower barriers for new businesses, it injects critical new life and economic growth throughout the entire community. It has been truly impressive experiencing firsthand Knoxville’s thriving ecosystem of budding entrepreneurs and innovation.”

Graham Taylor and Nima Tamaddoni of T&T Scientific received the fourth annual Innov865 Traction Award, presented by UT Federal Credit Union. The Innov865 Traction Award is given to a Startup Day alum whose businesses has gained the most momentum since pitching at Startup Day.

T&T Scientific has gained considerable traction since winning the 2016 Startup Day pitch competition. Just this year, the company setup a global distribution network with on the ground sales forces in more than 25 countries. Knoxville’s Halls community will be the beneficiary of T&T Scientific’s growth later this year, as the company plans a move to a 15,000 square foot facility which will expand its manufacturing capabilities. T&T Scientific produces low-cost, single use liposome extrusion devices that simplify the process of preparing liposomes for research laboratories, manufacturing facilities, and clinical settings.

“UT Federal Credit Union is delighted to continue its sponsorship of the Traction Award and celebrate the success of East Tennessee entrepreneurs,” said Myra Hamilton, Assistant Vice President of Business Lending at UT Federal Credit Union. “T&T Scientific joins a prestigious community of previous winners helping to driving innovation and growth in our region.”

What is the ‘great entrepreneurial lie?’ That it’s all about the money

(Originally published: The Tennessean)

By: Charlie Brock, CEO & President of Launch Tennessee

Over the last five years as the CEO of Launch Tennessee, too often I’ve seen founders raise angel or seed funding, develop a product line and a small customer-base, but not gain any real traction.

First, they’re discouraged, and soon they’re out of cash. The worst part? They’ve convinced themselves, and often their board, that if they just raise that next round of funding, life will be good, and the company will be on track for success.

Here’s the reality, entrepreneurs: It’s not all about the money. In fact, that is the great entrepreneurial lie. Building a lasting business and brand is all about the hustle, and if you don’t have what it takes to give it your all, you’re not going to make it.

I began my own entrepreneurial journey at Foxmark Media in 1998, and I’ll be the first to admit that thanks to some personal capital from the sale of a family business along with four generations of family connections with prospective angel investors in the community, I had a leg up. For several years, I was able to bootstrap and take minimal to no salary.

Recognizing the limitations on my personal funding capacity, I got out there and hustled every single day to build a viable business worthy of funding from other people’s pockets.

When I didn’t have enough capital to hire a sales team, I spent nearly all my time making calls and driving to small markets across the region to get my product through the door.

Read more here.

Judges for 2018 Startup Day Pitch Competition revealed

The Innov865 Alliance has selected three judges to take the stage on Startup Day 2018 to listen and decide which of the six startups competing will win the Startup Day 2018 Judge’s Choice Prize, presented by the Innov865 Alliance.

The winners of the pitch competition will be announced on Sept. 25 during the signature event of Innov865 Week, an annual celebration of Knoxville’s thriving entrepreneurial community held this year Sept. 23-28, 2018.

The six startups were selected from a large pool of applicants for the chance to pitch their businesses before a panel of judges at Startup Day’s pitch competition. The finalists will compete in two prize categories, judges’ choice and crowd favorite, for the chance to win a total of $10,000 in cash prizes to invest in their startup. The crowd favorite prize is sponsored by SunTrust Bank.

Startup Day 2018 is Sept. 25 from 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. at The Mill & Mine in downtown Knoxville. Doors will open at 1:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, and registration is now open online.

The judges include:

Eric Meyerson, Head of Marketing at Sensai

Eric Meyerson is head of marketing for Sensai, a new startup that gives businesses, creators, and artists the power to transform their online influence with the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Eric is also former marketing executive at Facebook, YouTube, and Eventbrite, and he earned his MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC-Berkeley. Click here for more information.

Sue Malone, President of Strategies for Small Business

Sue is the number one provider, SBA Export Express and SBA SLA v.2 and director of marketing for Superior Financial Group.  Sue’s involvement began with the program’s inception in 2002. Since then, Sue has helped fund over 41,000 SBA loans, which include Patriot Express loans, Export Express, Community Express and now Small Lender Advantage v.2 and became the largest SBA lender by volume.  Her goal is to fund 100,000 small businesses. Sue is a serial entrepreneur and has started over seven businesses. She holds an MBA from St. Mary’s College. Click here for more information.

Mike Stephens, Chief Integrations Officer at Ministry Brands

Mike has been operating in healthcare finance since 2001, with 10 years of experience as a CFO in hospitals across the country, both in the for-profit and not-for-profit space. Mike has led turnarounds with teams in 5 different hospitals that have cumulatively achieved over $200 million in EBITDA improvements under his guidance; with the majority of this performance occurring thru revenue growth. His most recent opportunity as CFO of NCH Healthcare System in Naples, FL, went from a negative operating margin of $ (5.6 Million) in 2013 to projecting a $45 Million margin in 2015. Click here for more information.

Applications open for third cohort of ORNL’s “Innovation Crossroads” program

(Originally published on Teknovation.biz)

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) initiative that is attracting top young entrepreneurs to the region to grow their energy-focused start-ups is launching recruitment for its third cohort while also adding an additional key sponsor.

The application process for the next cohort of up to six participants in the “Innovation Crossroads” (IC) program opens today and closes on October 29. The application can be found here.

IC is one of three U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Programs designed to place top technical post-doctoral talent within national labs as Research Fellows with the goal of subsequently launching businesses. Recipients of the two-year fellowship receive an award valued at nearly $500,000 that includes stipends, vouchers for collaborative research and development at ORNL, start-up business guidance and mentoring, and health and travel benefits.

For the third cohort that will arrive in the region in May 2019, ORNL has signed-up the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as a sponsor. The agency’s funding will provide support for IC Fellows focused on energy-related topics such as grid reliability and emerging technologies.

“TVA pursues research and development that best serves the people of the Valley,” said Joe Hoagland, TVA’s Vice President for Enterprise Relations. “We are leveraging our partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and others to take advantage of this unique entrepreneurial fellowship program.”

Read more here.

Cohort 3 – Apply Today – $500,000 Package

Haslams have engaging fireside chat during “36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival”

(Originally published on Teknovation.biz)

Those who attended last year’s “36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival” in Nashville were impressed with the way in which Governor Bill Haslam moderated a fireside chat with FedEx Founder Fred Smith.

On Wednesday afternoon, Tennessee’s outgoing Chief Executive Officer (CEO) was up for an even greater challenge . . . moderating a fireside chat with another legend, in this case his father who founded Pilot Flying J Corporation 60 years ago. “Big Jim” Haslam, as he is affectionately known by many, and his youngest son had a humorous, insightful conversation that drew laughs and applause from an appreciative crowd at the Wild Horse Saloon.

The discussion over about a 45-minute period covered everything from the history of Pilot, founded as a single gas station, through the more recent acquisition of a minority stake by noted investor Warren Buffet and ended with  the senior Haslam’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.

The first station was opened the year the Governor was born. As “Big Jim” explained that period, he needed a job and was offered one as a high school coach but the salary would not begin for several months. He needed income then. As he looked around, the elder Haslam was offered a job selling ads for a local television station.

“I was not sure TV was going to make it,” he said laughingly.

By 1964-65, Pilot had grown to 12 stations, and Haslam sold one-half of the company to Marathon Oil Corporation, a transaction that provided expansion capital. In 1988, Pilot repurchased the stake held by Marathon, only to bring the corporation back as a partial owner in 2001 and again repurchase that interest in 2008.

Read more here.

Carson’s research shows relationship factors very important in VC, angel decisions

(Originally published on Teknovation.biz)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Shawn Carson says the research conducted for his recently completed dissertation on the critical risk factors considered by angel and venture capitalists confirmed some things he expected, but also held a big surprise.

“What I expected was the importance of the ‘Big 4,’ what surprised me were the relationship factors,” the Lecturer in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee Knoxville and Consultant with Three Roots Capital says.

The ‘Big 4,” as he describes them, are execution – can the management team execute the business plan, market – is there a viable market for the product or service, technology – does it work, and funding – can the start-up secure the necessary capital.

“Those are fairly objective measures that are commonly accepted,” Carson says. Yet, when he asked nine venture capitalists and nine angel investors for their list of all critical factors considered in making investment decisions, they collectively identified 82 unique ones.

Carson lumped those into seven categories like founders and management team, relationship, intellectual property, competitive factors, value proposition, scalability, and exit.

“By far, the number one category of factors was around relationships,” Carson said. “Six of the top 10 were about relationships.”

You might ask, “What are those six?” Survey says, in order, trustworthiness, ethics and honesty, integrity, coachability, character, and passion. Two others were in the top 20 – management ‘skin in the game’ and transparency.

Read more here.

Click below to view a summary of Carson’s research in this PDF document.

Carson Dissertation Summary – Executive Summary – For Distribution

Six finalists to compete for $10,000 at Startup Day 2018, Traction Award nominees announced

The Innov865 Alliance has selected six East Tennessee startups as pitch competition finalists and three Traction Award nominees for Startup Day 2018. The winners of the pitch competition and Traction Award will be announced on Sept. 25 during the signature event of Innov865 Week, an annual celebration of Knoxville’s thriving entrepreneurial community held this year Sept. 23-28, 2018.

The six startups were selected from a large pool of applicants for the chance to pitch their businesses before a panel of judges at Startup Day’s pitch competition. The finalists will compete in two prize categories, judges’ choice and crowd favorite, for the chance to win a total of $10,000 in cash prizes to invest in their startup. The crowd favorite prize is sponsored by SunTrust Bank.

The Traction Award, sponsored by UT Federal Credit Union, is presented annually to the  Startup Day alum who has made the most progress – or gained the most “traction” – since pitching their company at Startup Day in years past.

The 2017 Innov865 Traction Award winner was RDI Technologies, which offers video camera-based technology to find faults in machinery, infrastructure and human performance not visible to the human eye. Its clients include Fortune100 companies such as Honda, Nissan, Dow Chemical and Shell Oil.

Startup Day 2018 is Sept. 25 from 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. at The Mill & Mine in downtown Knoxville. Doors will open at 1:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, and registration is now open online. In addition to the pitch competition and Traction Award announcement, Venture For America’s Amy Nelson will give the keynote address on her experience supporting startups and entrepreneurs.

The Innov865 Alliance has selected the following six finalists to compete in the pitch competition:

David Nelson, BrewFund, Inc.

BrewFund, Inc. creates a new revenue stream for craft beer taprooms through an innovative engagement platform that enables digital gifting, manages loyalty clubs, and provides sales and marketing data.

Alex Adams, GeoAir

GeoAir is a proactive agricultural analysis company that seeks to make farmers more efficient and profitable, utilizing a custom-developed drone to pinpoint and identify mold in fields. GeoAir allows farmers the opportunity to spot treat and manage the mold before damage occurs to the crop.

Shane McMahon, Lux Semiconductors

Lux Semiconductors is an advanced-tech startup developing high-quality and low-cost semiconductor substrates for the rapidly evolving electronics industry. Lux aims to deliver a new class of flexible semiconductor substrates to serve as the next generation platform and replace the thick, fragile, expensive class currently in use.

Megan O’Connor, Nth Cycle

Nth Cycle has developed an electrochemical recycling device to recover rare earth and specialty elements from end-of-life electronics waste streams for reuse in advanced manufacturing.

Bailey Foster, Real Good Kitchen

Real Good Kitchen is a community kitchen and culinary incubator planned to open in Knoxville in 2019. It provides high quality, shared commercial kitchen and storage space, as well as industry-specific technical assistance and business development resources, to established and emerging food entrepreneurs.

Tommy Nguyen, StoragePug

StoragePug is a modern marketing company for self storage. Powered by scalable cloud and serverless computing, StoragePug creates intelligent marketing websites that connect customers to self storage through online rentals, bill pay, and lease eSign.

The Innov865 Alliance has selected the following nominees for the 2018 Traction Award:

Courtney Jones, MomSource Network

Courtney  Jones  is  the  CEO  of  MomSource  Network,  an  organization  dedicated  to  creating  diverse  and  inclusive  workplaces  through  targeted  diversity  recruiting  efforts  enterprise  Returnship  and  Trailing  Spouse  programs.  A  passionate  advocate  for  gender  diversity  and  a  recognized  thought  leader  on  topics  related  to  women  in  business,  D&I  and  work-life  blend;  she’s  been  featured  in  Bloomberg,  CNN,  and  Working  Mother  and  has  worked  alongside  hundreds  of  companies  to  create  meaningful  opportunities  for  women.

Mac Bartine, Smart RIA

Mac  Bartine  is  the  CEO  of  Smart  RIA,  a  software  platform  that  simplifies  compliance  for  the  Registered  Investment  Advisor  (RIA)  industry,  which  is  regulated  by  the  Securities  and  Exchange  Commission.  Under  Mac’s  leadership,  Smart  RIA  has  grown  more  than  13 percent  month  over  month  since  January  of  2017,  which  was  its  second  full  year  of  revenue,  and  is  on  track  to  expand  internationally  and  exceed  $1 million  in  leading  annual  sales  in  2019.

Graham Taylor, T&T Scientific

Graham Taylor is president and CTO of T&T Scientific, a company that produces low-cost, single use liposome extrusion devices that simplify the process of preparing liposomes for research laboratories, manufacturing facilities, and clinical settings. Compared to other commercially available extrusion platforms, T&T Scientific’s NanoSizerTM technology is ready to use out of the package and does not require any assembly or cleaning, enabling a more efficient process and lowering the risk of contamination.

Carson to share interesting insights into VCs, angels at Innov865 Investor Series forum

Originally published on Teknovation.biz

By: Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

“The numbers have to be there, and they also have to like you,” Shawn Carson says in succinctly capturing the results of the research undertaken on investment strategies for his recently completed dissertation at the University of Tennessee (UT).

The long-time player in the Knoxville region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem will share the results of his research at tonight’s “Innov865 Investor Series” forum, then moderate a panel discussion about the topic. The panel will feature Tony Lettich of The Angel Roundtable, John Morris of The Lighthouse Fund, Grady Vanderhoofven of Three Roots Capital, and Ken Woody of Innova Memphis.

Carson is well-known across East Tennessee for his skills as a workshop leader and effective communicator. As such, it was only natural that the soft-spoken Lecturer in UT Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business would decide to pursue his doctorate. And, it should come as no surprise that his previous ties to the now defunct Technology 2020 and current additional role at Three Roots Capital would lead him to a dissertation topic based on the decision-making process used by angel and venture investors.

“I’ve been studying entrepreneurial risk for a while,” Carson told us in an interview ahead of the forum. We wanted to better understand the methodology that he used and the results that he uncovered.

“Entrepreneurs take risks, investors avoid risks,” Carson explained. “I wanted to know if there was a way to quantify risks beyond the ‘Big 4’ – execution, market, technology, and funding.”

The short answer is “yes,” but it took some work. Carson described his challenge as “developing a process that would get people to explain their individual risk factors in a way I could quantify.” To do it, he selected the Delphi Method developed in the 1950’s to achieve consensus while avoiding biases of those surveyed.

Read more here.

Local company Smart RIA on the brink of international expansion

(Credit: Knoxville.Biz)

Almost a year after winning the Innov865 Week’s Startup Day 2018 pitch competition, Smart RIA is on the brink of international expansion, thanks to partnerships forged through that program.

While CEO Mac Bartine stood on stage accepting a $10,000 check for Smart RIA at the Sept. 2017 event, he noticed a man in the audience trying to get his attention.

That man was Paul Folta, a semi-retired business development executive with a specialty in international business. He told Bartine Smart RIA was a good candidate for international expansion.

Smart RIA’s software streamlines the regulatory process for registered investment advisors. Most of their clients are independent business owners.

“Even though they’re independent business owners who have no more capability of moving the financial markets than I have of picking up a semi(trailer) and throwing it, they are still regulated as though they can do that,” Bartine said. “It’s a serious burden, it’s in many cases the scariest part of their business for them.”

Doubled RIA customers in last year

Bartine said the company worked with 2 consulting firms and had 400 RIA client firms in Sept. 2017.

As of late July, Smart RIA has strategic partnerships with 14 consulting firms and more than 950 RIA firms as clients.

“We have more than doubled (customers) in the last year,” Bartine said. They’ve tripled revenue in the last year.

Building partnerships with consultants is a quick way to scale the company, as the software trickles down through their clients. The software doesn’t eliminate the need for consultants, Folta said, rather it adds value to what the consultant offers client RIAs.

In the next year, Bartine estimated they will triple business and then double business again the year after.

The team will hire more developers, customer service reps and sales people.

The company plans to stay headquartered in Knoxville, Bartine said.

“People know us,” he said. “Locally, people are interested in coming to work with us.”

Click here for more information.

Venture For America CEO Amy Nelson to headline Startup Day 2018

Venture For America CEO Amy Nelson will be the featured speaker for Innov865 Week’s Startup Day 2018. Venture For America is a nonprofit fellowship program that connects recent college graduates with jobs at startups, forging a community of entrepreneurs committed to building companies that matter and creating economic opportunity in American cities.

“Knoxville has a growing reputation for innovation and entrepreneurship that I’m excited to witness firsthand,” Nelson said. “Venture For America exists to help lower the barriers to building a company for aspiring entrepreneurs. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Knoxville community is building a supportive, high-growth ecosystem for budding entrepreneurs.”

Innov865 Week offers a prime opportunity to showcase Knoxville and its growing entrepreneurial community for Nelson and Venture For America, which is scouting new cities in which to expand and invest. Venture For America trains and connects its Fellows with full-time jobs at early stage companies in cities with emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems. This influx of talent bolsters local entrepreneurship and contributes to lasting economic growth as Fellows become part of a new community.

As CEO of Venture For America, Nelson focuses on supporting aspiring young entrepreneurs and creating a pathway to entrepreneurship for all. Prior to joining VFA, Nelson was an integral part of the team at B Lab, where she helped launch B Analytics, the leading data platform for impact investors. She earned her MBA at NYU’s Stern School of Business and holds degrees in philosophy and government from Claremont McKenna College. After college, she helped grow highly-innovative international development organizations in Cameroon and Cambodia. Nelson currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

Startup Day 2018 will take place Tuesday, September 25 at The Mill & Mine in downtown Knoxville. Startup Day will feature a pitch competition, where six East Tennessee startups will be selected to pitch their businesses and compete to win up to $10,000 in cash prizes. The Startup Day pitch competition is the signature event of Innov865 Week, an annual celebration of Knoxville’s entrepreneurial community, held this year September 23-28, 2018.

Nelson will speak before the hundreds of entrepreneurs, startups, business leaders, investors, community leaders and students who attend Innov865 Week each year. This year’s event features a packed week of investor roundtables, educational panels, demo days, and networking.

Startup Day 2018 is free and open to the public. Register today, click here.