Launch Tennessee now accepting applications for new “SBIR/STTR Matching Fund Grants Program”

(NOTE: This article was originally published on

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Tennessee-based entrepreneurs seeking to commercialize technology with funding from two federal initiatives now have another tool in their toolkit, thanks to funding included in the 2017-18 State of Tennessee budget, and the application window is open.

As a result of a more than two-year effort, spearheaded by two statewide organizations – Launch Tennessee and Life Science Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslam recommended and the General Assembly approved $1.5 million for the new “SBIR/STTR Matching Fund Grants Program.” The dollars are non-recurring, meaning they will have to be included in next year’s state budget for the program to be more than a 12-month initiative.

The funding represents an important milestone in efforts to support more technology start-up growth in the Volunteer State. The $1.5 million pot of funds will be used to match federal grants that companies receive to advance their efforts to commercialize technologies important to the federal government. The state’s program has a cap of $150,000 that can be awarded to any one company.

“It allows us to remain competitive and keep really good start-ups here,” Lindsey Cox, Launch Tennessee’s Director of Operations and Government Affairs, said. Several of the states around Tennessee have already implemented similar initiatives, and some start-ups from here have relocated to those states to be eligible for their matching dollars.

Read more here.

Future865 promises engaging discussion on the innovations in healthcare

Future865 promises diverse discussion on the types of entrepreneurship happening in Knoxville.

The event will kick off Innov865 Week 2017 on Monday, September 18 and explore opportunities to build the most effective and vibrant future for Knoxville with community, business and thought leaders.

A variety of presenters will describe their visions for harnessing innovation and entrepreneurship in building a stronger ecosystem and propose solutions in an engaging environment with the audience.

One of those speakers will be Dr. Bruce Ramshaw, Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, where he will be discussing innovations in healthcare.

He received his medical degree from the University of Florida College of Medicine and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He has been recognized internationally for laparoscopic and advanced hernia procedures, and he also specializes in creating patient-centered care teams.

Most recently, Dr. Ramshaw served as chair of the Halifax Health Medical Center General Surgery Residency Program in Daytona Beach, Florida, since 2009.

In addition to being an education leader, Dr. Ramshaw has founded multiple companies in the healthcare field including Advanced Hernia Solutions and Surgical Momentum.

Advanced Hernia Solutions has helped complex hernia patients from all over the world on the basis of a patient-centered care model. Surgical Momentum, dissolved in April 2017, was a patient safety organization that was established in 2009 after Dr. Ramshaw recognized there could be vast differences in how the same hernia mesh reacted in different patients. Using Continuous Quality Improvement principles, Surgical Momentum worked with medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and distributors to improve value, quality of care and patient outcomes.

From freelancer to small business owner

(Note: This article was originally published on Startup Southerner.)

The 3 key foundational things you need to transform your side-hustle into a small business

By Alex Hubenthal, owner of Bookscaping

Are you ready to take your side-hustle and turn it into a viable business but don’t know how or where to start? So many budding entrepreneurs have been in your shoes at one point in time or another—including myself. When I started my first business, I had no idea what a DBA was or what the difference between a C Corp and an S Corp was. But rest assured, I am here to give you all the information you need to get started so you can run the business of your dreams. Start with these 3 key steps:

  1. Select a business entity type.

The very first thing that you should be considering when turning your side-hustle into a small business is selecting your business entity type. In business, you have the option to file official documents with the state where you reside to provide yourself legal and financial protection. These documents have a fee associated with them that range between $100-$400 depending on the state and entity type. These documents are filed with your state’s Secretary of State Division of Corporations. Some states allow you to file digitally so you can get your documents immediately, while others are still on the paper system where you have to mail in your documents and then wait 1–2 weeks to hear back from the state. When you are paying, make sure that you request official copies of your documents and a certificate of status. You will need this later. Also, it’s important to note there is an annual filing fee (also known as an “Annual Report”) that is in most cases cheaper than the initial filing with the state but you must pay this annually to keep your records current.

For information on different business entity types, you can check out my blog post here.

  1. Apply for an EIN

After you receive confirmation from the state that your business entity is approved and in an “active status,” you will now need to apply for an EIN (Employer Identification Number) with the IRS. You need this regardless if you have employees or not. This is free to obtain and only takes a few minutes. This number is the equivalent of your personal Social Security Number and you will need this number when filing your business taxes at the end of the year or paying taxes throughout the year as required by your state/business type. To obtain your EIN, go here and follow the prompts. You will have an option to receive a digital copy or a paper copy by mail to the address you provided the IRS when filling out the form.

  1. Open a business banking account

The third thing that you want to have set up is a bank account for your business. You must have a bank account set up for your business that is separate from your personal bank accounts. I cannot stress how important this is. If you start conducting business transactions in a personal bank account, you are going to have a very big financial mess on your hands. When budding entrepreneurs are getting started, I recommend that they go to a large national bank. The reasoning behind this is that when you go to set up your accounting platforms, we can guarantee that the accounting software will link up to your bank account so you can make reconciliations a breeze. My three favorite banks are Wells Fargo (Simple Business Checking), Chase Bank (Chase Total Business Checking) and Bank of America (Business Fundamentals Checking). These all require minimum balances and may have a nominal monthly service fee. In most cases, you can avoid the service fee by using a debit card associated with the account or agree to receive digital statements. Note, you will need your business filing documents provided from the state when opening a bank account.

How one Knoxville teen started a business inspired by Disney

(NOTE: This article was originally published by the Shopper News.)

By: Margie Hagen, Shopper News correspondent

For Marlie Stiles, captivating and delighting young children comes naturally; appearing as different princesses and fairy tale characters, she has built a business around her dream.

As a 15-year-old high school student, Marlie thought about a part-time job, but didn’t want to work in typical teen positions like fast food or retail. She decided to follow her passion for acting and started her own business, Castles & Crowns Princess Parties. Now 17, she has created a successful career with a loyal following of kids and adults.

Like a lot of young girls, Marlie was fascinated by Disney movies; Ariel was a favorite along with other princesses. “I wanted to turn my love for characters into acting,” she says. “In middle school I studied with Jayne Morgan at the Flying Anvil (Theatre) and took dance lessons at the Angela Floyd Studios.” Currently, Marlie takes classes at Backstage Dance Company.

Read the full story here.

You probably overlooked these 10 steps to supercharge your startup success

(Note: This article was originally published on Startup Southerner.)

by Alex Lavidge

Prior to raising capital, there are a lot of steps a startup needs to take to set you up for success. Here’s what they are:

  1. Be honest and assess where you’re at.

Before you get ready to create the next billion-dollar unicorn startup, or open another coffee shop down the street, how much cash do you have tucked away in the bank? What’s your debt-to-limit ratio on your credit cards? Still carrying around your share of over $1.3 trillion student debt in the U.S?

One of the biggest mistakes aspiring entrepreneurs make is thinking that launching a new business could be instant relief from their money woes or that it is a shortcut from going back to joining 70% of Americans who hate their jobs.

Regardless of the outliers you have probably heard of, the majority of successful entrepreneurs focus on building “runway” and stabilizing their finances in their lives before launching a business. From there, creating a minimalist lifestyle that allows you to maximize your free time for personal development (and the checkboxes to follow in this article) is the first step.

  1. Develop skill sets on your natural strengths.

Trying to be good at everything won’t make you even average at anything.

But don’t feel guilty if there’s a side of you that’s a generalist. The good news is you’re most likely destined to be a successful entrepreneurJust balance that passion to understand everything with becoming a specialist in something. It will make your entrepreneurial path easier.

If you’re unsure what that specialty should be, invest time in getting tested for your natural strengths and aptitudes. Discover your “flow.” This will help you identify a speciality you’re passionate about for when the day comes that you build your team.

  1. Launch your personal brand.

In advertising it is well known that a brand is a personality — so make your personality a brand that people want to get to know.

There’s a lot being written these days about how to be more likable. (However, don’t try to force it. In short, be authentic when you tell your story and focus on making other people feel good.)

Launch a blog, write articles for publications that already have audiences, and get your name out there so that when people search for you online the results accelerate the rate at which you’re trustworthy. Trust and credibility builds a solid foundation for any successful entrepreneurial path.

  1. Assess your area and find your tribe.

Don’t just go around posting in forums or show up at every business networking event where you pass out a bunch of business cards. What will quickly feel like tiring work probably won’t work out for you.

Instead, build meaningful relationships. Ask questions. Identify what motivates others. Developing your empathy will get your farther than mindless hustle.

From there, help solve problems and add value for other successful business owners and entrepreneurs you encounter without expecting anything in return. When you focus on solving problems facing prevalent industries or adding value to consumers in your region, you’re more likely to be successful. Eventually, you’ll develop a reputation and you’ll have a community of friends who feel as though your success is their success.

  1. Get paid to learn and pay to keep learning.

Whether you’re working full-time for another startup in an industry you’re passionate about or you’re consulting on the side, never stop discovering creative ways you can gets paid to learn.

From there, you’ll learn a lot about what works (and probably more on what doesn’t work) before launching a company. Take notes and pay particular attention toward what you can do to create a work culture that attracts the brightest talent.

From there, keep saving money that allows you to take time off to learn for free as well as pay to take courses online. Consider, for instance, enrolling inone of the top growth hacking bootcamps to help you stand apart from failing entrepreneurs who focus too much on building a product rather than focusing more on sales and marketing.

  1. Work on launching projects first.

Rather than falling into the trap of failing a bunch of times when launching a new company, consider launching short-term projects (ideally those that can make money) with as few moving parts as possible.

For instance, this could be as simple as putting an ebook online with a landing page, or launching an online course. (There are more ways you can make money that can be a part of the “getting paid to learn” lifestyle so important to every aspiring entrepreneur that only require an investment of time.)

These types of projects are a great way to turn acquaintances and friendships into trusted working relationships that over time keep pushing you to be at your best. (Start by signing up for events like 48 Hour LaunchStartup Weekend, or host your own.)

  1. Self-finance before thinking investors care.

Want to know how to get your business financed with instant approval, zero interest, and never having to worry about managing expectations with investors? Just make a withdrawal from your savings account.

It takes even less than $5,000 today to get a tech startup off the ground today compared to $5 million over 15 years ago.

But that’s money not necessarily going toward product development. Invest in a website, a CRM database, prototyping software (or 3-D printing to demonstrate a concept design), business cards and establish relationships that become commitments to buy your product or service before you launch. The biggest expenses should be measured in time, not money, in the early phases of your startup.

  1. Invest in market research until it hurts.

Fred Smith, CEO and founder of FedEx, most recently at 36|86 got on stage and told the story of how he funded three separate independent market research studies on the future of logistics, despite being tight on cash.

Most entrepreneurs don’t even fund one study before they start and will go through months, even years, blowing through raised capital (usually raised from friends and family) until they conduct tedious A/B tests and eventually determine the best product-market fit.

  1. Study checklists and systems of other successful companies.

There’s a saying in startup culture: “goals are for losers — systems are for winners.”

Don’t just study “business plans” and “pitchdecks” of other companies that have done well over the years. Analyze job descriptionsGANNT charts, workflow charts, audits and narratives (even if you have to put them together yourself) of how other companies went through a logical sequence of tasks to complete projects and reach key milestones.

In other words, don’t just visualize the outcome — visualize the process and habits that will take your company from good to great. This will help you avoid the trap of feeling like you’re “building the ship as it’s leaving the harbor,” another saying well-known by many veteran startup founders who have learned over the years that most of those ships end up sinking.

  1. Sell the outcome to customers before talking to investors.

Once you’re ready to scale, investors are going to place more value on a validated CRM database full of qualified sales leads than a vision with an unvalidated product-market fit.

When a pain point is prevalent, you’ll have no trouble finding people who want to talk to you about it and verify that if you had a solution that really solved the problem, they’d be likely to try it out.

You may even find that your customers end up being the best types of investors you can have.

These are just 10 checkboxes, but for additional reasons why (tech) startups fail check out the classic 18 Startup Mistakes That Lead To Failure created by Paul Graham, co-founder and partner at Y Combinator.

Endeavor Summit 2017 will be your chance to get a preview of Innov865 Week 2017

More than 600 young professionals will be coming to Knoxville on September 15 for Endeavor Summit 2017 where attendees will also get a sneak peak into what Innov865 Week 2017 has to offer.

The one-day experience will take over three major venues along Depot Avenue in the Old City. Produced by the Knoxville Chamber and planned by a team of young professional volunteers, Endeavor is designed to empower our region’s emerging leaders to evolve their personal brand and elevate the community through collective development opportunities.

The Innov865 Alliance will have a booth set up at the Summit, where attendees can learn more about Innov865 Week 2017 events celebrating Knoxville’s entrepreneurial community and sign up for the feature event Startup Day 2017.

Two compelling keynote speakers will headline the morning and afternoon sessions: Hallerin Hilton Hill, talk radio host on Newstalk 98.7 WOKI and television talk show host of Anything is Possible on WBIR-TV; and Chris “Bash” Bashinelli, host of Bridge the Gap featured on PBS and the National Geographic Channel.

Breakout session topics focus on Launching Something New, Growing What You Got, and Why Knoxville is No. 1. Attendees can choose from the multiple breakout session options, allowing for the creation of a custom schedule tailored to their individual goals. The day wraps up with networking happy hour featuring local music, craft brews, and food.

Each attendee also has the chance to participate in activities designed to inspire growth, engagement, and excitement. These include contributing to an on-site, service-to-go project; observing the work of a local muralist; connecting with over 600 peers and community leaders; utilizing a hacker lounge; and exploring non-profit and sponsor exhibits. Lunch features local restaurants and food trucks for an outdoor picnic, and DJs amplify the experience with music and entertainment.

Individual tickets and special group rates are now available. Registration includes access to all keynote and breakout sessions, activities, breakfast, lunch, networking opportunities, and the Endeavor Happy Hour.

AgWorks launch party set for next week at Sizzle TechStart

(NOTE: This article was originally published on

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and AgLaunch will host a kick-off party next week to celebrate the new AgWorks accelerator. The program, described in this recent article, features five agricultural-focused start-ups.

The event begins at 6 p.m. July 18 at Sizzle TechStart, 487 Sam Rayburn Parkway in Lenoir City. The location is in the Roane Regional Industrial Park just off the Highway 321/95 exit from I-40.

To register for the launch party, click here. The party includes dinner, refreshments, and a brief introduction of the program and teams.

AgWorks is a 12-week accelerator program designed to develop East Tennessee agriculture start-ups in partnership with the statewide AgLaunch initiative. Programming includes business development sessions facilitated by Chris Ayala, lead mentor, and agricultural innovation support including mentorship, workshops, and investment access through AgLaunch. The program is supported with funding from Launch Tennessee, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

Knoxville welcomes Innovation Crossroads’ innovators to East Tennessee

The Knoxville Chamber was a packed house Tuesday when the Innovation Crossroad’s innovators pitched their startup before Knoxville’s entrepreneurial community during an Innov865 Happy Hour.

Dozens came out to see the cleantech companies present their next-generation ideas solving global energy challenges.

Innovation Crossroads is a program based at ORNL that matches aspiring energy entrepreneurs with the experts, mentors, and networks in technology-related fields to take their world-changing ideas from R&D to the marketplace.

Several entrepreneurs were selected to transform their ideas into clean energy companies with financial support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Innovators receive a fellowship that covers living costs, benefits and a travel stipend for up to two years, plus up to $350,000 to use on collaborative research and development at ORNL.

The crowd heard from Mitchell Ishmael of Active Energy Systems first. Ishmael is utilizing a saltwater material to store electricity as thermal energy. The method provides a much cheaper alternative to providing onsite backup power for customers than standby generators or batteries. It is expected to encourage the installation of more distributed, renewable power generation.

Ishmael explained how energy storage is still high cost and low efficiency and the resources available to him in East Tennessee could help change that.

“Innovation Crossroads is providing us all a leg up already,” said Ishmael.

Anna Douglas of SkyNano Technologies presented her pitch next. Douglas’ technology utilizes carbon dioxide as feedstock to significantly lower the production cost of carbon nanotubes. The process provides a use for captured greenhouse gases while benefiting clean energy technologies and advanced manufacturing.

“SkyNano Technologies has made immense progress with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and my company has benefited from the lab’s community connections,” said Douglas.

Finally, the crowd heard from Matthew Ellis and Samuel Shaner of Yellowstone Energy. The two are developing an advanced nuclear reactor with the potential for faster installation while optimizing safety in order to provide a clean source of baseload electricity. The design uses an already licensed uranium fuel with an ambient pressure, high temperature coolant.

“Yellowstone Energy’s solution delivers lower cost, advanced nuclear sooner,” said Ellis.

Tom Rogers, Innov865 Alliance member and Director of Industrial Partnerships and Economic Development at ORNL, stressed to the audience afterwards that applications are still open for Startup Day 2017 pitch competition.

Interested East Tennessee startups have until July 10, 2017 to apply to pitch their business on the U.S. Cellular Stage at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville. 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.

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).