Innov865 Happy Hour discusses customer development, customer acquisition

Brandon Bruce, Co-founder of Cirrus Insight led an engaging discussion with Jenna Johns, COO of RDI Technologies and Dr. Graham Taylor, President of T&T Scientific talking about customer development and customer acquisition during a recent Innov865 Happy Hour hosted by UTRF.

Both Johns and Taylor are established entrepreneurs in Knoxville. Each of them are Startup Day veterans having pitched before a panel of investor judges and the greater Knoxville entrepreneurial community in years past.

They were nominated for the 2017 Innov865 Traction Award, presented by UT Federal Credit Union. The award is given to a Startup Day alum who has gained the most momentum over the past few years, and Johns won the award back in September.

RDI Technologies has patented a noncontact video camera-based technology platform that allows users to measure motion, vibration, deflection, and displacement not visible to the human eye. Unlike traditional contact monitoring systems, RDI’s technology measures data in real time, turning virtually every pixel in the camera’s view into a sensor capable of measuring vibration or motion with sub pixel accuracy.

Meanwhile T&T Scientific is 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 NanoSizer (formerly LipX) technology is ready to use out of the package and does not require any assembly or cleaning.

During the Innov865 Happy Hour, Bruce asked Johns and Taylor when they received their first customers, how many customers they have to date, and if they experienced any pivots in the customer discovery process.

Johns elaborated that RDI Technologies first clients started coming in in August 2016, and they’ve since grown to 120 customers to date. But during the process, they did have to pivot.

“We started as a service company. We were taking out what we had invented and we were testing it and figuring out how the customer and end-user would want to use it. We got paid for that service, and we did it for about a year,” said Johns. “But every customer we had we heard ‘Well this looks so easy, why can’t I do it myself?’ So, we decided to take some time to work on our patenting strategy and made sure we had everything locked up in development, and we created the product and launched it for our customers and now we don’t do service at all,” said Johns.

Johns said that their product is sent to plants all across the U.S. and internationally, and 120 customers may not seem like a lot but since RDI Technologies’ systems run in the range of $30,000 each, it stands out. Dr. Taylor went next.

“T&T Scientific technically was founded September 1, 2015, so we just hit our two year mark,” said Dr. Taylor. “We consider April 2016 our first launch, and we started with manual, handheld extruders marketing to researchers in government labs, academic labs, and universities,” said Dr. Taylor.

Dr. Taylor elaborated that a perk with his product was that they didn’t have to go through the FDA to begin selling it, and they were able to complete a few preliminary trials and get some feedback to make them better.

“Just this past summer we officially launched our extrusion equipment, they’re automated devices,” said Dr. Taylor. “It’s nice to start with a manual, handheld extruder and when customers are ready we can take it to the next level with an automated machine,” said Dr. Taylor.

Dr. Taylor has already acquired 150 customers for T&T Scientific’s manual extruders and a few customers for the company’s automated devices as well.

Fifth Annual Startup Day Celebrates Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Knoxville

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – East Tennessee’s leading investors, innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders convened at the U.S. Cellular Stage at The Bijou Theatre in Downtown Knoxville on Thursday, September 21, 2017 for the fifth annual Startup Day. The event is part of Innov865 Week 2017, which celebrates and showcases Knoxville as a great place to start and grow businesses.

New this year, the Startup Day pitch competition featured two prize categories. Mac Bartine, Smart RIA received the $10,000 Startup Day 2017 Judge’s Choice Prize presented by the Innov865 Alliance. Anna Douglas, SkyNano Technologies received the $5,000 Startup Day 2017 Crowd Favorite Prize presented by SunTrust Bank. The winning pitches were among six startups participating in the fifth annual pitch competition.

“East Tennessee is rapidly gaining traction as a destination for startups and entrepreneurs in the Southeast,” said Stacey Patterson, President of the University of Tennessee Research Foundation and founding member of the Innov865 Alliance, which hosts Innov865 Week. “Startup Day provides an opportunity for us to demonstrate what makes Knoxville such an inviting place to start and grow a business, as well as celebrate the entrepreneurs who are putting our city on the map as a hub of innovation.”

Mac Bartine, Smart RIA Smart RIA is a cloud-based, secure software platform that simplifies and automates regulatory compliance for the registered investment advisor (RIA) industry, serving firms that are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Compliance management can be a costly and time-consuming task for businesses, especially those that do not have in-house expertise. Smart RIA’s software streamlines the process through customized tools that use customer data to track and address compliance issues. This solution not only saves customers time and money, but allows them to focus on growing their business while remaining compliant and independent. 

Anna Douglas, SkyNano Technologies SkyNano Technologies has developed an open system manufacturing technique to produce low cost, high value carbon nanotubes, a material with potential applications in a variety of areas from energy storage to consumer electronics. Compared to traditional manufacturing processes that require high vacuum and high pressure gas flow systems, SkyNano’s patent-pending technology relies on the electrochemical conversion of carbon dioxide, resulting in a process that is lower in cost and scalable for commercial applications. Aside from lowering the cost of carbon nanotubes, SkyNano’s technique offers a promising method for converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into useful functional nanomaterials.

Jenna Johns, Chief Operating Officer of RDI Technologies, a Startup Day 2015 alum, received the third annual Innov865 Traction Award, presented by UT Federal Credit Union. The Innov865 Traction Award is given to a Startup alum who has gained the most momentum since pitching at Startup Day. RDI’s video camera-based technology quickly determines faults in machinery, infrastructure, and human performance not visible to the human eye. RDI counts Fortune 100 companies as its customers including Honda, Dow Chemical and Shell Oil.

Another highlight of this year’s Startup Day was a fireside chat hosted by Charlie Brock, CEO of Launch Tennessee and Mark Montgomery, Entrepreneur/Investor/Change Agent. The two featured speakers held a lively discussion on the state of Tennessee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Startup Day is the signature event of Innov865 Week 2017, which wraps up today. Throughout the week more than one thousand startups, entrepreneurs, makers, investors, business leaders, students, and community leaders from across East Tennessee participated in educational panels, investor roundtables, demo days, and networking opportunities that promoted Knoxville as a premier hub of innovation and entrepreneurship in the Southeast.

About Startup Day

Startup Day is the signature event of Innov865 Week, a weeklong series of events that celebrates Knoxville’s entrepreneurial spirit. It is presented by the Innov865 Alliance, a brand that represents a commitment to yearlong collaboration to develop, support, and promote the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Founding members of the Innov865 Alliance include the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, PYA, UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Three Roots Capital, Tennessee Valley Authority, Launch Tennessee, and Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. To learn more, visit http://innov865.com/.

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RDI Technologies Recipient of 3rd Annual Innov865 Traction Award, Presented by UT Federal Credit Union

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – RDI Technologies, which offers video camera-based technology to quickly determine faults in machinery, infrastructure, and human performance not visible to the human eye, is the recipient of the third annual Innov865 Traction Award. Jenna Johns, Chief Operating Officer of RDI, accepted the award for the company, whose President, Bob Wilson, presented a Power Pitch during the third Startup Day in 2015. The announcement was made during the fifth annual Startup Day program at the U.S. Cellular Stage at The Bijou Theatre in Downtown Knoxville.

RDI counts Fortune 100 companies as its customers including, Honda, Nissan, Dow Chemical and Shell Oil. Since August 2016, the company has been completely profitable and revenue has increased by 400 percent.

Myra Hamilton, Assistant Vice President of Business Lending at UT Federal Credit Union, the sponsor of the award, presented it to Johns in front of hundreds of business leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs in attendance at Startup Day.

“It is an honor to sponsor this award for the third year in a row and to bestow it on such a deserving recipient,” said Hamilton. “Jenna Johns and her colleagues at RDI have developed a video data collection system that is revolutionizing motion measurement capabilities and helping industries from healthcare to infrastructure solve big problems.”

RDI’s patented technology measures deflection, displacement, movement and vibration not visible to the human eye—it’s the first non-invasive, simple, and cost effective way to visualize and quickly determine faults in machinery, infrastructure, and human performance. The technology is more effective then looking at numbers and analysis from tools like accelerometers, strain gauges, modeling software, or even optical sensing technology.

A 2016 CodeWorks alum, RDI has been the recipient of two awards: the Vision Systems Design 2017 Innovator Award and an American Society of Civil Engineers 2016 Innovation Award in the “Innovative Business Models and Technologies” category. Currently, RDI is working to develop relationships with international resellers and expand its Fortune 100 footprint. The company has also grown in size, with eight full time and eight contract-based employees.

“On behalf of my team at RDI, we are humbled to be the 2017 recipient of the Innov865 Traction Award and look forward to growing our company right here in Knoxville, Tennessee,” said Johns.

About Startup Day

Startup Day is the signature event of Innov865 Week, a weeklong series of events that celebrates Knoxville’s entrepreneurial spirit. It is presented by the Innov865 Alliance, a brand that represents a commitment to yearlong collaboration to develop, support, and promote the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Founding members of the Innov865 Alliance include the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, PYA, UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Three Roots Capital, Tennessee Valley Authority, Launch Tennessee, and Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. To learn more, visit http://innov865.com/.

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