Now is our time to celebrate Knoxville’s entrepreneurial community

(Originally posted on Made for Knoxville)

By Jim Biggs, Executive Director, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and Cortney Piper, Innov865 Alliance

It is an exciting time to be part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Knoxville. 

In this city, we’re more than willing to get excited about the latest Vols win or claim Dolly Parton as our region’s patron saint, but we have not always been as proactive about telling the world about what makes our city such a great place to live, work and play.

Our community has been so busy rolling up its sleeves, testing technology in the lab, strategizing in the boardroom and mentoring the next generation of innovators that we have forgotten to let people in on our best-kept secret: Knoxville’s entrepreneurial scene is thriving. We think it’s about time the rest of the country knows that too. From a nationally recognized business accelerator coming to town to concentrated efforts to promote our city’s entrepreneurs, we have some fantastic developments to share.

“Put simply: Knoxville is made for entrepreneurs. We know what we’re doing and want more people and businesses to recognize that too.”

The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center serves as our city’s “front door for entrepreneurs.” Our mission is to build a community where entrepreneurs have access to the capital, customers and talent they need to be successful. We are a member of the Innov865 Alliance, a group of companies and stakeholders dedicated to advocating for Knoxville’s startups and entrepreneurs, ensuring our ecosystem is strong, vibrant and coordinated. The Alliance’s vision is to be a “nationally recognized” hub of innovation and entrepreneurship by leveraging our region’s world-class research, creative and technological capabilities to build the most connected and diverse startup community in Tennessee.

Our work is in line with the City of Knoxville’s latest commitments to bolster its entrepreneurial community. Mayor Indya Kincannon’s proposed 2021-22 city budget emphasizes investments in five priority areas, one of which is “thriving businesses and good jobs.” In this category, the proposed budget would provide over $1 million to support the City’s economic development partners, $90,000 in new funding to support business development in the Latino community, and $150,000 in new funding for KEC, including support for the 100Knoxville project to grow Black-owned businesses.

KEC and the Alliance’s efforts to grow and support our entrepreneurial community also wouldn’t be possible without the brilliant minds and extensive resources of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the University of Tennessee. These three entities recently came together to support the launch of a Knoxville Techstars accelerator in 2022. Over the next three years, the Techstars accelerator will engage 10 startups a year, attracting new entrepreneurs from around the world to start and grow their businesses right here.

Before launching the accelerator, Techstars released an assessment of Knoxville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, highlighting both what makes our community so great and areas where we can continue to grow. Techstars identified five primary benefits of our region: large research institutions, excellent quality of life, relatively low cost of living, deep pool of technical talent and exciting support organizations for startups. We couldn’t agree more.

The report also identified six “gaps” where our community can continue to grow. Those gaps include funding, support for growth-stage companies, participation, access, measurement and perception.

Perception, or the fact that many people in our state and city don’t know how well our companies are performing, was number one. Even though we’ve had many successful ventures over the years — Arkis Biosciences, Genera, EDP Biotech, Cirrus Insight, and Gridsmart, to name a few — this report made us realize how we need to do a better job sharing our triumphs within the community and on a larger scale.

We believe Knoxville is a wonderful place to start and grow a business. Our nationally recognized institutions, organizations, and resources are incredible assets for anyone looking to make it as an entrepreneur. Yet, simply having access to TVA or business support from KEC isn’t enough to make Knoxville great. The secret to Knoxville’s thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem is connection. Our organizations, groups, and experts continually collaborate and connect to ensure that we’re offering the best resources, opportunities, and expertise. Unlike larger cities, Knoxville entrepreneurs have ready access to this interconnected network of change-makers and leaders in their respective fields.

Put simply: Knoxville is made for entrepreneurs. We know what we’re doing and want more people and businesses to recognize that too. We have the talent, labs, resources and know-how to transform our community and the world around us. This city is made for makers, dreamers, leaders, inventors, investors and visionaries. Now is our time to highlight the great work innovators in our city are doing every single day, which is why we’re launching the Made for Knoxville campaign.

Made for Knoxville will elevate awareness of Knoxville’s diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem, and inspire action. The goal is to connect and empower the diverse entrepreneurial community in the Knoxville region — ranging from “solo-preneurs,” makers, growth-stage tech companies, investors and established institutions.

Over the next few months , KEC will release dozens of inspiring, incredible stories about the hardworking men and women who make our entrepreneurial scene so vibrant. From hard-tech researchers to artisans, we are letting the world know that Knoxville is truly “made” for entrepreneurs. Come join us.

Techstars findings about Knoxville innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem revealed in town hall event

(Originally posted on Teknovation.biz)

By Tom Ballard

The final report, including gaps and recommendations that were identified in the recently completed Techstars assessment of the Knoxville area innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem, is now pubic, and the hard work is just beginning to ensure the region capitalizes on the effort.

As TVA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jeff Lyash told the slightly more than 100 attendees at yesterday morning’s virtual town hall, “It’s our job to take this Techstars assessment and operationalize it.” The full report can be downloaded at this link. If you were not able to view the town hall, you can watch it here (page down to “Report Out” section).

In a rapid-fire overview of the report, Rhett Morris, a Consultant who talked with many in the community on one or more occasions, outlined the regional strengths that the Techstars assessment identified and the gaps that need to be addressed.

“I heard that this was a unique moment for the Knoxville community,” Morris said, adding that he concluded the community was performing “far below its actual potential.” Those comments echoed opening remarks by Jeff Smith, Deputy Director for Operations at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who said it this way: “The region punches below its weight in innovation.”

For those who are intimately involved in the local innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem, none of the findings that Morris outlined should be surprising nor should the proposed recommendations. They are as follows:

  • Strengths – the vibrant research community, regional quality of life, low cost of living, deep technology talent, and existing support organizations for start-ups.
  • Gaps – perception of the region, locally and more broadly; funding for start-ups, frequently referred to as access to capital; insufficient support in ways such as mentoring; easier access to the bigger public and private enterprises; lower levels of participation by minorities; and absence of defined goals with appropriate metrics and regular reporting.

After Morris’ presentation, representatives of the Innov865 Alliance discussed how the Alliance, as a group, and also as individual members will take leadership responsibility for addressing the gaps and specific ways in which that will occur.

  • Grady Vanderhoofven, President and CEO of Three Roots Capital, said his firm will lead “a shared initiative to address capital” that includes: (1) expanding on efforts such as the TennesSeed Fund launched in 2019; and (2) working closely with the Knoxville Chamber on the latter’s access to capital initiative that is a component of its broader “Path to Prosperity” plan.
  • Jim Biggs, Executive Director of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC), spotlighted activities that cover several of the gaps through: (1) its “Made for Knoxville” initiative; (2) a collaboration with the City of Knoxville to launch a Mayor’s Entrepreneurship Council patterned after the well-established Mayor’s Maker Council; (3) the recently revamped and renamed “Inflection Point” initiative; and (4) new efforts focused on underrepresented populations like the upcoming “100Knoxville Launch Event.”
  • I had the privilege of addressing three topics – perception, access and measurement. The points that I made included: (1) the Alliance will create and coordinate an ongoing, integrated public relations and marketing campaign to showcase our regional successes, both historical and current, as well as assets that will focus locally, regionally and nationally; (2) PYA, the power behind teknovation.biz, has added an additional writer with part of her role being to help expand on what we are already doing to tell the community story; (3) Alliance members will continue their individual regional promotional efforts in various ways such as KEC’s “Made for Knoxville” initiative and the “Startup Knox” podcast series that will feature Randy Boyd as of today; (4) the Alliance will take leadership for developing a set of metrics to show our progress and produce a report card that will be routinely updated and spotlighted in teknovation.biz; and (5) the Alliance will work to identify and/or recruit “Navigators” to help facilitate access to and connectivity between entrepreneurs and the region’s assets – from big enterprises like ORNL, TVA and University of Tennessee (UT) to private companies like PYA and others that can and should help local entrepreneurs.

The 90-minute session also featured the leaders of the three sponsoring organizations – UT President Randy Boyd; Thomas Zacharia, Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL); and Lyash – along with their key representatives on the Techstars Steering Committee – Joe Hoagland, TVA’s Vice President of Enterprise Relations and Innovation; Stacey Patterson, UT’s Vice President for Research, Economic Development and Outreach; and ORNL’s Smith.

Boyd, Lyash and Zacharia separately noted the significance of the region’s largest employers coming together to collaborate on the Techstars effort and the potential benefits that will derive from it.

Zacharia talked about likely new federal initiatives in the R&D/innovation space and said that East Tennessee is “positioned perfectly” for significant investment. In the case of Boyd, one of the region’s most recognized and very successful entrepreneurs, the emphasis was on what he called “an historic partnership” and an important message for those who are starting or those who are supporting entrepreneurs who are starting new businesses.

“Entrepreneurship is not a zero-sum game,” he said. “There is a catalytic or compounding effect” that comes from working collaboratively.

KTech Pulse: Technology Summit

Presented by the Knoxville Technology Council In partnership with the Innov865 Alliance and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. RSVP here

About this Event

This is the virtual event of 2020 that you don’t want to miss!

The first 250 registrants from KTech member companies will get a swag bag!

Join us to hear from technology thought leaders and celebrate the achievements of the tech industry in the Greater Knoxville region and throughout the State of Tennessee. This online summit will feature lively Q&A on the latest developments happening across the country and the impact they’re having in our region.

SPEAKERS

Majid Khan – As Managing Director of Strategy & Business Development for Network Engineering & Technology, Majid leads Verizon’s corporate strategy, deal development, negotiations, and partnerships with cities and municipalities at a national level. He works closely with city governments to drive opportunities for economic development and business transformation with wireless, 5G, and Smart Cities innovation.

Alberto Arechiga – As Enterprise Account Executive with the Google Cloud Platform, Alberto works with industry leaders in our region to implement cloud-based solutions that enable them to be proactive problem solvers and transform their IT organizations from a cost center to a profit center. A Presidential Award winner, Alberto provides a consultative approach that helps to reduce the complexity of IT for his clients.

Brandon Bruce- Co-founder | Knoxville Technology Council

Stephanie Flood – Chief Information Officer | Clayton Homes and WIT Committee Chair

EVENT HIGHLIGHTS

  • Learn about the latest developments made by companies in our region, and the technologies and partnerships that will continue to drive innovation in Knoxville and beyond.
  • Brandon Bruce, co-founder of KTech, will emcee.
  • Majid Khan will present on Verizon 5G and the Future of Everything with a Q&A on the state and local impact of 5G.
  • Alberto Arechiga will present on the Google Cloud Platform and why it’s the fastest-growing cloud provider.
  • Stephanie Flood will share about the launch of KTech Women in Tech.
  • Get the inside scoop on where we’re headed next, and how you can be a part of it.

Inc 5000 Celebration!

A Virtual Conversation with Knoxville’s Inc. 5000 Businesses. RSVP here

About this Event

Bring your beverage of choice and join the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center for a virtual happy hour conversation honoring the Knoxville area’s Inc. 5000 nominated businesses!

There will be time set aside for introductions from each of the businesses, as well as round table discussions led by Brandon Bruce, co-founder of Knoxville Technology Council and Startup Knox. Brandon also co-founded Cirrus Insight, which ranked #41 on the Inc. 500 list in 2016.

Companies from our region that are on the 2020 Inc. 5000 list include:

  • Arsenal Strength
  • Axle Logistics
  • Boston Government Services
  • Four Seasons Inc.
  • ICC International
  • K&P Enterprises
  • Karen Coffey Coaching
  • KaTom Restaurant Supply
  • MAC’s LTC Pharmacy Solutions
  • Ole Smoky Distillery
  • ONE Business Solutions
  • Priority Ambulance
  • RCN Technologies
  • RDI Technologies

KEC Liftoff at Night

Thanks for your interest in getting your idea started here at KEC! The first step is to attend one of our KEC Lift Off which will allow us to find out more about each other, find out how your idea fits into what we do, and how we can help. These sessions last approximately an hour and a half and include an overview of KEC and a mentor panel to answer any questions you may have. RSVP Here!


Common Questions

Should I bring anything?

Nope, just bring yourself and your idea / business. This session is an introduction for all that we offer. There is no need to bring your business plan.

Where is the best place to park?

We suggest the Market Square Garage as it is close to our office and inexpensive.

What if I have to reschedule?

Perfectly fine! We just ask that you cancel your ticket and then RSVP for another date.

KEC Liftoff

Thanks for your interest in getting your idea started here at KEC! The first step is to attend one of our KEC Lift Off which will allow us to find out more about each other, find out how your idea fits into what we do, and how we can help. These sessions last approximately an hour and a half and include an overview of KEC and a mentor panel to answer any questions you may have. RSVP Here!

Common Questions

Should I bring anything?

Nope, just bring yourself and your idea / business. This session is an introduction for all that we offer. There is no need to bring your business plan.

Where is the best place to park?

We suggest the Market Square Garage as it is close to our office and inexpensive.

What if I have to reschedule?

Perfectly fine! We just ask that you cancel your ticket and then RSVP for another date.

KEC Liftoff at Night

Thanks for your interest in getting your idea started here at KEC! The first step is to attend one of our KEC Lift Off which will allow us to find out more about each other, find out how your idea fits into what we do, and how we can help. These sessions last approximately an hour and a half and include an overview of KEC and a mentor panel to answer any questions you may have. RSVP Here!


Common Questions

Should I bring anything?

Nope, just bring yourself and your idea / business. This session is an introduction for all that we offer. There is no need to bring your business plan.

Where is the best place to park?

We suggest the Market Square Garage as it is close to our office and inexpensive.

What if I have to reschedule?

Perfectly fine! We just ask that you cancel your ticket and then RSVP for another date.

Competitors for Innov865 Week’s 2020 Startup Day Pitch Competition Announced

Six local startups will vie for $10,000 in cash prizes

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Some of the pitches shooting for $10,000 at Innov865’s Startup Day this year include predictive software for heart attacks, an untraceable password generator and glowing human cells to deliver medicine, among other ideas.

Those are among six rising stars from Knoxville’s startup scene that the Innov865 Alliance chose for its 2020 Startup Day pitch competition. The annual “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition is the premier event of Innov865 Week, which will be held virtually Sept. 28 – Oct. 2. Startup Day is at 2 p.m. Sept. 29. The event is free and open to the public.

Other pitches judges will hear include converting food into renewable electricity, a way to improve workplace safety through song, and a community-based certification system to champion youth fitness and education.

“Now, more than ever, it’s important to celebrate Knoxville’s vibrant entrepreneurial community,” said Jim Biggs, founding member of the Innov865 Alliance and Executive Director at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. “Innov865 Week shines a light on some of the incredible innovations that are happening in our own backyard. Any of these technologies could have an important impact on how we live.”

Hosted by the Innov865 Alliance, Innov865 Week spotlights Knoxville as a great place to start and grow businesses and connects the entrepreneurs planting roots here with support systems to succeed. The week’s events bring together local leaders, investors, entrepreneurs, and the public to support local economic development and celebrate Knoxville’s entrepreneurial spirit. 

The event will be presented virtually using the Knoxville-based technology platform, Lunchpool. Startup Day’s pitch competition will feature six of Knoxville’s most investable startups pitching their businesses in front of a panel of expert judges for a chance to win up to $10,000 in cash prizes. Two prizes are up for grabs: the Innov865 Judges’ Choice prize and the Innov865 Crowd Favorite prize, presented by BB&T and SunTrust Bank, now Truist.

A new addition to the 2020 Startup Day program is the Innov865 Impact Award, presented by Verizon. The Innov865 Impact Award recognizes an inventor who has made a positive impact in the fight against COVID-19. The inaugural Innov865 Impact Award recipient, along with the winners of the Innov865 Judges’ Choice and Innov865 Crowd Favorite prizes, will be announced at an awards ceremony that will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 2. The awards ceremony will also be presented virtually via Lunchpool.

The six startups that will compete in Startup Day’s pitch competition were selected by the Innov865 Alliance for their extraordinary potential and investability. They include:

Electro-Active Technologies Inc. – Electro-Active Technologies Inc. is developing a modular system to convert food waste and renewable electricity into low-cost hydrogen. Their system keeps food waste out of landfills and provides a zero-emission fuel to offset gasoline and diesel use.

Cofounder and CEO: Alex Lewis

490 BioTech – 490 BioTech makes bioluminescent human cells capable of continuously producing a visual light signal that adjusts in real-time to represent changes in cellular health. The company’s glowing cells can be used by pharmaceutical companies in their efforts to develop safer, more effective, and less expensive medicines.

Cofounder and CSO: Dan Close

Quantum Lock – Quantum Lock is developing a smart lock system that is more secure than many current smartphone-based key systems. Quantum Lock’s technology uses quantum physics to generate keys that are random and untraceable.

Cofounder: Erica Grant

Qardian Labs – Qardian Labs develops innovative artificial intelligence-based software solutions for evaluating heart disease risk. The company is dedicated to reducing the occurrence of Sudden Cardiac Arrest by improving screening for people in high stress environments.

Founder: Sofia Tomov

PowerUp Fitness – PowerUp Fitness certifies wellness champions as youth fitness instructors and provides them with the training and support needed to empower youth through fitness, education, and fun in their communities.

Founder and CEO: Stacy Baugues

Songboarding – Songboarding is a subscription-based platform that combines music with safety training, providing employers with a fun and memorable alternative to traditional training methods.

Cofounder: Mike Benn

Learn more about Innov865 Week by visiting https://innov865week.com/. The events calendar will be updated as events are added throughout the week.

ABOUT INNOV865 WEEK AND THE INNOV865 ALLIANCE

Innov865 Week is a weeklong celebration of Knoxville’s entrepreneurial spirit that brings together startups, entrepreneurs, makers, investors, business leaders, students, and community leaders from across East Tennessee for a week of educational panels, pitch competitions, investor roundtables, and social events. It is presented by the Innov865 Alliance, a coalition that develops, supports, and promotes the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The Innov865 Alliance’s mission is to make Knoxville a “nationally recognized” hub of innovation and entrepreneurship by leveraging the region’s world-class research, creative, and technological capabilities to build the most connected and diverse startup community in Tennessee. 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, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm, and Bunker Labs Knoxville. To learn more, visit www.innov865.com/.

KEC Liftoff

Thanks for your interest in getting your idea started here at KEC! The first step is to attend one of our KEC Lift Off which will allow us to find out more about each other, find out how your idea fits into what we do, and how we can help. These sessions last approximately an hour and a half and include an overview of KEC and a mentor panel to answer any questions you may have. RSVP Here!

Common Questions

Should I bring anything?

Nope, just bring yourself and your idea / business. This session is an introduction for all that we offer. There is no need to bring your business plan.

Where is the best place to park?

We suggest the Market Square Garage as it is close to our office and inexpensive.

What if I have to reschedule?

Perfectly fine! We just ask that you cancel your ticket and then RSVP for another date.

KEC Liftoff at Night

Thanks for your interest in getting your idea started here at KEC! The first step is to attend one of our KEC Lift Off which will allow us to find out more about each other, find out how your idea fits into what we do, and how we can help. These sessions last approximately an hour and a half and include an overview of KEC and a mentor panel to answer any questions you may have. RSVP Here!


Common Questions

Should I bring anything?

Nope, just bring yourself and your idea / business. This session is an introduction for all that we offer. There is no need to bring your business plan.

Where is the best place to park?

We suggest the Market Square Garage as it is close to our office and inexpensive.

What if I have to reschedule?

Perfectly fine! We just ask that you cancel your ticket and then RSVP for another date.