Knoxville’s 2014 Startup Day emphasizes startup-friendly culture, assets in East Tennessee

Knoxville’s second annual Startup Day kicked off Thursday, Nov. 20 at 2:30 p.m. at The Standard in downtown Knoxville. The event celebrated the success of Knoxville’s growing startup community and raised awareness about resources that support East Tennessee entrepreneurs.

“When most Americans think ‘startup community,’ they think Silicon Valley in California, New York City or Seattle,” said Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero. “It’s significant that East Tennessee is nurturing its startup culture, making resources available to startups and generally creating a welcoming environment for entrepreneurs. Creating a startup-friendly city will keep and attract talent, capital and more resources.”

Startup Day featured fireside chats with eight of Knoxville’s seasoned entrepreneurs and investors, including Ben Brown, CEO of SwiftWing. SwiftWing invested $686,000 in Survature, a local startup at the University of Tennessee Business Incubator.

Ten local startups presented PechaKucha style, quick-fire pitches, including Vuture, an app that allows users to send personalized video messages to a recipient’s email or cell phone at a specified date and time.

“With Oak Ridge National Lab and the University of Tennessee, we see plenty of highly advanced technological ideas particularly in the energy, agriculture, healthcare, big data and big media fields,” said Ken Woody, president of Innova, an early stage venture fund located in Knoxville and Memphis. “There are some very bright and capable mentors in the Knoxville area, and a strong passion amongst many businesses to support these early-stage companies.”

Vig Sherrill pitched his seventh company, General Graphene, at Startup Day 2014. Sherrill attributes the region’s big science assets and world class manufacturing to the success of his first six companies that brought more than $100 million to the region.

More than 400 people registered to attend Startup Day 2014. Attendees included businesses, entrepreneurs and investors looking for the next big idea, businesses, regional accelerators and research institutions that provide support to startups and East Tennesseans interested in learning more about the region’s entrepreneurial community.

About Startup Day 2014

Startup Day 2014 is presented by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Launch Tennessee, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and Tech 2020, who organized the event.

Startup Day Power Pitchers featured in Knoxville News Sentinel “elevator pitch” videos

The Knoxville News Sentinel and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center teamed up to produce “The Elevator Sessions,” videos of each entrepreneur pitching at Startup Day 2014 giving their elevator pitch – you guessed it – in a real elevator. Below are links to each of the 10 Power Pitch videos.

To read the Knoxville News Sentinel’s preview story from this weekend, click here.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel

Knox-linked startup finalist at Bay Area summit

Tennessee startup Bandposters is one of 10 companies that will present at the San Francisco Music Tech Summit on Tuesday, Nov. 11. The company was among more than 50 entries selected by a panel of judges including Bay Area digital media venture capital firm Walden Capital and music technology giants like Echo Nest and Spotify.

Read the full story here.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel

Four tips for securing financing

By Charlie Brock, CEO, Launch Tennessee

Securing financing is a journey that takes months, sometimes even years, for many entrepreneurs. It requires a mix of humility, perseverance and skill. I’ve worked on both sides of the table – as an entrepreneur seeking financing and as an investor evaluating equity opportunities. Here are some tips for success.

  1. Be prepared. Many investors consider 100 or more opportunities for every investment they make. They’re busy people, so be ready to answer their questions and provide the information they need to make a decision. There is some information you can assume nearly all investors will want, such as an understanding of the market, a competitive analysis, your go-to-market strategy, financial projections and details about your management team. While all of this may be addressed in your executive summary (1-2 pages max) and your pitch deck (8-15 slides), you should be able to discuss them without referring to your written information.
  2. Be confident, not cocky. As an entrepreneur, you appropriately have a sense of pride in your company. Passion and confidence are important attributes for a successful entrepreneur, but make sure these do not manifest themselves as arrogance, which will be interpreted that you are un-coachable. This designation, whether fair or not, will ruin your chances with potential investors – it is also a turn-off to prospective employees and customers.
  3. Be thick-skinned. Most entrepreneurs hear “no” significantly more than “yes” when they are seeking early-stage capital. Don’t take it personal, that’s just the nature of the beast. As noted above, investors have many options in terms of companies to invest in. They are trying to achieve the maximum return for themselves and their limited partners and depending upon where they are in their fund cycle, it’s possible that all of their remaining funds are being reserved for follow-on funding from their previous investments. As an entrepreneur, you have to take “nos” in stride and consider that each “no” gets you that much closer to the right investor who is going to say “yes.”
  4. Be wary. All investors are not created equal. Just as they are going to conduct due diligence on you and your company, you need to do the same with them. Don’t be afraid to ask them for references from their prior investments. If they are offended by this request, your diligence is now complete – thank them for their time and move on to the next funding prospect. The worst scenario for an entrepreneur is to get into a business relationship with a lousy investment partner. Not only will they make life miserable for you and distract you from building your company, but they will also keep other potential investors from getting in the deal.

Navigating the investor landscape is a complicated process. The longer you can bootstrap the business and show traction for your new company, the better your chances of securing investment capital from solid partners seeking a win/win relationship. It’s a good time in Tennessee for entrepreneurs in that there are more early-stage capital sources within the state in addition to the increased interest being attracted from out-of-state investors. We need to continue to build these capital sources to support entrepreneurs who are creating jobs and bringing transformation to their companies, the communities in which they operate and the state.

Charlie Brock is CEO of Launch Tennessee (, a public-private partnership focused on supporting the development of high-growth companies in Tennessee with the ultimate goal of making Tennessee the No. 1 place in the Southeast for entrepreneurs to start and grow a company.

Charlie Brock

Charlie Brock

The Entrepreneurship Buzz: A summary of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Roundtable through the eyes of a University of Tennessee student

By Cameo Jonas, University of Tennessee student, who attended the Knoxville Entrepreneur Roundtable on November 7

Knoxville is buzzing with talk about entrepreneurship. The city has become an exciting and engaging environment for startups to come and succeed.

To discuss this new landscape, the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center hosted its first Friday Fanfare on November 7. The Fanfare was dedicated to a Knoxville Entrepreneur Roundtable, which also served as the kick-off to Startup Day on November 20.

The Knoxville News Sentinel’s Carly Harrington moderated the event. Panelists included: Chuck Morris of Morris Creative Group and Cirkel, Patrick Hunt of Fiveworx, Mary Shafer Gill of ARiES Energy and Tom Ballard of Pershing Yoakley & Associates and PY Analytics.

The panelists discussed how startup companies succeed and what factors are influencing entrepreneurship in the area. They all agreed that startups need funding to succeed. However, there are a lot of factors that go into receiving the necessary funds.

Hunt described fundraising for startups as a “numbers game. There are a lot of reasons for [people and corporations] not to invest and very few reasons to invest. You have to find the right timing and fit,” he said.

Even though fundraising for a startup can be a daunting task, Ballard stated that it is important to always remain positive. Gill also suggested obtaining clients that could someday turn into investors.

Other advice the panelists gave to the audience: have a mentor, find local customers, and “embrace the idea of failing fast.”

During the session the panelists also discussed how Knoxville could grow into becoming the South’s mecca for entrepreneurship. According to the panelists, for this to happen, entrepreneurs need to recognize the culture of the area and take advantage of it.

The region has a lot of strong assets like the Great Smoky Mountains and the numerous notable companies that are based in East Tennessee, like the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Tennessee, and Alcoa, to name a few.

Ballard stated, “The region just needs to set a brand that can entice people to come here. By doing this, we can [also] attract and maintain the talent we need to draw even more companies to the area.”

Entrepreneurship in the area will continue growing and changing, making Knoxville a great place to have these conversations. This will hopefully lead to Knoxville becoming the South’s mecca for entrepreneurship.


By Jonathan Sexton, Entrepreneur in Residence at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center

Entrepreneurs are the arbiters of “what’s possible” – they dream it before anyone else dreams it. But it’s more than being a prophet, because part of the job is actually making it happen, no matter who says “That’s not possible,” “It’s a crowded space,” “I’ll be the second investor in,” or “I don’t like your revenue model.”

All of these responses can be valid. Constructive feedback from experienced entrepreneurs is vital to success – however, often this feedback can be shortsighted, making it all too easy to derail an early stage idea.

I recently returned from a trip to the Bay Area, where I met with a myriad of startup founders, big VCs and took a tour of Facebook’s Campus. I looked very closely for the true differences between the Southeast and the Bay Area.

Over the course of four or five days and many intense conversations, certain themes kept coming up. Before I left, I wrote five of these themes down in my notebook. They aren’t truth, fact, or law, but they were consistently reiterated 100 different ways over these days of intense conversations about what it means to be an entrepreneur and more importantly what it means to think BIG.

Here is what I came back with:

  1. Technology > Revenue
    I’m not saying revenue doesn’t matter, but I am saying that if you can build some amazing technology that someone else will find useful, build it. If someone else thinks they can figure out how to monetize it or it solves a problem they have…or they are afraid the competition is going to buy you to get ahead…then they will buy it, and you will have an exit.
  2. Show up and dream big
    You can’t fake showing up. Anything is possible, and more importantly, you can reach ANYONE. So if you are trying to build a Finance app, find the executive who led the charge on Mint or Lending Tree and ask them for a coffee meeting. Love music? Find the investors who put money in Pandora and Spotify, pick their brain and ask them questions. People love being “experts,” so take advantage. Everyone’s success story has mentors behind it, which leads perfectly to my next theme.
  3. 10 minutes face to face > 100 emails and phone calls
    In a text and email driven society – or should I say an efficiency driven society – it’s easy to lose track of who’s who. Everyone you meet becomes a faceless entity in the cloud (and I love text and email). But if you really want to build a relationship, share space with someone. Ten minutes face to face will infinitely increase your chances of being remembered. Also: make those ten minutes count! Relationships trump ALL. Your personal network is your greatest asset.
  4. Seed money is for proving concepts
    It takes money to make money. Money is needed sometimes to get development going, to make business trips, and to go to key conferences and demo your product. In year one, you are out to prove that you can land a few KEY customers, build a working product and team, build a few fantastic case studies about how the technology or product can be used, and most importantly, that there is a big enough market interested in your product. That’s it. The idea of a startup breaking even on a $100,000 round of investment is short-sighted and damaging to young companies trying to build technologies that could have a global impact.
  5. The Burritos are better in California
    Sorry Tennessee…but it’s the truth. (Good thing we have the music and moonshine!)

Source: Jonathan Sexton, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center

Jonathan Sexton

Jonathan Sexton

Knoxville Entrepreneur Roundtable set for Friday, November 7

The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center will host a Knoxville Entrepreneur Roundtable on Friday, November 7 from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The Roundtable will be a candid conversation about the state of entrepreneurship in the Knoxville region with Chuck Morris, Morris Creative Group and Cirkel; Patrick Hunt, Fiveworx; Tom Ballard, PYA and Mary Shaffer Gill, ARiES Energy.

Carly Harrington of the Knoxville News Sentinel will moderate the Roundtable.

The event is open to the public and is a pre-First Friday activity.

Click here to learn more and/or register for the event.

ORNL technology transfer continues strong upward trend

New methods are improving connections between private businesses and technology from Knoxville Startup Day 2014 presenting sponsor Oak Ridge National Laboratory, with 101 licenses and options executed during the last three years.

Mike Paulus, director of Technology Transfer, attributes the growth in large part to the Technology Innovation Program, Bridging the Gap and SPARK! These programs helped the lab double the number of licenses for the fiscal years 2012-2014 compared to 2009-2011, and Paulus expects a new initiative, the Invention to Innovation Webinar Series, to help maintain the upward trend.

“We have a talented staff that has worked very hard to identify, develop and market high-potential technologies that provide the best opportunities to licensees,” Paulus said. “Our two-pronged approach focuses on increasing the overall deal volume while at the same time concentrating on our most promising technologies.”

Through the Technology Innovation Program, ORNL invests about half of its royalty revenue to make promising technologies market ready. ORNL scientists and engineers propose technologies for funding and a panel of laboratory leaders and external experts select the winners based on their near-term potential for societal and economic impact.

Two technology forums, Bridging the Gap and SPARK! bring together entrepreneurs, investors, industry experts and economic development leaders to explore partnering opportunities. These conferences, hosted by ORNL, allow potential licensees to meet inventors and learn about some of ORNL’s most promising technologies and capabilities. The next SPARK! is planned for spring 2015.

Read the news release here.

Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Local startup wins pitch competition

For the past seven years, a Knoxville company has been quietly developing an environmentally-friendly solution for processing liquid waste produced by hospitals, surgical centers and military field hospitals.

That changed in October when Innovasan won the Life Science Tennessee Venture Forum for its Med-San technology. Prizes included an opportunity to pitch at the regional SEBio investor conference; a five-minute promotional video, $5,000 and other professional services.

Med-San takes fluid medical waste now being solidified and incinerated, autoclaved or simply poured down a drain and transforms it into a “disinfected waste that is safe for disposal down the drain,” says Jeffrey Hubrig Jr., the company’s manager of business development.

Click here to read the full story.

Source: Larisa Brass, Greater Knoxville Business Journal/Knoxville News Sentinel

Claris Networks joins IBM, Google on list of world’s top cloud service providers

Talkin’ Cloud, a site that covers cloud news and analysis, ranked Claris Networks the #51 cloud provider in the world.

“The cloud has become a necessity. It is integral to success of today’s businesses,” says Larry Bodie, CEO of Claris Networks, who will participate in a fireside chat at Knoxville’s Startup Day 2014. “And while we are a cloud company, we pride ourselves on the service we provide. We enable businesses to achieve their goals by doing what they are great at and they do not have to worry about the technology. The cloud is one way we make that happen, and we are grateful to be recognized among some of the best in the world for doing that.”

Read the full story on Claris Network’s blog here.

Source: Cloud 9 Blog