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.

Launch Tennessee gives leg up to young entrepreneurs

The Tennessean recently published a guest column by Launch Tennessee‘s CEO, Charlie Brock, about the organization’s Blackstone Specialist Program.

This program brings college students and recent college graduates from across the country to Tennessee to work in its regional accelerators. The accelerators run 13- to 15-week programs where companies turn prototypes and ideas into investible stories. Specialists have the opportunity to work either directly with the accelerator’s executive staff or with one or more startups, depending on their expertise. They are assigned a variety of projects, such as website development, graphic design, financial planning and customer discovery. Specialists also support the accelerator staff with budget management or demo day event planning. Specialists have the opportunity to network with entrepreneurs, investors, master mentors and sponsors.

The full story is available here.

Source: The Tennessean/Launch Tennessee

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.
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  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.
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  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.”
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  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 (www.launchtn.org), 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

Two Knoxville companies selected for LaunchTN’s The Tenn program

Carly Harrington’s recent piece in the Knoxville News Sentinel highlights two early-stage Knoxville companies who have been selected to be part of this year’s LaunchTN master accelerator program, The Tenn. Fiveworx (who participated in last year’s Startup Day) and Closeup.fm (scheduled to deliver a Power Pitch at Startup Day 2014) are among 10 companies chosen across the state to participate in the cohort.

The Tenn program, which starts October 23, matches entrepreneurs with master mentors and includes training in The Rockefeller Habits, a business management system, and guidance in such business topics as marketing, financial management and operations.

Read the full story here.

Source: Carly Harrington, Knoxville News Sentinel

Knoxville well represented at inaugural “Reverse Pitch”

Knoxville and Northeast Tennessee were well represented at Launch Tennessee’s inaugural “Reverse Pitch” event last week in Chattanooga.

Two Knoxville companies – AC Entertainment, in conjunction with Aloompa, and DeRoyal – were two of the nine companies that “pitched” specific needs they hoped the more than 150 attending entrepreneurs and technologists would be interested in addressing.

The term “Reverse Pitch” refers to the fact that established companies are presenting needs, not the typical “pitch” where start-ups are presenting their ideas to potential customers and investors.

In kicking-off the program, Launch Tennessee’s Charlie Brock noted that the event was the state’s first “Reverse Pitch.”

A number of Knoxville entrepreneurs and technologists were in the audience, including Jim Biggs and Jonathan Sexton of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, DMG Bluegill’s Parker Frost, Survature’s Jian Huang and Audio Hand’s Haseeb Qureshi, to name a few.

Read the full story here.

Source: Tom Ballard, Teknovation.biz