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.

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.

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.