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.

Talent, Talent, TALENT!

Written by John Sharpe, President, Southeastern Technology Consultants and its affiliated divisions

Southeastern Technology Consultants is a division of StaffSource LLC, added in 2011 due to the high demand for IT professionals. Its President, John Sharpe, is originally from Knoxville and founded his first business, ARG Financial Staffing, in 2004. He is involved in multiple community organizations as well as the East Tennessee chapter of the Young Entrepreneur’s organization. He is President of ARG Executive Search and ARG Financial Staffing, StaffSource Employee Solutions and Southeastern Technology Consultants.

Sharpe is scheduled to participate in a Fireside Chat at Startup Day 2014.

Business is a combination of people, process and product or service, but your most important assets are the people you hire.

People are extremely important because they are responsible for architecting the process and conceptual creation of the product/service. The quality of the decision-making fuels the business.

Furthermore, each individual has their own strengths; for example, one person will be the seller while the other is the designer of the product/service, or another has a deep understanding of the financial concepts and economic models. Knowing who to hire and where to place potential employees to emphasize their strengths is key in developing your startup. You are looking for the best team possible that will help your startup grow rapidly.

A smart collective team approach is required. We have used a collaborative method in our company for the decision-making process, which has helped identify strengths and weaknesses that might have been overlooked. For a startup, collaboration is key. In order to grow and develop a business, changes are inevitable. Having a strong team that can face changes and find effective solutions quickly is the key to growth and success.

Hiring talent cannot be determined by following a checklist, but below are tips/qualities that I believe can help identify the most qualified potential hires for your startup.

  • Search for candidates with certain strengths that are currently missing or that can help your company and benefit the potential employee in future growth.
  • Culture is a big factor in organizations – make certain they are a fit for the already established culture in your company.
  • Search for candidates that know how to work through problems and can or have dealt with change; as a startup, there are many hats to wear, being able to balance it all is not an easy task.
  • Communication skills are essential.
  • Find team players.

View John Sharpe’s LinkedIn profile here.

John Sharpe

John Sharpe

Oak Ridge startup competes in this year’s “2014 $1M Global Action Challenge” in Nashville

Oak Ridge startup Clodico competed in this week’s “2014 $1M Global Action Challenge” in Nashville at its Global Action Summit.

The competition is billed as an “investment opportunity to identify breakthrough prototypes, technologies or early stage ventures that hold promise for transformative impact on health and food and are scalable business enterprises.”

To read the full story from Teknovation.biz, click here.

Source: Tom Ballard, Teknovation.biz

Mark Cuban thinks I am a moron

By Jonathan Patrick, Senior Vice President/Chief Lending Officer of the UT Federal Credit Union

There is a video flying around the internet where Mark Cuban is quoted as saying that “If you are starting a business and you take out a loan, you are a moron.” Apparently, I am one of those morons. Cuban’s comments revolve around his belief that there is so much uncertainty in a startup, and that the banks don’t care about your business, so getting a loan to get started creates conflict.

Well, Mark, you are right. Most banks don’t care about your business. In fact, most won’t even bother talking to a startup. Which is exactly why UT Federal Credit Union launched the Line12 business micro-loan program. You see, as a credit union, it is in our DNA to impact our community and our members. So, if the only way a member can bring their startup to life and fulfill their dream of owning a business involves a loan, then you can count us in.

Rest assured it’s not about the revenue to our credit union. In fact, we probably have more expense associated with that loan than we do income. And yes, we know that we are “saddling” a startup with debt. That’s why we provide more than just capital in the form of additional resources to help them increase their chance for success. It’s easy to say as a lender, but there is such a thing as “better” debt to have. I’d much rather a member borrow five, ten, or twenty thousand dollars to start a business than on eating out and shopping.

So, is a loan for a startup right for everyone? Absolutely not. In fact, UT Federal Credit Union goes to great lengths to vet out our applicants and only take those who we feel can afford the debt without relying too much on expected business income. We also rely on our committee of outside experts to tell us which startups they feel have the best chances of succeeding. Unfortunately, we have to tell far more applicants “no” than we do “yes.”

Cuban does point out that there are plenty of ways to start businesses inexpensively through hard effort rather than capital. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’ve started businesses for a few hundred dollars that have brought me thousands of dollars in return. But there are times when the right idea takes capital to scale. That’s when UT Federal Credit Union is there.

View Jonathan Patrick’s LinkedIn profile at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonathanmillspatrick.

Jonathan Patrick

Jonathan Patrick

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

Startup Day returns as Knoxville’s entrepreneurial culture is growing

The Knoxville News Sentinel featured Startup Day 2014 this weekend with a story on the event and the November 7 Knoxville Entrepreneur Roundtable with moderator Carly Harrington, Knoxville News Sentinel, and panelists 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.

Read the full story here.

Source: Carly Harrington, Knoxville News Sentinel

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.

THINK BIG.

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