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

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

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, click here.

Source: Tom Ballard,

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

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

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.