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

Audiohand launching private beta test later this week

Audiohand, a Knoxville startup that will deliver a Power Pitch at this year’s Startup Day, provides an innovative, economical way for artists to be able to record their music. In just days, all of the planning and preparations will be unveiled when Audiohand will launch a private beta test with up to 100 bands trying the app. The official date is November 1.

“The beta version is going to look pretty close to the actual product,” said Co-Founder Haseeb Qureshi.

Audiohand’s secret sauce is its ability to use multiple mobile phones to capture a musical performance and then integrate the multiple inputs properly to create one high-quality, band-sourced, stereo track.

Helping bands find an economical way to record their performances is just the first in a line of applications for the technology.

“Once we get the band sourcing down, we’re going to focus on fans,” Qureshi says.

Audiohand was a participant in the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s (KEC’s) inaugural “MediaWorks Accelerator.” Since July, the company has added two seasoned players – Mark Montgomery and Jonathan Sexton – as Co-Founders.

Read the full story here.

Source: Tom Ballard,

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

Mayor Madeline Rogero attends mayors conference on entrepreneurship

Mayor Madeline Rogero joined mayors from around the nation last week at the second annual Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship in Louisville, Kentucky.

With a focus on “Making an Entrepreneurial City,” mayors and entrepreneurship experts discussed ways to promote startup activity and encourage higher levels of entrepreneurship in their cities.  Christi Branscom, Deputy to the Mayor and Chief Operating Officer for the City of Knoxville, joined Mayor Rogero.

The 2014 Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship: Making an Entrepreneurial City explored the growing “Maker Movement.” As more and more Americans have access to both the technologies to build things and the networks to learn new skills, creativity is being channeled into new business ventures, economically benefiting both the maker-entrepreneur and others in the community. Not only that, but “Making” has the potential to transform manufacturing and thereby American cities. This year’s event addressed:

  • The Maker Movement and ways to harness this activity,
  • Making and how it applies to advanced manufacturing,
  • The importance of immigrant entrepreneurs and initiatives to welcome them, and
  • Practical strategies to grow and promote the entrepreneurial economy of cities.

“Knoxville already has a strong Maker community, and we have great regional resources at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee,” Mayor Rogero said. “By connecting those resources with entrepreneurial efforts, including the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, we can really put East Tennessee on the map as a hub of innovation.”

The program’s keynote speaker was Dale Dougherty, president and CEO of Maker Media, Inc., and founder of MAKE magazine. Attending mayors also heard from panelists who are experts in entrepreneurship, technology and manufacturing innovation and engagement of immigrant entrepreneurs.

The conference was convened by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that aims to foster economic independence by advancing educational achievement and entrepreneurial success, in partnership with Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville. The Kauffman Foundation covered all expenses of the trip.

“The mayors attending this conference understand how important entrepreneurs are to economic growth, job creation and innovation,” said Jason Wiens, policy director at the Kauffman Foundation. “The conference is designed to help them learn from experts and each other about successful programs and structures that can have broad impact on building stronger entrepreneurial communities.”

Source: City of Knoxville

Startup Day 2014 featured in Knoxville News Sentinel

The Knoxville News Sentinel published a story by Carly Harrington on Oct. 17 about Knoxville’s Startup Day 2014.

Read the full story here.

Source: Carly Harrington, Knoxville News Sentinel

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 (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,