GrowthX sees many Knoxville resources

11/18/2016

Knoxville needs a story.

That’s the advice partners in venture capital firm GrowthX had for local entrepreneurs.

Knoxville needs to let potential investors know about its wealth of resources, talent and quality of life, Andrew Goldner and Brad Holliday told the standing room crowd at Scruffy City Hall.

They spoke during the first “happy hour” scheduled by the Innov865 Alliance, following up the first Innov865 Week, which took place Sept. 19-23. More happy hours will be scheduled for area entrepreneurs, every other month, leading up to the second Innov865 Week. The next happy hour will be Feb. 6, and the second Innov865 Week is set for Sept. 1822. For a schedule and details, go to www.innov865.com.

David Gonce, attorney for Luedeka Neely, an intellectual property law firm, said he heard about happy hour from an email list and knew he should go.

“As an IP firm, this is where we need to be,” Gonce said. Entrepreneurs might have patentable ideas, and any business has things to trademark, he said. So Gonce came to meet those people.

The GrowthX executives were featured speakers at happy hour. Last year, GrowthX was involved in Launch Tennessee’s TENN Program, and that sparked further interest inKnoxville, Holliday said. Learning about Knoxville, he was told, required meeting Tom Ballard, chief alliance officer at Pershing Yoakley & Associates.

Ballard took him and Goldner on a full-day tour, starting with Oak Ridge, meeting many leading business and innovation figures in town, Holliday said.

GrowthX’s focus is nationwide, based on the belief that company founders should be close to their customers, rather than their financiers, Holliday said.

“We want to facilitate that,” he said. GrowthX specializes in helping companies bridge the gap between their initial start-up and operating fully, Holliday said. Ballard, Goldner and Holliday took the stage for a question-and-answer session. Ballard asked them for their observations on Knoxville.

Holliday said he grew up in Memphis and lived in Nashville for more than 20 years, but didn’t realize the “amazing” resources in and around Knoxville. While that potential is good, Knoxville needs to let the state and nation know what it has to offer. That’s something Chattanooga has done well, Holliday said.

“I think that’s an opportunity for Knoxville to improve, to communicate all of the vast resources that you have here,” he said.

Goldner agreed. The biggest challenge is getting Knoxville’s story out in a unified, coherent way, he said.

“I think Knoxville blows Chattanooga away. I really do,” Goldner said in reference to the science research being done at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

He said he’s encouraging firms to move their business to Tennessee; now Tennessee needs to keep its native talent here, rather than losing it to Silicon Valley, and that requires locally available capital, Goldner said.

“From our perspective, if you’re going to move at all, it should be close to your customers,” he said. “And certainly not to be close to your capitalists and technologists.”

Siobhan McAuley, owner of online consulting company Stirring the Soul, said the GrowthX partners confirmed her belief that Knoxville is a good place to start or enlarge a business.

I think there’s phenomenal opportunities here,” McAuley said. She came to Knoxville from Toronto a year ago and is active with the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.

“I’m a big advocate for bringing together service based entrepreneurs and makers, bringing them into the startup world of tech entrepreneurs,” she said. Many such businesspeople don’t see themselves as entrepreneurs and need to understand how to scale up their businesses, McAuley said.

This year’s Innov865 Week drew more than 1,400 participants to 25 events, according to organizers. It started Sept. 19 with the Kauffman Foundation’s Mayors Summit on Entrepreneurship and ended with Startup Day on Sept. 22. This year’s special guest was venture capitalist Paul Singh, who was looking for companies to invest in during his “North American Tech Tour.”

During the first Innov865 Week, Etsy named Knoxville a 'Maker City' at the inaugural Knoxville Maker City Summit; Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced Innovation Crossroads, an accelerator program aimed at entrepreneurs developing promising energy technologies; and T&T Scientific won $5,000 in the Startup Day pitch competition.

Next year’s event will have more “speed dating” sessions to match startups with sector- and stage-specific investors. It also will include educational panels, pitch competitions, investor roundtables and social gatherings.

Ballard said that he hopes to see 2,000 or 2,500 participants next year.

The upcoming happy hours, held every other month, will let entrepreneurs network and learn from VIP guests.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Jim Gaines

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org

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