The Works Demo Day shines light on Knox entrepreneurs
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Startups are shining bright in Knoxville.
Seven growing businesses were in the spotlight during Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s The Works Demo Day, as the founders gave a presentation about their businesses.
Demo Day was the finale to The Works 12-week accelerator program, during which companies received educational programming, access to industry networks, mentoring and marketing and branding resources, Jonathan Sexton, COO at the KEC, said.
Each company dissected
The Works began with a one-on-one team meeting led by Shawn Carson of Three Roots Capital to determine critical risk factors for each company. From there, Sexton, Carson, Dennis Corley of Three Roots, Mark Montgomery of Hello Marko in Nashville, and Bob Camp, The Works lead mentor, determined two or three goals each for each company to focus on throughout the program.
“Companies at this stage need tailored support,” Sexton said. “Everybody is different and in a different place, teams have different skillsets, so our goal was to come in and fill in the gaps wherever the gaps were.”
Startups participating in The Works had to have revenue flowing in. That’s virtually the only aspect the companies had in common.
Meet the teams:
—BiT, founded by Ed MacFawn, creates management software for marine and power sports dealerships.
—Buzzer Intel, founded by Jake Cone, collects and analyzes ticket information obtained at the gate of events.
—CQ Insights, founded by Dr. Bruce Ramshaw, uses non-linear analytical tools to gather data that measures the value of health care.
—Lirio, founded by Patrick Hunt and Jeremy Floyd, drives behavior change through data surrounding individuals.
—SafeSurv, founded by Charlie Jordan, uses ID scanning technology to find invalid IDs in seconds and gain data to provide restaurants with demographic information.
—Smart RIA, founded by Mac Bartine, simplifies compliance for registered investment advisors.
—Unveil Events, founded by Flora Wu Ellis, is a one-stop website called unveilevents.com for wedding planning that goes beyond a plethora of lists and checklists.
The Silicon Valley of the region
Ellis launched Unveil to the public shortly before being selected for The Works and had just moved to Knoxville from California for her husband to participate in the Innovation Crossroads incubator program. She said The Works was her “in road to the Knoxville community.”
It’s a community that surprised her. She previously lived and worked in Silicon Valley and was impressed.
“For both our companies Knoxville has provided very unique and distinct opportunities that I don’t think we would find anywhere else,” Ellis said. “And we’ve lived in New York, Boston and San Francisco. We really think Knoxville is offering something so unique.
“That’s why we’re here.”
Ellis walked away from The Works with completely revamped branding for Unveil. All the company’s focus previously had been on market research and perfecting Unveil’s product. Branding had fallen by the wayside.
Montgomery and his Hello Marko colleague Ernest Chapman led marketing and branding workshops for each team. The KEC in-house team led by Maranda Vandergriff, KEC creative director, executed what came out of the workshops.
In Ellis’ case, the team met with her and came up with branding that is reflective of the company. The team went through 30-40 versions of the logo before finalizing it.
“When you think wedding, you think lace and frills,” Ellis said. “It was an aha moment, because our intentions and our product is different from the rest of the market. We want to create a product that is useful. We are OK with standing apart from the market. Ours is a bold statement as opposed to the light pink that one generally thinks of when thinking of a wedding.”
Results for the future
Ramshaw is the chair of surgery at the University of Tennessee Medical Center and believes measuring the value of care is the only way to improve it. He joined the Works to gain business knowledge to bring back to the medical center.
“I jumped off a cliff seven years ago with a startup, but I’m a surgeon,” he said. “I see the opportunity here at UT to build an infrastructure that is about bringing value-based innovation to the patient, so I wanted to learn more about the business side of things to facilitate that.”
CQ Insights signed its first client contract over the summer and now has seven clients in the pipeline and contracts signed and/or terms agreed to totaling $1.5-$2 million over the next two years.
Jordan founded SafeSurv in Cookeville in 2016 and moved to Nashville about a month ago.
“This was a fantastic opportunity for us,” he said. “It accelerated the growth of our business. We were able to figure things out in a couple weeks that would have taken us several months to figure out had we not been part of the Works.”
During the Works, safer transactions increased from 20,000 to 50,000. SafeSurv also launched a program with the Knox County Health Department, Metropolitan Drug Coalition and Smoke Free Knox to assist tobacco retailers in preventing underage sales to high school and middle school age youth.
The company also narrowed down its core focus to track the market.
“We sell to any business that sells age restricted product,” Jordan said. “That’s a lot of avenues. So one of the big benefits from The Works was we really narrowed down our key customers we need to be approaching. We still service everyone, but there’s one avenue we hone in on ourselves.”
Finding a community
All the companies involved in The Works will walk away with one thing in common - a new community.
“They’ve assembled industry experts, but the second component is every Monday we had lunch with all the founders,” Ellis said. “Founding a company can be lonely, so having other people you can go to that understand what you’re going through, you can bounce ideas off of, that was extremely valuable.”
Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com