Believe in Yourself Knoxville (and Why Startup Day Matters)

by: Jonathan Sexton, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center


Jonathan Sexton

Knoxville is so full of talent, creativity, and ideas. I’ve always THOUGHT I knew that. Being raised a musician here exposed me to that early on, singers, songwriters, poets, painters, craftsmen (and women) of so many kinds. I also thought for most of my life that’s what creativity was: Art. And it is. But Startup Day taught me that Knoxville’s Creative Capabilities were so much more than that, and so much bigger than I ever imagined.

Let me explain. My first work in the local startup scene was in Startup Day 2013. Knoxville Entrepreneur Center was brand new, and I was a volunteer mentor fresh off a few years of launching a startup in Nashville. KEC and Tech 2020 wanted to celebrate KEC’s inaugural two accelerator programs. It was the first event in the area to celebrate entrepreneurship. 300+ people showed up, 13 very nervous teams took the stage and it was a great event. But looking back it wasn’t the music, food, attendance, glitter, lights, or speakers that made the first Startup Day important.

The inaugural Startup Day mattered because it was the beginning of a new chapter in the life of our city.

A rebirth. We don’t live in the same Knoxville that we did in November 2013, which is a beautiful thing, but what’s more beautiful is what’s still to come for Knoxville.

Here are the top 3 reasons I’m excited to be in my industry (working with startups) in THIS town (Knoxville) for the next 5 years:

Startup Culture: Two years ago, I was often asked a simple question. “We have startups in Knoxville?” Now, the only thing that has changed is the punctuation. I hear someone say it all the time: “We have startups in Knoxville!!!” It’s a big change, and the startups here span the spectrum. Advanced Manufacturing, Material Science, Media, Automotive, MedTech, Music, 3D Printing… you name it, we’ve got it. And we have experts in the industry to support it. Literally hundreds of startups and infrastructure to support it, no matter the stage of your company. Knoxville is one of the most comprehensive innovation hubs in country, the roots of that go back further than Startup Day, but Startup Day started telling the story. We are a humble bunch in this region, more concerned with doing the work than talking about the work. But it’s time to talk about the work, to celebrate the work, and to BRAG about the work that entrepreneurs in this area are doing. It’s world class. Thanks to Startup Day for teaching me that.

We live in a community of collaboration: Startup Day was originally a KEC and Tech 2020 event. Immediately afterward ORNL, UTRF, The Anderson Center, PYA, LaunchTN and more stepped up wanting to take this event to the next level, and thank goodness they did. Not because it made for a better Startup Day every November, but because of the lasting relationships that have been built that add value to our startup community the other 11 months of the year. Collaboration between Entrepreneurial Support Organizations is at an all-time high. The Kauffman Foundation recently acknowledged this effort with a $25K grant for Knoxville to build software to streamline the effectiveness of our comprehensive support ecosystem. In terms of collaboration, the last 2 years have brought 10 years of progress. For that I am grateful to the event and all my community partners.

Traction: The first Startup Day was about 13 companies launching. Now those companies and many more have gone on to do great things. One of the 13, Aries Energy, was just acquired by a bigger company for a large sum of money, hopefully the first of many. ProNova is reinventing cancer treatment. Local Motors printed the world’s first 3D-Printed Car. EventBooking,, and Audiohand are reinventing the music industry. ORNL and UTRF have collaborated on over 1,000 new patents in the last few years. NewsBreak Media installed their product in nearly 1,000 locations, and raised multiple rounds of funding. Arkis and 490 just got huge SBIR grants. Little Fishkopp has customers all over the world buying children’s clothing products. Any Roam is installed on 350 Universities. SpareTime Entertainment is reaching hundreds of millions of people on YouTube.

And this is just the beginning. There are so many more positive things happening in our area, and one day I’ll get to those too. But if you read nothing else, read this:
It’s all happening here and more is coming. So believe in yourself Knoxville, your creativity and your ideas will define the next generation of our great city. And when we look back down from the top of that mountain, I believe we’ll look back at Startup Day as the key moment when we started celebrating the brilliant and creative minds of our entrepreneurs, and that is why Startup Day Matters.

TechSmarrt Wins Fall 2015 Vol Court Pitch Competition

TechSmarrt, a team of UT students, beat twelve competitors to win the fall 2015 Vol Court Pitch Competition. The student team pitched software they developed for use in industry and pharmaceutical applications.

Eva Mutunga, Christine Ajinjeru, Adeola Adediran, and TechSmartt-teamAkinola Oyedele—all doctoral candidates with UT’s Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education—along with David Keffer, professor of materials science and engineering, and Orlando Rios of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, developed the software, which streamlines the process of interpreting structures of materials.

While the current process requires hours on a supercomputer, TechSmarrt’s software enables the same information to be produced in seconds. The software runs on a laptop, further expediting the process of materials discovery.

Read more here.

Fireside Chats Feature International Entrepreneur; Regional Innovators and Investors

Startup Day 2015 will host three Fireside Chats with the highlight being international entrepreneur and executive of Alchemists Collective Angel Gambino.

Angel Gambino

Angel Gambino

Featured Fireside Chat: A native of Detroit who moved back to her hometown from London to join others committed to reigniting economic growth in the city, Angel Gambino will share how an entrepreneurial spirit and passion can reignite cities like Knoxville.

Angel Gambino has founded and developed digital media companies that floated on the stock market and sold in high profile trade sales including the $850 million AOL TimeWarner acquisition of bebo.

Tech Crunch’s Jon Shieber will moderate Angel Gambino’s discussion.

Additional Fireside Chats: Investors Eric Dobson, PhD with Angel Capital Group; Grady Vanderhoofven with Meritus Ventures LP and Kristina Montague with The JumpFund will join Bob Bradley with NewsBeak Media Networks for a Fireside Chat discussion on how entrepreneurs can gain capital investments in an environment that is risk averse. “Hungry for Success but Starving for Capital” promises honest dialogue on Knoxville’s aversion to risk.

“Three Technologies that will Change the World: Made in East Tennessee” will close out the Fireside Chats, featuring discussion with some of East Tennessee’s primary innovators sharing insight into why this region is fertile ground for innovation.

The Fireside Chat is moderated by Beth Papanek with the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education and participants include Adam McCall with TennEra; Vig Sherrill with General Graphene and discussion from Craig Blue with the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation.



Knoxville entrepreneurs vying for cash on Start Up Day

By: Shelley Kimel, Knoxville News Sentinel

Some of Knoxville’s top entrepreneurs are paving the way for faster cures for complex diseases, turning a surprise viral video hit into an enterprise that could “transform the content genre,” and developing technology to monitor our nation’s infrastructure in real-time — and those are just a few of the business ideas that will compete to win a $5,000 prize Nov. 19 at Start Up Day 2015’s pitch competition.

Now in its third year, Start Up Day is focused on Knoxville’s next generation of entrepreneurs, and encouraging community involvement and support for new ventures. This is the first time a cash prize has been offered.

startup_Additerra_26376755_ver1.0_900_675East Tennessee’s successes are being noticed on a national scale, said Tom Ballard, chief alliance officer at Pershing Yoakley & Associates and a member of the Startup Day Steering Committee. Ballard recently returned from a White House forum on regional innovation.

“What struck me about the forum was our region had more representation than any other region, and it was people from the West Coast and East Coast. We had more stories to tell about examples of things we were doing here than any other region,” Ballard said.

The event is also growing in size — last year the organizers had to turn guests away after the room filled to capacity — and the steering committee moved it this year to the Bijou Theatre, which can accommodate hundreds more attendees.

Read more at the Knoxville News Sentinel here.


Seven Pitchers, One Chance to Win: Who Will Claim the $5,000 Prize?

They’re gearing up for their big pitch and a once in a lifetime opportunity.

SD Logo-on transparency for web trimmed (1) (1)Seven East Tennessee startups pitch their innovative businesses on the U.S. Cellular Stage at the Bijou Theatre on Thursday, November 19, 2015, competing to win a $5,000 prize.

Meet the pitchers:

Marva Solt, founder of RadiantWear LLC, creates patent-pending clothing for women going through radiation treatment for breast cancer.

Fadi Saleh, founder of SpareTime Entertainment, makes millions laugh by curating and remixing familiar video content into hilarious entertainment.

Will Sames, founder of Additerra, an E-Commerce Platform developed for Direct Business to Business Sales and designed to permanently change the way customized parts and products are purchased.

Bryan Crosby, co-founder and CEO of FunLPro Technology LLC, produces a patented closure system for fluid containers that provides a lengthy, extendible, and directional pouring spout within the closure system itself.

Philippe Hanset, founder of ANYROAM LLC, a company that provides Wi-Fi roaming service for the research and education community called eduroam.

Rob Moseley, founder of SimPath, a proprietary assembly technology that reduces the time researchers spend on monotonous tasks, increasing the time needed to spend on true science.

Robert Wilson, working with RDI LLC developing a patented technology platform capable of measuring motion, vibration, and displacement not visible to the human eye.

Cheer on the pitchers at the Bijou. Tickets are free; registration is required,



Startup Day Announces Angel Gambino, CEO, Alchemists Collective, as Featured Fireside Chat

(Knoxville-TENN) -Detroit native and Chief Executive Officer of Alchemists Collective, Angel Gambino, will take center stage at the U.S. Cellular Stage at The Bijou Theatre on Thursday, November 19, 2015, sharing how international entrepreneurial success mixed with hometown passion can energize cities like Knoxville.

Angel Gambino

Angel Gambino

Ms. Gambino is an example of how an early adopter holds the key to developing a thriving startup spirit in any community. Her efforts in Detroit have led to the revitalization of Corktown, the oldest residential neighborhood in the city, now bustling with commercial growth and home to The Alchemists Collective headquarters, a venture development that includes more than 110,000 square feet of property.

TechCrunch’s Jon Shieber returns to Knoxville for his second Startup Day appearance, interviewing Ms. Gambino for her fireside chat.

Angel Gambino has founded and developed digital media companies that floated on the stock market and sold in high profile trade sales including the $850 million AOL TimeWarner acquisition of bebo. She moved back to Detroit from London to join others committed to reigniting economic growth in her hometown.

“Ms. Gambino is an entrepreneur who shares Knoxville’s passion for reinvesting in local communities and growing a local culture,” said Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer for Pershing Yoakley & Associates. PYA is a Startup Day Presenting Sponsor. “Anyone attending Startup Day, from an entrepreneur to an investor to someone interested in starting a business, will find inspiration from Ms. Gambino.”

Angel Gambino is the former General Manager, Smart Mobility for Castrol Lubricants where she developed their global smart mobility strategy, brokered investments, created and advised Boards of a portfolio of mobility ventures. As Senior VP of Innovation for Westfield Shoppingtowns (the largest retail owner/operator in the world), she was responsible for developing and overseeing innovation, consumer experience, commercial and community activations and partnerships bridging ecommerce and physical retail.

She is also a former Vice President at MTV Networks, responsible for strategy and profitability of commercial properties, television distribution, licensing, merchandising and digital media as well as having been the youngest Controller at the BBC where she lead the transformation of the broadcaster in to an award winning multi-platform media company by developing their first mobile and on-demand services such as the iPlayer. Before working in big media, Ms. Gambino was a consultant to Fortune 50 US companies launching their first internet operations and was part of the founding team at a handful of digital startups in the 1990’s that are still profitable today.

Ms. Gambino has won numerous awards as a digital media entrepreneur and business leader including being listed within WIRED’s Annual Top 100 Innovators and the UK’s TechCity Top 100.

She has a Juris Doctorate and Masters from the University of Oregon School of Law and two Bachelor of Arts from Missouri Valley College where she competed in the national finals for women’s soccer.

In addition to Angel Gambino’s featured chat, additional activities include seven startups pitching for the chance to win $5,000; fireside chats with area investors and entrepreneurs; and the first ever UT Federal Credit Union Traction Award, presented to a Startup Day alum who has made the most progress in the past three years.

Startup Day 2015 is free but registration is required.

About Startup Day 2015

Startup Day showcases Knoxville as a destination for startups and entrepreneurs. It is presented by a steering committee that represents the region’s entrepreneurial assets and support network: The University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Lab, Launch Tennessee, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, Tech 2020, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, and The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

For more information:


COMMENTARY: Support “Start-up Day” on November 19

By: Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.Tom_Ballard

There’s a great program that has been planned with three dynamic fireside chats, a pitch event featuring seven individuals competing for a $5,000 cash prize, and three companies vying for the community’s first-ever “Traction Award.”

What are we talking about?

I hope you already know the answer. It’s Knoxville’s third annual “Start-up Day,” and the event promises to be the biggest and best yet. All that needs to happen is for you and your friends to pack the Bijou Theater on Thursday afternoon, November 19.

A Steering Committee composed of individuals representing champions of entrepreneurship in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region has been meeting since spring to plan the event. Representatives come from the region’s:

  • Key generators of intellectual property – Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee, specifically the UT Research Foundation;
  • Entrepreneurially-focused support organizations – Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, Tech 2020, UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Launch Tennessee; and
  • Private sector – Pershing Yoakley & Associates, the power behind

The Steering Committee established three key goals for the 2015 event:

  • Celebrate entrepreneurship – past, present and still to come;
  • Showcase the region as a destination for start-ups and entrepreneurs; and
  • Address our greatest local challenge which is access to capital.

The program is all about celebration. The “Traction Award” was created to recognize significant progress achieved by companies that pitched at past “Start-up Days.” The addition of a cash prize for this year’s pitch competition elevates the event to a new level. And, there’s been an aggressive effort to attract more investors from outside the area to see the exciting start-ups our region is spawning.

By moving this year’s event to the Bijou, “Start-up Day” can accommodate many more attendees than was possible previously.

So, the table has been set, and now it’s up to you and others from the region to do your part. It starts by registering for the event (here’s the link) and showing-up when the doors open at 2 p.m. November 19. We are asking that you commit a few hours to an event that is about the long-term growth and development of the place we call home.

If you want more details about the program, click here.

Knoxville Hosts Startup Day: WBIR Newsmaker Interview with Knoxville Entrepreneur Center Executive Director

Knoxville Entrepreneur Center Executive Director Jim Biggs provides a preview of Knoxville Startup Day 2015 on WBIR’s newsmaker segment and discusses the entrepreneurial spirit of the city. Startup Day is in its third year and the event continues to grow. On November 19 at the Bijou Theatre, seven pitchers will compete for a $5,000 prize.


Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 12.15.08 PM

KEC Executive Director Jim Biggs talks Startup Day on WBIR.



First Friday Preview: Meet Startup Day 2015 Traction Award Nominees

Since 2013, Knoxville’s Startup Day has promoted new ideas and businesses, awarding the winning power pitch from a local startup with a $5,000 cash prize. New to Startup Day 2015 is the first Traction Award, sponsored by UT Federal Credit Union and presented to a Startup Day alum that’s made the most progress over the past three years. This First Friday panel discussion will feature two of the three Traction Award nominees, discussing how they’ve grown their businesses and sharing thoughts about what it takes to start a business in Knoxville. The nominees will be joined by sponsor UT Federal Credit Union.

Harvey Abouelata, ARiES Energy
Uta Preston, Little Fishkopp
Jonathan Patrick, UT Federal Credit Union


Traction Award Sponsor

Moderator: Amy Nolan, Editor, Greater Knoxville Business Journal

Friday, November 6, 2015 from 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM (EST)
Knoxville Entrepreneur Center – 17 Market Square. #101. Knoxville, TN 37902

Startup Day 2015 is Thursday, November 19 at the Bijou Theatre. Doors open at 2 with program at 2:30 pm. Tickets are free but registration is required. Info:

Sponsored by: The University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Lab, Launch Tennessee, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, Tech 2020, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, and The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.


Basics of Networking – Making Strong Business Connections

By: John Sharpe, CEO, Southeastern Technology Consultants and its affiliated divisions

John Sharpe Color 3 2014

John Sharpe, CEO, Southeastern Technologies

There are many networking strategies to consider, but these basics networking tips can help you develop connections that are right for your business.

Who should I connect with? Introduce yourself at every opportunity!

A simple introduction could be the first step to creating long-lasting relationships with long-term benefits.  Additionally, take advantage of your existing connections.  You could have a friend with a direct connection to the CEO of XYZ company that you’re not yet aware of.  Although this may seem like an unrealistic connect, fostering your existing relationships could lead you to the “golden” connection.

Starting a new business is extremely difficult.  Therefore, it is important to identify potential points of contact that could positively influence your business’ success.  One example is to establish a few mentors.  This has helped me to develop new strategies for my company, in addition to creating strong relationships with those who continually influence my business.

Where do I go to network? You can form connections anytime, anywhere.

One challenge of growing your startup company is that you are always working.  Attend local events, seminars, workshops held by other businesses or your local Chamber of Commerce.  Sponsor events related to your industry, in order to promote your brand.  Another suggestion is to carry a minimum of 20 business cards with you at all times, as they are extremely convenient to have for those “important moments.”

How do I connect with people? Engage others as though they are potential customers that may have a need for your product or service.

During your conversation, promote your product/service, without pushing.  Remember, the most important person in the conversation is the person you’re talking to.  Establish trust and rapport by connecting on a personal level, first.  Another great tip is to tailor your message about the product or service to the needs of the customer, and present it in a real life scenario.  Don’t forget to describe the benefits you can provide to their business, and make a lasting impression!

Why should I connect with people? To grow your business!

Networking is a vital step in growing a startup. In the process, you might discover that the customer can assist you with a need you have. Most importantly, understand that people are constantly in need of something.  Good timing and an ability to identify their need for your product/service is critical.

Southeastern Technology Consultants is a division of StaffSource LLC, added in 2011 due to the high demand for IT & Engineering professionals. Its CEO, John Sharpe, is originally from Knoxville & founded his first business, ARG Professional 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 CEO of ARG Executive Search & ARG Professional Staffing, StaffSource Employee Solutions & Southeastern Technology Consultants.