Southern Culture & Technology Merge June 12 – 13

Southland, a conference that brings together entrepreneurs, investors, thought leaders and inovators, has the goal of connecting the Southeast’s best early-stage companies with investors from across the country.  Positioned between CMA Fest and Bonnaroo, attendees will be able to meet a wide range of people from across the region and country who are building businesses using technology that impacts our day to day lives. Startups and early-stage companies have the opportunity to network with investors as well as hear a series of keynote speeches, panel discussions, and pitch competitions that can help shape their businesses.  Learn more here.

Advertisements

$100,000 Energy Business Plan Competition – Apply by 3/8

MegaWatt Ventures is a business plan competition sponsored by the U. S. Department of Energy where college students and technology entrepreneurs can launch and grow innovative energy technologies.  A 3-page executive summary (plus letters of support) are due by 3/8/13.  Learn more here.

Entrepreneurs Make More Money Than Employees

Very interesting article in Forbes this week from the founder (Dave Girouard) of Upstart, an organization that helps college students and recent grads raise capital in exchange for future earnings.

Dave starts out talking about his conversations with a college dean who thinks that the corporate route (vs. the entreprneurial route) is better, and even more preferred, for college graduates.  But then he summarizes a report from IZA, an international Institute for the Study of Labor, that shows, in fact, that graduates who choose the entrepreneurial path make 50% more income over and above “employees”, and that they do much more to spur innovation and job creation.   They do this by creating environments that play to their strengths (vs. being inside corporate “guard rails”), which makes them both happier and more productive.

Coincidentally, I just finished reading the biography on Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and probably the most successful entrepreneur in the world.  He said that you shouldn’t be worried about making money — you have to be passionate about creating great products that create big value for people.  If you do that, the money will come (even though it shouldn’t be the primary motivation).  To me, this is an incredible piece of evidence to support the institute’s and Girouard’s point:  Jobs played to his strengths, and his company became the most valuable company in the world. 

It’s a key message that we talk about at the Anderson Center:  passion for what you are doing is key to an entrepreneur’s success.  Even if you aren’t enrolled in business classes, we have several programs and clubs that anyone on campus (and in some cases, anyone from off campus) can participate in to help develop skills that can help build entrepreneurial success.  Check them out and join us!

Fall 2012 Boyd Venture Fund Winners Announced

Two student-owned ventures split $20K in seed funding grants from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Boyd Venture Fund. The Boyd Venture Fund is administered through the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s College of Business Administration. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, eight student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $62.5K in seed capital to achieve milestones that advanced their businesses. The Fall 2012 winners are:
 
    • InHouse GFX — a company focused on three service areas: screen printing, graphic/print design, and web development
    • Adams Innovations LLC — a designer, importer and distributor of leisure hammocks with a unique suspension system that eliminates the needs to readjust and reposition the suspension ropes

L to R: Randy Boyd, Anthony Smith, Justin Ruffin, Tom Graves

    InHouse GFX, founded by Anthony Smith (public relations ’13) and Justin Ruffin (communications ’14), offers custom screen printing, graphic /print design and web development to its target market of sororities, fraternities and campus organizations. InHouse has worked with various UT campus organizations, including the Student Government Association, Team Vols, Me4UT, Alpha Kappa Psi, IFC, NPHC, Black Issue Conference, and numerous Greek organizations. “Our vision is to be on numerous college campuses where we will employee students,” explains Smith. “Our company will provide these students with the opportunity to gain valuable experience in fields such as advertising, sales, marketing, production, management, and customer service.” Ruffin adds: “The Boyd Venture Fund grant will allow us to upgrade our computers and software and hire a much needed part-time production manager.” InHouse GFX can be contacted at general@inhousegfx.com.

L to R: Randy Boyd, Alex Adams, Tom Graves

Adams Innovation LLC, founded by Alex Adams (mechanical engineering ’14), designs, imports, and distributes leisure hammocks that are affordable, all-inclusive (hammock and rope suspension system are sold as one unit), and offer a unique suspension system. “I am committed to bringing quality hammocks to a growing market,” says Adams. Adams’s interest in hammocks started during his freshman year at UT. “Hammocks are a great way to relax, but when I had to constantly reposition the ropes to keep the hammock at the height I wanted, I thought that there must be a better way,” he says. His research into ropes and the logging market, which he used to create his unique hammock suspension system, ultimately led to a suspension system that does not require readjustment. He intends to sell his product online and through major outdoor retailers. His Boyd Venture Fund award will allow him to order his initial inventory and be prepared to sell in the Spring. The hammocks are marketed under the trade name Xada. Adams can be contacted at aadams@xadagear.com.

“Creating new local businesses is the cornerstone to a community’s success,” said fund benefactor Randy Boyd, president and CEO of Radio Systems Corp. “These businesses create jobs, pay taxes that fund other investments such as education and support the local community with philanthropy. I cannot imagine a better return on investment than supporting future generations of entrepreneurs.” Boyd Venture Fund grants are available to any UT Knoxville student-owned business and are awarded each Spring and Fall.

TN is Entrepreneurial, in Spite of Itself

For the second year in a row, Tennessee topped the nation in the number of events celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week (Nov. 12 – 16, 2012).  That’s pretty amazing, considering the statewide support for it.  Let me explain.

Some of our instructors talk about a three-legged stool required for entrepreneurship:  technology, capital, and talent.  An additional element, public and private community involvement and support, is the supporting ring at the base of the stool that circles the legs, providing the steadying foundation.  How do we fare as a state in each of these areas?

Technology is the primary driver of innovation that can create new products and services to benefit society.  It is abundant, especially here in East TN, but also across the state.  In East TN, we have UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory as the big technology generators. Nashville has Vanderbilt, and Memphis has both the UT Health Science Center and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  Although we have technology, we have some difficulty converting it into something that is usable in the market.  Most of it is very early stage in its development, requiring both capital and talent to develop it to the point where it can be introduced in the market.

Capital isn’t quite as strong as we need it to be, but we’ve got some (many states don’t!).  We have several venture capital funds across the state, primarily thanks to the TN legislature that approved the TNInvestco funds a few years back.  We have a lot of angel investors, too, although here in East TN, they want to remain anonymous and unorganized, so you have to know someone who knows someone.  As a result, deals are opportunistic.  Angels are more public and better organized in other areas of the state, which results in regular, systematic deal flow and ultimately, more launches of new companies.

Talent has been one of the areas where we have been lacking in the past, but we’re starting to see some improvement.  It is virtually impossible to “recruit” entrepreneurs to any given place (except maybe Silicon Valley).  That means we have to grow them, which is a long-term endeavor that requires both patience and tolerance for risk-taking.  Every year, UT and other schools across the state churn out business and technical graduates who pursue starting businesses while they are in school.  We’ve had several successes (see the Ventures section of our website for some examples) and will see more as the programs for developing talent continue to grow.

Our biggest challenge is the foundation supporting the stool — without that foundation, it is impossible for the legs of the stool to remain stable. 

From the public side, we have a very supportive Governor who has introduced several programs to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.  It would be great if local politicians embrace this philosophy.  I’m surprised they haven’t because the resulting economic growth and prosperity should help them get re-elected!  We all need to encourage them to get involved and become champions for the cause.  From an educational standpoint, we are making good strides in advancing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, which is critical for launching innovation.  But we also need to implement entrepreneurial education and training starting as early as elementary school to help encourage and develop aspiring entrepreneurs.  This will help us to continue to build the entrepreneurial culture across the state.

On the private side, there are three critical players:  entrepreneurs, industry, and the media, who all have to work with the others to advance entrepreneurship and innovation.  We have several successful entrepreneurs in the region who are willing to give back to those who need help, but there is an even greater number who don’t.  We need the entire entrepreneurial community to mobilize and get involved (read Brad Feld’s book, Startup Communities:  Building a Successful Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City). Additionally, research recently conducted by ACEI shows that industry champions are critical for supporting the entrepreneurial community.  Industries (and communities) know they need to innovate to stay relevant, stay solvent, and survive.  We need active industry champions to drive political change, and embrace and support both the development of entrepreneurial talent and new companies they could partner with or acquire to advance their businesses.  Lastly, the media could help advance the cause by becoming more positive about the successes, promoting the activities, and celebrating the risk takers. 

We have a proliferation of government entities here in the Innovation Valley that makes the environment very stable (and conservative) — we’ve never suffered the highs or lows that other areas of the country have seen during economic booms or recessions.  That makes it too easy for us to stay at status quo (unless government funding continues to dry up…. hmmm … that doesn’t sound too far fetched, does it?).  So it’s not surprising that some of the legs and the foundation for entrepreneurship stool are wobbly. But if we ever want to capitalize on the entrepreneurial assets we have (and diversify our economy), we ALL have to work together to strengthen the legs and beef up the foundation.  We ALL can do this by getting involved, helping each other along, communicating its importance to our leaders, celebrating our collective successes, and learning from and celebrating our failures.