PART 1: Knoxville’s Tommy Nguyen born to be an entrepreneur
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
If you’re looking for the stereotypical young entrepreneur who is driven and sees opportunities in a variety of business sectors, you don’t have to go any farther than Tommy Nguyen.
The seemingly always smiling Vietnam native and University of Tennessee (UT) graduate is involved in at least four start-ups, according to his LinkedIn site. While they are focused on different needs and sectors, they share a common foundation – software as an enabler.
“I was born in Vietnam in 1990,” Nguyen told us recently during an interview at UpStart Knoxville, the new co-working community near Pellissippi Parkway. He and his team of start-ups occupy the largest square footage in the building.
“My mom is a big part of who I am here,” Nguyen says. Her father was a U.S. soldier, while her mother was a Vietnamese native. “Mom grew-up without a dad and only had a third grade education. She’s owned her own business since 2006.”
The family moved to the U.S. when Nguyen was two years old, settling initially in Atlanta before moving to Knoxville in 1996. With the aid of a scholarship, he attended Webb School, then enrolled at UT as a pre-med major.
“I shifted to computer science my senior year and fell in love with entrepreneurship,” Nguyen says. While still in college, he joined Leo Knight’s Neighborhood Nerds and eventually became Chief Operating Officer. He started his first company – Right Click Design (RCD) – in 2014 while still at Neighborhood Nerds.
“I did a lot of learning there,” Nguyen said of his four years with Knight’s company. “I learned a lot about networking . . . both types,” clearly referring to the technical meaning of the word as well as the importance of building friendships and alliances.
Right Click Design is a team of creatives, developers, and dreamers who help businesses and organizations harness the power of the web, software, and the latest tools and strategies.
“If you dream it, we can build it,” Nguyen says, explaining that the company’s name is a reference to what happens when a person right clicks a computer mouse. “When you do so, you get extra special capabilities.”
Nguyen says the company has a particular interest in helping start-ups.
“It’s a personal mission that seeps into all of my companies,” he says. “I want to develop Knoxville into a tech friendly and tech innovative community. I want to get Knoxville on the map.”
Because he is engaged with start-ups as a core customer base, Nguyen says RCD “puts me in a position to listen to so many good ideas and (with a laugh) bad ones.” He also has some thoughts about what’s working and what needs to improve locally.
“We have a lot of enthusiasm and excitement,” Nguyen says in describing the impact of events such as the recent “Innov865 Week.” Like many, he decries the lack of community participation, both energy and investment capital, at the level that is needed for a more vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“Someone needs to win really big and reinvest some of those dollars in the community,” Nguyen says. “I hope I’m one of those.”
NEXT: Other start-ups that he is helping guide.