By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
There was something symbolic about the venue for this year’s edition of Launch Tennessee’s “36|86 Conference” in Downtown Nashville where day one is now in the books.
What better place to showcase the “best of the best” in start-ups from Tennessee and other Southeastern states than the world-class Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Tennessee has come a long way in the growth of its entrepreneurial ecosystem over the past few years, and the Schermerhorn is clearly an amazing place to spotlight the region’s start-ups.
More than 900 people showed-up for the fourth iteration of the two-day event initially known as “Southland” before its rebranding last year.
To underscore the quality of the 36 teams that were selected for “Village 36,” Charlie Brock, Launch Tennessee’s President and Chief Executive Officer, noted that they had already raised $20 million. Hopefully, those numbers will grow dramatically with more than 125 investors in attendance.
Two of those “Village 36” start-ups – Knoxville-based Avrio Analytics and AudioHand – competed in two of the five semi-final rounds where one company from each round will be selected to vie for the $50,000 grand prize to be awarded before the “36|86 Conference” ends late today.
“It was fast,” Haseeb Qureshi, AudioHand’s Co-Founder, said. “I looked down, saw a minute and three seconds had passed, and then saw I only had 23 seconds left. I had to end quickly”
“It was a comfortable pace,” he felt, adding, “I wanted to capture everyone’s imagination.”
For Alicia Caputo, Avrio Analytics’ Chief Executive Officer, the two-minute pitch opportunity came on the heels of what she described as a “whirlwind” day. It started with arrival at 8:30 a.m. followed by four scheduled speed dates with investors. Each lasted 15 minutes, but Caputo said she and Avrio Analytics’ Mik Bertolli also had unscheduled discussions with several other investors.
“It was really great practice,” she said of the recurring pitch opportunities to which Bertolli added, “It helped us see what we were missing.”
“I’ve been super quiet for the last 12 to 18 months,” he told us, explaining that his focus has been on refining the AudioHand product offering. “I’m working on something, and it is so cool . . . how important it is to save and share content.”
In the last year, the bootstrapped start-up has recorded 440 hours of content that has been downloaded almost 4,000 times, frequently by individuals outside the U.S.
“I have hard concrete evidence that the bets we have made as a team are working,” Qureshi said. “We had an idea. Two months ago, we saw territory. We now have one leg in (the territory).”
The company’s progress has been enhanced since Qureshi shutdown his web development company in December and gave his all to AudioHand.
“Sometimes I don’t know how I’m going to pay my rent,” he admits, but adds, “It’s a scarier but happier life.”
Such is the existence of dedicated entrepreneurs, but that’s the spotlight and opportunity that “Village 36” and the “36|86 Conference” are bringing to the table.