By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
On Monday and Tuesday, we ran two articles, one reviewing this year’s “GIGTANK” through the eyes of its top leaders, and the other sharing the experience of Evolvr, a start-up that participated simultaneously in both the Chattanooga-based accelerator and in Knoxville’s “MediaWorks.”
The two programs are distinctive, drawing on the strengths of their communities, yet the leaders of Chattanooga’s CO.LAB and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) joined forces to build a meaningful relationship for start-ups where geography was not a factor. That alone is a huge win for the region and for Launch Tennessee, the statewide organization that helps underwrite the regional accelerator network.
“Our partnership with CO.LAB’s ‘GIGTANK’ was a first for Tennessee and provided a template for future collaboration regionally and across the state,” KEC Executive Director Jim Biggs said.
The evolution of the media-focused accelerator started soon after Biggs and Jonathan Sexton joined KEC. They began assessing local strengths to determine the best launchpad for a multi-week program and settled on media for the reasons described in this April 2014 post from teknovation.biz.
With two multi-week accelerator programs under their belt, the KEC leaders believe they have a winner.
“We’ve bought into the idea that Knoxville is a media town and that media start-ups have a great opportunity to shine here,” Sexton said, adding, “That’s been validated.” He underscores the point with two examples from the 2015 “MediaWorks” cohort – seven million pre-sales that Sing and Spell has logged already and a YouTube video that Spare Time Entertainment/Baracksdubs just launched last week that has already surpassed one million views.
“That part (getting YouTube viewers) isn’t new to BaracksDubs, but the part that is new is that the company has a multi-pronged revenue model now,” Sexton said. “That is the direct result of the mentors and influential community members getting behind the great work that they see.”
Biggs echoed Sexton’s enthusiasm for the program and for the community support, both organizationally and individually.
“Collectively, our teams received hundreds of hours of guidance, strategic advice, and technical development from a broad variety of individuals and organizations,” he said, noting in particular Scripps Networks Interactive, NorthSouth Productions, and Codestock.
“All of them see the value in encouraging a vibrant entrepreneurial culture here,” Biggs added. “That support was evident from the quality of the teams in the program and the enthusiastic response from this year’s ‘MediaWorks Demo Day’ audience.”
KEC’s Executive Director characterized this year’s program as “a great success, building on the strengths of our first effort while incorporating some innovative new elements that added even greater value to the program.”
As previously reported, those included three weekend sprints focused on customer validation, product development and marketing/financials.
“Those weekends proved transformative, allowing the teams to make significant progress over each 48-hour session,” Biggs said.
Looking back over the journey thus far, Sexton cited a comment made by Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero at the opening of this year’s “MediaWorks Demo Day.” She said simply: “The second time you do something is the hardest, but it also proves that you’re serious.”