By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Since launching teknovation.biz more than three years ago, it has become apparent to us that Knoxville has a much more significant presence in the information technology sector, broadly defined, than we recognized.
There are well-known national players like Scripps Networks Interactive, Cisco Systems Inc., and RIVR Media, numerous digital developers like Pyxl and Cirruspath, homegrown security companies like Sword & Shield, IT service providers like Claris Networks, advanced analytics start-ups like PYA Analytics, and research enterprises like Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the University of Tennessee (UT).
The region even hosts “MediaWorks,” a digital media accelerator housed at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, and CodeStock, an annual technology conference for developers, IT professionals, and entrepreneurs.
Joe Gipson, Senior Operations Manager for Cisco Systems, has been a player in the local IT ecosystem for more than 24 years, starting with his tenure at UT where we collaborated in the 1990s.
“Our group is a hidden gem,” he says, adding, “There’s a piece of Silicon Valley right here in Knoxville.”
Gipson joined Cisco in 2008, and the security team now numbers 50 people located in West Knoxville.
Four years ago, he began a concerted effort where he championed the region taking greater advantage of its key assets in cyber security, both technologies and people.
“We have assets here that others covet,” Gipson says. “We just need to connect the dots.”
“Cisco, ORNL, and UT have great cybersecurity skills and interest,” he says, noting that Cisco has strong relationships with both. There is also important intellectual property that comes from UT, Cisco, and ORNL.
Part of his vision will come together next month with a conference named “BSides Knoxville.” The one-day event is set for May 15 at Scruffy City Hall on Market Square in Downtown Knoxville.
“Cisco’s role is as a catalyst,” Gipson says. The global giant is one of the platinum sponsors for “BSides Knoxville,” and one of Gipson’s colleagues – Roger Seagle – serves on the three-person planning team.
For Gipson, the event represents one step in the community capitalizing on its assets for long-term economic development. It is also a way to promote Cisco’s significant presence in the region.
“We have the makings of a strong cybersecurity ecosystem that, if nurtured, can not only be growing jobs but new companies,” Gipson says.
To help ensure a successful “BSides Knoxville” event, Gipson says Cisco has scheduled its own internal security conference just ahead of the May 15 session.
“We held our own security conference here last year, bringing in Cisco people from around the world,” he explained. “It was an overwhelming success and is even larger this year. We’re making it an annual event.”
“BSides” is a national franchise for security conferences.
As a UT graduate and long-time resident of the region, Gipson says it is important to provide locally-educated talent opportunities to remain here rather than move elsewhere and to understand the opportunities that exist here.