(EDITOR’S NOTE: For nearly four years, we have been profiling young, aspiring entrepreneurs as well as those who are into their second, third or even seventh undertaking. So, we decided to ask a few of those entrepreneurs to share their thoughts with us as we begin a brand new year.)
Austin Church and Nathan Fray are Co-Founders of Closeup.fm, a start-up focused on helping indie bands and singer-songwriters have profitable tours. They were participants in the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s (KEC) inaugural “MediaWorks Accelerator.” We profiled their plans for the start-up in this mid-2014 post on teknovation.biz. Church provided the duo’s responses for this article.
- How would you describe the local entrepreneurial ecosystem as we enter 2016? I’m amazed at the passion and work ethic I witness. Some people are working hard to take this entrepreneurial boat downstream to high school and middle school students. Paul Sponcia from The IT Company and Live Love Hope comes to mind. He’s been working for a while to get the #YEP! program off the ground, and it’s going to happen in the very near future. Then there’s Caleb Fristoe with CodeTN, in partnership with United Way. I’m sure there are more behind-the-scenes people who are working very, very hard to find or create the missing pieces, but these two come to mind. Why shouldn’t we just grow talent here? Sure, we can attract folks here with the low cost of living, and hopefully prevent brain drain from our universities, but why not go to Austin East and Farragut and West and make it clear that there are five $100,000 jobs for every one U.S. developer. Oh, and here is everything you need to become a developer. I love the hearts of people who want to counteract any latent elitism in entrepreneurship and software development.
- How has the ecosystem changed in the last few years? Whereas in the past, I’d pick-up on weariness and resignation during conversations with entrepreneurs committed to building their businesses in East Tennessee, I now sense a lot of enthusiasm and optimism. Also, lots of different people and organizations are making an effort to play well together. There’s less territorialism. I think the focus has begun to shift from who was responsible for a hit or a success to an all-hands-on-deck mentality. I’m really proud of Jim Biggs, Jonathan Sexton, and Emily Skaar at KEC for helping to catalyze some of the camaraderie and collaboration that I have experienced firsthand. Our community is still small enough that a win for a single company is a win for everyone. For example, I’m thrilled that Cirruspath is growing, and I really admire the leadership there.
- If you could wave a magic wand and get your wish as to one or two changes that would make it easier for local entrepreneurs to succeed, what would those be? I’d wish for two things that are interconnected. First is a VC fund of $10-20 million with partners and LPs who have a vision for this place and these people and the next generation of entrepreneurs, developers, and their families. The second thing is this: a venture studio of sorts with a definite Tennessee flavor that is tied into the fund. Start-ups typically need a lot of nurture, and I think we can use the more collaborative, less competitive ethos I see emerging to create a scenario where a rising tide floats all boats: sharing talent, sharing resources, giving back. Shoot, most of this stuff is going to take time so we may as well help one another and send over a Christmas card.
- Most individuals make a special wish as they ring in a New Year. What wishes do you have for your company in 2016? Nathan and I would love to create some jobs in 2016. We’re right on the cusp of that, and I think the new iteration of our software and some changes in our business model make a bigger team a real possibility. Oh, and I want to do a tiny concert with Taylor Swift. For my wife, right?