By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Knoxville’s second annual “Innov865 Week” ended on Friday with a data analytics “lunch and learn” hosted by PYA, the power behind teknovation.biz, and an open house at UpStart Ventures, a new co-working space in West Knoxville.
As noted in our Friday posts, “Start-up Day” featured a competition among six fairly new start-ups and the announcement of the winner of the “Traction Award.” The event also featured a fireside chat with Mark Montgomery, a well-known Nashville entrepreneur. Earlier on Thursday, the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) hosted two events – a “speed dating” opportunity for entrepreneurs to pitch to investors and a luncheon hosted by The JumpFund, the Chattanooga-based initiative that invests in women-led start-ups.
Mark Montgomery Insights
Montgomery and Charlie Brock, President and Chief Executive Officer of Launch Tennessee, had a short but insightful conversation during “Start-up Day” at the Bijou Theatre.
“Knoxville feels a little like Nashville 10 years ago,” Montgomery said. In addition to being very active in Nashville, he also has been part of the mentoring team for KEC’s just-concluded “The Works” growth accelerator, so he had some advice for the community.
“If you can imagine it, you can go after it,” Montgomery said. “(Decide) what do you want it (the community) to look like? Then, claim it and go after it.”
He cited what many of us have observed as perhaps the key challenge in the growth and vibrancy of Knoxville entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“You’re way too risk averse,” Montgomery said. “You need a more risk tolerant community and some big wins.”
It is a lesson that he understands very well. “I lost six figures in 72 days in a deal last year,” Montgomery said. “Do I regret it? Yes. Would I like to have my money back? Absolutely, but it was the right thing to do.”
Brock asked about the most common mistake entrepreneurs make. Montgomery was quick with his response. “Taking stupid money hands down,” he replied. “Taking money that will cost you more than you’ll ever get of it. Taking money that doesn’t understand its role.”
The JumpFund Luncheon
Kristina Montague, Managing Partner, and Melissa Aldridge, Managing Director, hosted a small but informative luncheon on Thursday to update individuals on The JumpFund’s progress.
“Investing in women-led companies was a lost opportunity in the market,” Montague said in explaining the impetus for launching the fund in 2013. Today, thanks to 50 investors who committed $2.5 million, The JumpFund has invested in 18 companies and is in the midst of raising a second fund.
What sort of female entrepreneurs attract The JumpFund’s attention?
“It’s not any woman,” Montague said. “We want incredibly strong leaders. It is about the team, but it goes beyond that. Is it a right fit (to which) we can add value through our General Partners, Limited Partners and others? We would love to see an MVP (minimum viable product) and some revenue. We’re about scalable businesses.”
Since 2011 when the core team first conceived The JumpFund after “seeing the problem in our own backyard,” Montague said the landscape has changed. There are more funds focused on women-led start-ups and even a national network of these funds. Chattanooga and Nashville are cited as top cities for female entrepreneurs. Three of the eight start-ups in Launch Tennessee’s most recent “The TENN” master accelerator were women-led and, with the recent investment in Utilize Health, all three are JumpFund portfolio companies.
You could see that Montague was pleased with the progress, but there is still considerable work to be done. The group’s second fund has already raised $3 million toward a goal of $5 to $7 million.