(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in a three-part series spotlighting John Bruck who moved to Knoxville from Ohio in 2015 and has established himself as a major supporter of entrepreneurs and start-ups in the region.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
One of the characteristics that I especially like about John Bruck is his gregarious nature, inquisitive mind, and sense of humor. The latter was clearly evident during our interview when he described an interaction his mom had with her brother and Bruck’s uncle, who was very close and a high level executive in the chemical industry.
It occurred when the Cincinnati resident decided to join with two others and found Bruck, Hartman and Esposito Inc., an environmental consulting firm. He was leaving a good paying position for somewhat unknown and risky territory.
“I was termed an entrepreneur by my uncle, and it was not considered a positive term and, in fact, I was expected to fail before I even started” Bruck said with a laugh. “It was nothing like the way people view entrepreneurs today.”
Clearly, the Purdue University alum has brought the lessons learned from running his own business for 25 years and his more recent engagement with Queen City Angels (QCA) to the work he now performs in Knoxville. More important, however, Bruck has brought his passion for helping others grow their businesses to the table.
Almost immediately after selling what was then known as BHE Environmental in 2013, Bruck became involved in QCA.
“My life-long personal attorney helped with the legal work to start and eventually exit BHE, but she was also a dear friend and knew how important it was to keep me off the street,” Bruck says, again with that twinkle in his eyes and smile on his face.
He met with Tony Shipley, a University of Tennessee, Knoxville graduate and the Founder, Chair and President of QCA.
“He has been very patient with me as I’ve learned to be a good angel,” Bruck says. “The entire QCA organization is very welcoming and let me get involved in all QCA’s processes . . . outreach, screening, due diligence and post-investment involvement. There’s nothing like on-the-job training with great mentors like Tony.”
That experience is very valuable as Bruck mentors entrepreneurs in preparation for pitches to and meetings with prospective investors. That’s just one of the numerous ways that he is helping grow the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, a process that started with a visit to the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC).
“After building our house in Corryton, I moved here in late 2015,” Bruck says. “Then, I popped-out of the woodwork and applied to be a mentor at KEC.”
Since then, the long-time entrepreneur has been sprinting.
- For nearly two years, he was KEC’s lead mentor where Bruck says he probably interacted with 200 start-ups.
- He became a member of the Innov865 Alliance Steering Committee and led planning for the 2017 “Future865 Forum.”
- When the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Network launched its “Energy Mentor Network” with support from Launch Tennessee, Bruck quickly joined and today serves as a mentor and advisor for several of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s “Innovation Crossroads” start-ups including: SkyNano Technologies, Nth Cycle, TCPoly Inc., Lux Semiconductors, and Advanced Energy Storage,
- He’s also helping Bailey Foster at Real Good Kitchen, a project that he describes as “a great social-value proposition that is gaining local support.”
- Bruck has also started two businesses with his sons – Bruck Real Estate with Matt and Bruck Digital with Kurt.
- Most recently, he became the Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation(ACEI). He’ll be running a new business accelerator that ACEI, which is part of the Haslam College of Business, will house at the UT Research Foundation’s Business Incubator.
It’s been a great evolution from being criticized for being an entrepreneur to being a champion for and supporter of those who start new ventures.
NEXT: Bruck’s thoughts about the region after three years here.