By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
“If I truly believe in the power of entrepreneurship to positively transform communities, maybe I need to put my time where my heart is,” Kanishka Biddanda recalls thinking when he was approached about serving as Interim Executive Director of AccelNow.
Having deferred the opportunity at first, he concluded, “Having been an entrepreneur in this region for over 10 years, this is my opportunity to pay it forward for the up-and-coming entrepreneurs in our region.”
So, with the laser focus of a successful entrepreneur, he launched a 60-day visioning process last November and December. The objective was to understand Northeast Tennessee’s assets, or DNA, as Biddanda describes it.
What he found was a region ripe with knowledge workers (engineers, chemists, and healthcare technologists), retired military officers, highly skilled technicians (fabricators, machinists and welders), and a strong manufacturing base.
Neither of the first two was that surprising, Biddanda says. The region is home to global giant Eastman Chemical Company, two vibrant health systems (Mountain States and Wellmont), and a number of acclaimed academic institutions (East Tennessee State University, Northeast State Community College, King University, Milligan College and Tusculum College).
What might be more surprising is the fact that Northeast Tennessee is in the top 125 metropolitan destinations for retirees, including those from the military.
“Our region is also filled with manufacturing facilities with five to 45 employees,” says Biddanda. To round out the picture, there’s also the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM), operated by Northeast State, that provides accredited advanced manufacturing training for both traditional and non-traditional students.
Those realities – skilled and knowledgeable workers, a strong manufacturing base, and an influx of retirees who are potential entrepreneurs – produced the proverbial “aha moment.”
AccelNow has fine-tuned its mission to focus more on the region’s manufacturing strengths, both the companies and knowledge workers located there, and new assets like RCAM’s rapid prototyping capabilities. Like any of the state’s other accelerators, AccelNow identifies entrepreneurs, helps them refine their business model, connects them with mentors, and links promising start-ups with investors.
There are plans in the works for a product development and manufacturing cohort program for inventors/product developers and an assessment of the feasibility of creating an Advanced Manufacturing Incubator.
“We have the buy-in locally,” Biddanda says. “Our Leadership Council has done a terrific job of building-up our resources.”
What’s next for the almost life-long entrepreneur? Biddanda has shared he will be moving to Nashville in the next few months and will be assessing opportunities that continue to allow him to be a change maker in his new community. We’ll be checking in with him later.