(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) recently named two individuals as its inaugural Executives-in-Residence (EIR). They will work with the existing KEC team to focus on mentorship and strategic priorities for entrepreneurs. Each EIR will have a specific focus area in which they will create programming and provide business advisory services throughout the 12-month term. In the final article in this series, we spotlight Eleni Stratigeas.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Like Richard Dapaah, the other inaugural Executive-in-Residence (EIR) at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC), Eleni Stratigeas was born and raised in another area of the country. In her case, however, the former senior executive at Scripps Networks Interactive has lived here since 2007, so she has more familiarity with the region.
We sat down recently with the Utah native and law graduate from Vanderbilt University who most recently was Senior Vice President – Legal Affairs, Corporate Secretary, and Associate General Counsel at the international media company that was sold to Discovery Inc. last March.
In her former position, Stratigeas says she traveled a good deal of the time, so her engagement in activities in Knoxville beyond work and family was limited. That said, she has found Knoxville to be a very livable and affordable city.
“I grew-up in Salt Lake City,” Stratigeas says. “It was very family-oriented. I liked that. Knoxville has that same sort of feel.”
Stratigeas and her husband know KEC Executive Director Jim Biggs and his wife, Cate, through non-business activities. She was asked to be a judge for the 2018 edition of the “What’s the Big Idea 48-Hour Launch” that KEC coordinates. After the competition, Jonathan Sexton, KEC Chief Operating Officer, told her that she asked really good and hard questions and recruited her as a mentor, now termed advisor, for the organization.
“I had not thought of supporting small businesses until recently,” Stratigeas told us. Yet, as she’s become more involved with them and their needs, she sees it as a good fit with her experience at Scripps.
“As an in-house counsel, you are wearing that business hat at all times,” Stratigeas explains. “You help people fill-in gaps.”
A good deal of her work was in the mergers and acquisitions area.
“M&A lawyers are the Ninjas of the legal profession,” she says. “You need to know a lot. Your role is to help expand the business. Business and legal issues merge together when you are an in-house attorney.”
It is that knowledge that she gained at Scripps that will be brought to the proverbial table in her role as an EIR.
“If you (the entrepreneur) are going to seek an investor, what are the pitfalls,” Stratigeas asks? “There are a lot of things you have to think through when you want to bring in an investor or sell.”
She also did a good deal of joint venture work for Scripps, and her knowledge in that area can also benefit local entrepreneurs. During our interview, she highlighted just one – the governance structure.
Now that she has taken on the EIR role, the thoughtful Stratigeas says she’s gained a new insight into and appreciation of the local entrepreneurial community.
“I’ve been surprised at the high number of tech start-ups here, but the absence of capital for them,” she says. “That’s unfortunate.” She hopes to be one of those who helps convince more Knoxvillians to invest in these companies and their community.
Stratigeas has watched the city evolve since she arrived in 2007, and her goal is to continue to raise her children here. “Knoxville has changed a lot in 11 years,” she says, noting the growth in the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays in Downtown Knoxville, numerous restaurants, and even yoga studios. In the case of the latter, she recalls that there was only one.