Three former UTK students decide to pursue their entrepreneurial passion

Ambition(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series of several former Knoxvillians who are succeeding in Chattanooga’s thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem.)

By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates. P.C.

His profile on LinkedIn shows four companies where he is either the founder or co-founder, all started in the past three years. It’s part of an “all in” decision that Travis Truett and two college classmates made in 2010.

The Knoxville native’s passion for entrepreneurship began about the time he enrolled as a freshman at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

“I kind of went in wanting to be an engineer, but fell out of love with the idea my freshman year,” he told us in a recent teknovation.biz interview. Instead, the Farragut High School graduate switched to business administration, where he joined with some classmates and participated in the university’s business plan competition his junior year.

“It really sparked an interest,” Truett said. “We made it to the finals but did not place. We immediately started talking about the next year.”

The team – Truett, fellow Knoxvillian Jared Houghton, and Brian Trautschold of Memphis – made it all the way to the finals that second year where they placed second.

“The judges told us they didn’t particularly care for our idea or think it would be successful, but they believed the team would eventually be successful,” Truett recalled.

Fast forward to today, and they are living their dreams as entrepreneurs in the vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem of Chattanooga. They’ve also learned a good deal along the way.

Truett says the trio graduated in 2009 and went their separate ways. Trautschold went into sales for Hewlett Packard, while Truett and Houghton bummed around the country for a couple of years skiing and climbing.

“We came back together in the fall of 2010,” Truett said. “We were onto something in college. We gave-up our vagabond and corporate lives and decided to go all in” with a start-up. It was named Retickr.

They pooled their money – about $20,000 – and invested the funds in hiring programming talent in India. “It (Retickr) failed,” Truett said. “We lost all our money.”

By then, however, the “all in” strategy was going full bore as was the commitment to the concept. The team “heard no after no after no” as they tried to raise money, Truett said. Their breakthrough came the day after Christmas in 2010.

Trautschold, who was living in Chattanooga, and Travis, who flew in for the meeting, met with Kathryn Foster at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce who listened to their pitch and said, “We’re not sure how we can help you, but we will.”

Truett says he flew back to California, packed all of his belonging, and drove to Chattanooga where he lived on Trautschold’s couch for the next three months.

“I went to the (Chattanooga) Business Development Center every day and told anyone who would listen about our plans,” Truett explained.

Through his constant outreach and networking efforts, Truett found his way to the Lamp Post group which was just forming at the time.

That connection was just what the doctor ordered. We’ll cover the next phases in the trio’s activities in the second article in the series.

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