Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
February 20, 2012 | Tom Ballard

Anderson Center leaders help drive entrepreneurial ecosystem

Alex Miller and Lynn Youngs believe that “a great university is one that solves pressing, real world problems.” They are aggressively implementing this philosophy at the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the University of Tennessee’s (UT) College of Business Administration.

Miller, who is Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives, and Youngs, who heads the Anderson Center, described for the role that their college and center plays in the local, regional and statewide entrepreneurial ecosystem.

This effort involves partnerships with other parts of the university as well as local and regional organizations like chambers of commerce and Innovation Valley Inc. “Work on entrepreneurship entails, by necessity, a regional focus,” Miller said.

Their efforts also require a university-wide perspective.  “Our entrepreneurial activities are not limited to our college only; we reach across the entire university,” Youngs explained, citing work with engineering and the sciences, the Institute of Agriculture and the UT Research Foundation.

There are numerous examples of their work in building internal and external alliances across the region and the university.

  • The college and its Anderson Center stepped-up to serve as coordinator for the 16-county team that pursued a Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) grant. The proposal was successful, and Youngs is leading the new East Tennessee Regional Accelerator Coalition (ETRAC) that involves about 40 organizations.
  • The college recently joined with the Entrepreneurs of Knoxville organization to co-sponsor a two-week summer entrepreneurial “boot camp” for middle school students.
  • With support from a donor, the college launched the Boyd Venture Fund that provides a “grub stake” of up to $15,000 to help UT students launch their start-up. Youngs said that “it’s not just for College of Business Administration students,” emphasizing that several winners have come from other colleges.
  • The college has also launched “Vol Court,” a series of business seminars designed to help faculty, staff and students from across the university launch businesses.
  • The college is completing a study for UT and UT-Battelle LLC, managing contractor for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, to help increase the impact of their respective technology transfer activities. The research team has completed about 100 interviews at leading universities and national labs and will soon present preliminary findings to the sponsors.

Both Miller and Youngs believe that an important component for success in this region involves developing our regional ecosystem and “creating a good landing zone” to keep UT’s entrepreneurially-minded graduates here. Where an ecosystem includes a critical mass of startups, entrepreneurs know that if their first idea doesn’t pan out, there will be lots of other options they can pursue. “Reaching that critical mass of entrepreneurial activity is critical,” Miller explained, “since startups lead to more startups.”

In the view of these two university leaders, “The most basic role of a land grant university centers around its research and how it is translated into education programs for the benefit of students and the state.” The College of Business Administration has identified four areas of emphasis in applying this strategy: entrepreneurship, supply chain management, business analytics, and corporate governance. “We want students from these programs to go out of here and make a difference,” Miller said.

Youngs agrees.  “In the Anderson Center, our business-focused research results in a compendium of best practices to share with both entrepreneurs and the organizations forming our region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

“In the final analysis, what we are all about is developing the entrepreneurial talent and the regional ecosystem required to foster more startups in the state.” Miller summarized.

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