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January 16, 2018 | Tom Ballard

2018 OUTLOOK PART 3: Robustness of statewide entrepreneurial ecosystem

2018 Outlook 3We continue our series where Angel and Venture Capitalists in East Tennessee share their thoughts about the past year and their thoughts on the year ahead.

Part #3: Most people would say that Tennessee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is more robust across the state than it ever has been. Do you agree? If not, why?

  • Tony Lettich, Managing Director, The Angel Roundtable: Tennessee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is strong and getting stronger every day. Nashville is receiving recognition on a national basis for its ability to support start-ups and entrepreneurs. The state’s ecosystem continues to develop and grow in cities such as Knoxville, Chattanooga and Memphis and in the rural areas. Ecosystem growth in Knoxville has been particularly robust over the last year to 18 months with high levels of organization, increased accelerator/incubator offerings and a growing and improving investor base let by the Angel Capital Group. However, several other regions across the country are thriving as well. It is critical that efforts continue to accelerate.
  • Kristina Montague, Managing Partner, The JumpFund: I would agree and that a lion’s share of the credit should go to LaunchTN which has been highly successful in developing a more robust ecosystem for entrepreneurs and investors across the Southeast. Investors are becoming more interconnected across the state and region as we source and fund deals in the Southeast. State policy, such as the angel tax credit, also has helped get more investors off the sidelines.
  • John Morris, Fund Manager, The Lighthouse Fund: I would say the activity has normalized, meaning that activity is at an organic state, without initiatives in capital or increased funding for entrepreneurial support.
  • Grady Vanderhoofven, President and Chief Executive Officer, Three Roots Capital, and Managing Partner, Meritus Capital Management: I agree.
  • Ken Woody, President of Innova Memphis: I would agree. We have many companies growing and new ideas emerging. It would be great to see one to two companies become big winners and expand rapidly, but we have so many exciting opportunities I’m confident that will happen. Clearly more investors outside the region are seeing this and are coming into Tennessee to evaluate companies and invest.
  • Jack Studer, General Partner, and Courtney Watson, Partner, Chattanooga Renaissance Fund: There is more activity than ever before, but until there are meaningful exits that can “close the loop” on the revenue cycle of early stage investing, it seems premature to use the word “robust.” The Tennessee start-up ecosystem still needs more cash put in to the funnel than is coming out the other side (which is 100 percent to be expected at this stage). But we must ALL work hard to drive our promising portfolio companies to become successful exits for our investors.
  • Eric Dobson, Chief Executive Officer, Angel Capital Group: Agree. We see more starts, more quality starts, and more experienced entrepreneurs. This year’s (Knoxville) “Startup Week Demo Day” was a clear example. We saw the most mature, well-rounded companies in the history of the program this year. Almost every one of the presenting companies was “fundable.” My understanding is Memphis, Nashville, and Chattanooga are experiencing the same.

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