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March 24, 2015 | Tom Ballard

ACCELERATOR OUTLOOK: Knoxville Entrepreneur Center

KEC(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third article in a multi-part series focused on Launch Tennessee’s accelerator program and the regional accelerators that operate in the eastern half of Tennessee. Today, we examine the plans of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.)

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

Jim Biggs has led the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center since January 2014. He and his family relocated to the region after 20 years in the Bay Area of California where Biggs’ last assignment was Director of Business Solutions for Essention Group, a software consulting company.

KEC is one of the nine regional accelerators operated in various areas of the state with partial funding from Launch Tennessee.

We asked Biggs, KEC’s Executive Director, to tell us about the accelerator’s plans for 2015.

How would you describe the primary focus of your organization and the activities that it undertakes?

KEC seeks to transform people with ideas into people with businesses, fostering innovation and job growth by building a culture of entrepreneurship and connectivity within our community.

What has that been the focus since KEC’s inception or have there been some changes? If there have been changes, what were they?

KEC’s core focus has not changed since the idea of the Entrepreneur Center was conceived over two years ago. Since our opening on April 5, 2013, our programming and activities have evolved as we continue to better understand the totality of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in East Tennessee. We continue to serve start-ups in all business sectors, but we provide more comprehensive support for the sectors of Digital Media, Energy, and soon to Data Analytics.

Looking back on 2014, what was the greatest accomplishment of KEC? (Describe it.)

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment is an ongoing process: That we have not only put together a strong team of staff, mentors, contributors, and supporters, but we have also made strides in uniting the entrepreneurial community in Knoxville. And, the start-up community is seeing positive results.

What other highlights come to mind during 2014?

KEC delivered a successful inaugural “MediaWorks” accelerator that graduated nine companies, several of which have received small outside investments, and a handful continue to actively court investors.

“Start-up Day” attracted approximately 400 people to celebrate entrepreneurship in the region. The event this year was presented by a coalition of six entrepreneur-facing organizations and showcased some of the top young startups in the area.

What are KEC’s goals for 2015 in terms of formal programming and other activities?

  • Be the front door for entrepreneurs in the region.
  • Engage 150 entrepreneurs and provide value to their idea/company through KEC services or through referral to other appropriate organizations.
  • Expand the local availability of private capital for early-stage companies.
  • Repeat and build on the “MediaWorks” Accelerator. (EDITOR’S NOTE: See follow-on story about plans for 2015 “MediaWorks.”)
  • Help underserved communities in surrounding counties positively affect entrepreneurial efforts.

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