By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
A welcoming crowd of supporters gathered in the Atrium of the Tech 2020 building in Oak Ridge Friday afternoon for the final event on this year’s “autoXLR8R Road Show.”
The three-day, three-city tour culminated in the Secret City after stops on Wednesday in Birmingham and Thursday in Greenville, SC. Attendees in Oak Ridge included friends and family of the participating start-ups, mentors, industry executives (Bridgestone, General Motors and Nissan), and individuals from the local community supporting entrepreneurship.
“We normally do this in 13 weeks; we did it in eight this year,” autoXLR8R Program Director Jack Sisk said.
In his customary understated way, Shawn Carson, Tech 2020’s Director of Venture Development, added, “It was pretty concentrated.”
The two have worked tirelessly to ensure the program’s continued success after it moved to Tech 2020 from the Southern Middle Tennessee Entrepreneur Centers earlier this year.
Ten companies, including one from Italy and another from Mexico, joined eight other start-ups in the third edition of the autoXLR8R. We have previously profiled a number of the companies on teknovation.biz. To see the complete list of the 10, read this summary sheet (autoXLR8R 2014 Companies_Technologies).
Drive and Live, the Italian company, kicked-off the presentations. It was represented by Emanuel Fierimonte, Chief Executive Officer, and his brother, Marco.
“They found us due to our (autoXLR8R) reputation,” Carson said. Were they committed to participating in the program? One has to believe so. The brothers left Oak Ridge late Friday afternoon in a rental car, driving overnight to New York City to catch a Saturday flight back to Italy.
Several things caught our attention. One was the enthusiasm that each of the presenters showed, even after giving their presentations three days in a row, the last on a beautiful Friday afternoon.
Another was the positive outlook of the entrepreneurs, perhaps best reflected by Danny White of Sleep on Trucking, who acknowledged that he pivoted during the accelerator and was not prepared to present his new concept.
“Some might consider it a failure,” he said. “I consider it a success,” acknowledging it is better to learn of the need to pivot as early as possible.
Several reported customers, an always important milestone for a start-up. Jeff Brown of IVRTrain expected to have the company’s first contract in early 2016, but now has a contract with deliverables in October. And Josh McMillan of CBA, a company affiliated with PYA Analytics, noted the company was not seeking funding, but customers to build on its existing two – an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) and Tier 2 supplier.
The event again underscored just how much of a key driver the automotive sector is for the South’s economy. In Tennessee alone, consider these three statistics:
- A total of 111,000 Tennesseans are employed in the automotive industry, either by OEMs or suppliers.
- A total of 22,000 new jobs have been added since 2011 in this sector.
- Eighty of Tennessee’s 95 counties are home to at least one automotive manufacturer.