Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
March 21, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Breanna Hale brings a varied set of experiences to the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The two-time entrepreneur came to UT, Knoxville from Utah Valley University after earlier stops on two different occasions at the University of California, Irvine.

It’s been about five months since Breanna Hale relocated from the western part of the U.S. to succeed Lynn Youngs as Executive Director of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK).

While ACEI is housed in the Haslam College of Business, she emphasizes that it is a resource for all students, regardless of their major, and a place that can help connect student entrepreneurs to the broader business community. But that’s not all it does.

Breanna Hale

“We actually serve faculty, staff, and alumni as well,” Hale says. “We’re really trying to get away from the perception that we’re a student-only department. We’re the front door at UTK for entrepreneurs. We are agnostic about the industry. We work with everyone in the university to figure out where and how to connect them with what they need.”

The UTK stop is not her first entrepreneurial experience, either as a founder of a start-up or as a person working with student start-ups.

“I had a couple of start-ups,” Hale says. One was a collaboration with the Director of Fine Arts at a California community college named Callboard Connections that “seemed to be on an upward trajectory and then crashed and burned” – her words, not mine. The other was AirPretty which provided a set of cosmetic products for women who travelled frequently to look and feel their best while getting from “point A to point B.”

Later, she served in marketing positions with corporations and as a consultant as well as working for several university-based organizations supporting start-ups. Before accepting the ACEI role, Hale was Director of the Entrepreneurship Institute at Utah Valley University, which had the largest enrollment at a public university in the state. She moved to Utah Valley from the position of Associate Director of the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) which she held for more than three years after doing an earlier stint as Assistant Director of UCI’s ANTpreneur Center for two and one-half years and a Program Manager at the Beall Center before that.

“It (ACEI) is a comfortable position for me,” Hale says. “I know the ropes, but I get to put my own spin on it. I have a passion for entrepreneurship and ecosystem development.”

From her previous work with schools in her native California and Utah, she knows the challenges that student entrepreneurs face. They lack experience in starting a business, a robust network that more seasoned entrepreneurs have usually established, and access to capital, a challenge that most start-up founders face.

“That’s our focus, and we could not do it without the community,” Hale says.

While the student competitions that ACEI is known for – Vol Court, Graves Business Plan, and Boyd Venture Challenge – are an important part of the mix, she plans to add new initiatives. One is the recently announced Venture Fair that will be held on April 24 on Market Square. It is a collaboration with the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center that draws inspiration from the weekly Farmers’ Market on Saturdays during the spring, summer, and early fall where artisans and farmers sell their products.

Hale adds that what sets Venture Fair apart is the fact that it’s not just about browsing – it’s about participation. And, in the spirit of a competition, one lucky vendor will walk away with the coveted $1,000 prize.

ACEI is accepting applications from UTK-affiliated organizations through April 10 at this link.

The Venture Fair is just one example of how she plans to foster greater collaboration between the campus and the community.

“There’s tremendous value from the campus integrating with the community and the community with UTK,” Hale adds, noting how important it is to get out from behind the desk and become immersed in the ecosystem.

“For example, in California, I was a founding organizer for the Irvine chapter of 1 Million Cups and involved with Tech Coast Venture Network (in addition to my role at UCI), and in Utah, I was a founding board member for We Angels, I served on the board for the Mountainland Association of Governments Revolving Loan Fund, and I was a ‘spoke leader’ for the ‘Bolder Way Forward’ initiative,” she explained. “I intend to serve and lead within our community as well as on campus.”

So, we wondered how a person who had lived her life in the western part of the U.S. learned about the ACEI opportunity.

“My husband worked for UTK, both on campus and as a recruiter in Southern California,” Hale explained. “He saw the position before me. We knew we wanted to relocate back east to be closer to his family, and I was excited about the opportunity to work at a traditional four-year research university in a region and ecosystem that is on the move. We’re thrilled to be here.”


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