Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
February 23, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Tips for building a strong and successful start-up team offered in most recent “Vol Court” session

Robyn Geron, Director of Operations for UT, Knoxville’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, shares a great deal of useful information on the topic for would-be student entrepreneurs.

The topic was “Leadership Teams and Start-ups,” and Robyn Geron provided a boatload of information to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) students who attended the third session of the “Vol Court Speaker Series & Pitch Competition” on Wednesday evening.

She’s the newly named Director of Operations for UTK’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation which hosts the twice-a-year program.

Starting with the statement that “you have a great idea, but you need a lot more than a great idea,” Geron walked the students through key aspects of starting a business to include building the right team, not just any team, and carefully considering when and what type of outside capital to accept.

She emphasized the importance of execution and rhetorically asked attendees to think what comes after their “Vol Court” pitch on March 8. Does everything cease after that date? Is the idea passed along to someone who is prepared to take it forward? Does the person pitching the idea decide to hunker down and start a company?

For those choosing the third option, Geron (pictured right) noted that at least 80 percent of start-ups fail, and some sources cite an even higher percentage. Sixty percent of those that fail do so because of what she said were people problems.

“You don’t have the time, money, or energy to make the wrong hires,” Geron said, drawing on two adages. One is familiar to many in the start-up world: “If you’re going to fail, fail fast.” The exact opposite is true when it comes to hiring. “Hire slow but fire fast.”

She advised that founders should “sketch out your dream team” and “be intentional about hiring the right people based on needs.” Founders need to be honest with themselves, understanding their competencies and their weaknesses, and hiring accordingly to complement those weak skills.

“One thing that you will not compromise about is your common set of values,” Geron advised, saying that prospective team members must embrace them.

She identified key roles that she characterized as the “Starting Five.” Those should not come as a surprise. They are Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO), and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). Geron cited Forbes which described the “Starting Five” in three words: Hipster (CMO), Hacker (CTO), and Hustler (CEO, COO, and CFO).

While some of those might not be filled at the outset, the duties embodied in those roles have to be discharged by someone. They include the all-important customer discover process, development of a business plan and strategy, protection of intellectual property, and marketing and scaling the business.

Geron also touched on the importance of being mindful about what she termed the “emerging economy” . . . economic trends that could impact the success of the business. One top of mind right now is the potential for a recession in 2023.

“Don’t build a company based on what you think investors want,” she advised, citing several examples where the priorities of founders and investors became conflicting.

Geron concluded with the three key dimensions of team diversity that are likely to help ensure success. The traits of those teams that have been successful include moderate diversity in opinions, high diversity of expertise, and low diversity of power.

“Vol Court” continues March 1 with Chris McAdoo, Director of Strategy and Engagement for the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. His topic is “Presenting the Pitch” which will occur on March 8.

Like what you've read?

Forward to a friend!

Don’t Miss Out on the Southeast’s Latest Entrepreneurial, Business, & Tech News!

Sign-up to get the Teknovation Newsletter in your inbox each morning!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

No, thanks!