(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of articles on participants in the inaugural “MediaWorks Accelerator” hosted by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. The group’s “Demo Day” is Tuesday, August 5.)
By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
JR Charles is an animated, always smiling entrepreneur who knows that he is at his best when he is pursuing his dream rather than the ideas of someone else.
Today, that dream is a company named ParOneTV and its first product – a digital signage brand for golf pro shops. It features video and graphic advertisements and a real-time weather feed to benefit golfers.
“To start a business, you have to be so risk averse,” Charles says, adding that entrepreneurs are can be a bit crazy.
Today, the Memphis native who came to Knoxville to attend the University of Tennessee is happily engaged as one of 10 entrepreneurs participating in the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s (KEC) inaugural accelerator.
“KEC is the first help (from an established organization) I’ve gotten in Knoxville,” the candid entrepreneur said. He did quickly add that Carl Papa, inventor and Chief Executive Officer of Pin High Pro, and Marty Brown from MB & Associates have been great advisors.
In many respects, Charles’ life has been built around the concepts of exploration and entrepreneurship.
He initially majored in computer engineering, but subsequently shifted to civil engineering followed by industrial engineering before eventually earning a degree in business.
“It took me six years to graduate, and I was in the advisor’s office every month,” Charles told us in his humorous way.
He worked his way through college as a member of Best Buy’s Geek Squad, where he honed his passion for all things digital. Later, the entrepreneurial spirit took hold with the founding of Digital Consultants. In essence, Charles founded his own company built on his computer and home theater expertise.
After one failed experience working for another entrepreneur, Charles came-up with the basic concept of ParOneTV.
“I had the idea of a television on the wall to display facts,” he said. Instead of spending $1,500 on parts to do it the conventional way, Charles said he did the same thing for $100 by utilizing Apple TV and a Flickr connection.
He was not focused on golf shops initially until a friend took him to Williams Creek Golf Course.
“I did not know what to buy, and the golf shop did not have a TV to promote its offerings,” Charles said. So, the creative entrepreneur made a prototype and took it to a few golf pros.
“They said this is pretty cool, and that’s all I needed,” he added. It was full speed ahead.
Like any entrepreneur, Charles is constantly tinkering with the technology and the business plan. For example, his initial concept was local advertising on the screens in the pro shops.
“I learned that you need to go nationwide (for advertising success),” Charles said. That helped secure $100,000 in initial investment in January, all raised outside the local region.
He plans to roll-out the product beginning in August, again outside the region in golf rich states like California, Florida, and Texas.
“If you don’t have a supportive family, you can’t do this,” Charles said, recalling sage advice his wife offered before he started his company, “If you know what it takes to not fail, don’t do that; you won’t fail.”
He hopes to see ParOne acquired down the road.
“If that happens, I’ll probably be crazy enough and do it again,” Charles admits with that perpetual smile on his face.