By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
The second iteration of Launch Tennessee’s “The TENN” begins Thursday with two Knoxville start-ups among the 10-cohort group.
The top executives of both Fiveworx and Closeup.fm are excited to be part of the unique master accelerator program. The former has been around a little longer than the other Knoxville company, but both have strong technology bases.
Fiveworx leverages its proprietary platform and big data analytics to drive energy efficiency actions by consumers of its electric utility clients. Closeup.fm bills itself as a “touring marketplace for independent bands, singers and songwriters.” It relies heavily on social media.
Both have participated in separate multi-week accelerator programs operated by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, part of Launch Tennessee’s statewide network. This experience is a prerequisite for the master accelerator.
“‘The TENN’ program is designed to be the next step for these post-accelerator graduates,” said Jason Denenberg, Launch Tennessee’s Director of Entrepreneurship. “Our accelerator network does a fantastic job of taking these entrepreneurs from idea to investable story.”
Denenberg added that “The TENN” is designed to provide what he described as “the next layer of support, taking them (the participants) through the actionable, early stages of the growth cycle.” Closeup.fm, Fiveworx and the other eight start-ups will be required to hit “gating” items to progress in the program.
As they prepared for Thursday’s launch, we checked-in with Closeup.fm Co-Founder Austin Church and Fiveworx Chief Executive Officer Patrick Hunt.
What were your thoughts when you first learned that you had been selected for “The TENN”?
“Jason Denenberg’s phone call put a big smile on our faces,” Church said. “To be selected is an honor, and we’re proud to be representing Knoxville, our ‘MediaWorks’ cohort, and all of the extraordinary people who have helped us over the past ten months.”
Hunt had similar thoughts. “We were very excited. Jason Denenberg had emphasized that one of their primary selection criteria was whether they believed that ‘The TENN’ could truly help the company that applied. Our selection shows that they believe they can help guide Fiveworx to the next level of growth.”
What are your expectations for the program (i.e., how do you think it will help you the most)?
“We think ‘The TENN’ will help us in four key ways,” Hunt says. “We expect the staff and mentors to offer valuable, third-party insights and advice that we may otherwise overlooked. We also expect them to challenge our assumptions in order to test their efficacy. We believe they can help us make important connections across the country, with key advisors, potential partners, customers, investors and other stakeholders. Lastly, we believe ‘The TENN’ will help us think about the next stages of growth for our company, including helping us prepare to take on additional outside capital.”
Church echoed similar thoughts.
“Now that we’re in serious discussions with several investors and strategic partners, we’re looking to throw some fuel on this fire in the very near future,” Church said. “‘The TENN’ program will help us out with press and exposure, new relationships, tools like Rockefeller Habits, learning days, and of course some camaraderie and fun. We’re ready to get to work growing Closeup like crazy over the next 18 months.”
How do you want to characterize where your business is as you enter “The TENN”?
“We’re entering our early growth stage,” Church explained. “Some amazing, hard-working musicians took a chance on us when Closeup.fm still had a lot of bugs. Their honest feedback has enabled us to learn from our mistakes, to iterate quickly, and to create something that’s truly one-of-a-kind. The best way we can thank our early adopters is to help thousands of artists support themselves playing music full-time. We’ve identified the right new people who can help us make that happen, and bringing them on board is the next small item on our to-do list.”
Hunt says, “Fiveworx has traction. We have a working product, revenue from target customers, and therefore, at least preliminary product/market fit. We’ve got an amazing team, and we have a solid technological foundation on which to build. Now is the time for us to refine our strategy, based on early learnings, and focus on execution: scaling our technology, growing our team, acquiring new customers, and delivering energy savings to our utility clients. We believe ‘The TENN’ will help us immensely in all of these areas.”