COMMENTARY: 100Knoxville launch addresses one gap identified by Techstars, others will hopefully follow with broad community support

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Two weeks and one hour after the town hall where the Techstars assessment of the Knoxville region’s innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem was unveiled, a second event was held launching an initiative to address one of the significant glaring deficiencies that Techstars identified. That gap was lower levels of participation by minority populations as well as greater access to resources to help them be successful.

As my colleague Kailyn Lamb reported in yesterday’s feature article in teknovation.biz, the 100Knoxville effort was launched in a statewide virtual event Wednesday morning that drew nearly 150 attendees. And, in a most appropriate way given the focus, the 60-minute kick-off came just two days after the celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

The latter symbolism was not lost on the attendees, and the connection to Techstars was less subtle but an important first step as the community determines how best to leverage the Techstars findings and opportunity.

In terms of 100Knoxville, the ultimate goal is to increase the revenues of Black-owned businesses in Knox County by $10 million in five years and sooner if possible. To do so, it will adopt a 5x5x5x5 approach: select five Black-owned businesses, give them grants of $5,000 each, recruit five mentors to work with them, and have the five participate in a five-week accelerator. Recruitment for the inaugural cohort is underway, the first of what the organizers hope will be many more.

Credit for bringing a modified version of the Memphis 800 Initiative to Knoxville goes to our good friend Brandon Bruce. The Chair of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s Board of Directors and Co-Founder of “Startup Knox” became aware of how the program launched several years ago in the Bluff City was helping Black businesses at the other end of Tennessee and worked to adapt it to an appropriate scale for this community.

Those who know Bruce are familiar with how many ideas he has that, when combined with his engaging style, become a rallying cry for action, and that is what has happened with the 100Knoxville initiative. Other organizations have jumped on the bandwagon – TVA, Iris Networks, Schaad Companies, Comcast Business, Hyperion Networks, Knoxville TVA Employees Credit Union, and Knoxville Chamber.

100Knoxville shows what can happen when you combine leadership with an important goal and participants who buy-in on a shared goal, not placing “what’s in it for them” as the top priority. Other initiatives that address additional gaps identified by Techstars will emerge from the Innov865 Alliance collectively as well as its individual members in the weeks ahead.

We can only hope that the community will get behind all of these. It’s Knoxville’s time; let’s hope we can and will step-up in a big way.

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