ETRAC selects first two “platinum” start-ups

Two Knoxville-based start-ups have been selected as the initial “platinum” qualifiers for the intensive assistance available through the East Tennessee Regional Accelerator Coalition (ETRAC).

The companies are Stall Talk and The Vendor Registry, according to ETRAC Coordinator Lynn Youngs whose full-time job is Executive Director of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Tennessee (UT).

Stall Talk, which was previously profiled on teknovation.biz, was launched by Matt Tunstall shortly before the first Tennessee home football game in 2011. Its business plan has been focused on wrapping portable toilets with marketing messages. The Vendor Registry is a newer company, founded by Brian Strong and focused on making it easier for both local governments and vendors to do business with each other. The concept calls for establishing a web-based, standardized approach that makes the government procurement process more efficient and less costly for all parties.

Youngs said that companies designated as “platinum can have a big splash in the market,” explaining that they are deemed to have a potentially large market, an ability to scale very quickly or both. “Platinum” is the highest ETRAC level followed by “gold” (companies that have either smaller markets or longer time to revenue) and “silver” (more likely entrepreneurs with an idea that needs further refinement to determine market potential and scalability).

“Silver, gold and platinum are somewhat subjective and are used as relative terms,” Youngs said, adding that all ETRAC applicants will be referred to the most appropriate resource to help the entrepreneur be successful. Resource providers include Tech 20/20, UT’s Center for Industrial Services, Tennessee Small Business Development Centers, and the Knoxville Chamber’s Propel program.

Youngs also noted that ETRAC’s mentoring assistance, a hallmark of the program, “cannot only accelerate the growth of platinum companies but also turn gold companies into platinum companies.”

Stall Talk and The Vendor Registry were selected from a pool of 22 companies or individuals that submitted applications. Another half-dozen were classified as “gold” and hopefully will move-up to “platinum” soon.

“The ETRAC management team will continue to accept applications at http://www.etrac.org/ and evaluate the submissions on a monthly basis,” Youngs said.

Stall Talk and The Vendor Registry have been assigned at least one mentor each and will participate in an intensive eight-week coaching and training process conducted by Tech 20/20’s Center for Entrepreneurial Growth. This effort is designed to help the companies develop their “pitch” to investors. Geoff Robson of 3-Degrees will help identify potential investors – from angels to venture funds – and help connect the two companies with them.

“Our goal is to get them funded and scaled-up quickly so that they can meet the objectives of the program – start successful companies that secure needed investment, grow quickly and create good jobs,” Youngs said.

He credited Chuck West, a seasoned Knoxville business executive, for the volunteer time that he has devoted to helping get ETRAC, which is a start-up itself, going quickly.

ETRAC is funded in part by grants from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and the Appalachian Regional Commission. This initiative is part of Governor Bill Haslam’s Jobs4TN program announced in 2011.

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