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Final news and other notes from last week’s “36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival”

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The latest edition of Launch Tennessee’s “36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival” is a wrap with the dates for the 2020 festival already announced – August 26 and 27, again in Nashville. We spotlighted two of the events that we thought would be of most interest to our readers on Thursday and Friday. Today, we do a wrap-up on a variety of topics.

Governor Lee, Commissioner Rolfe have an insightful conversation

Attendees on the second day had the opportunity to see the human side of Governor Bill Lee during a brief conversation with Bob Rolfe, Commissioner of Economic and Community Development. The third generation leader of a firm his grandfather founded offered entrepreneurs some solid advice as he described a time in his life when he took his eye off the ball due to the death of his first wife. Describing 2003 as a “season of struggle,” the Governor said that his business – the Lee Companies – was on the verge of collapse. He and the business recovered from those “self-inflicted wounds,” as he described them, only to face headwinds five years later when the last recession hit. Those lessons propelled him to prepare for the inevitable economic ups and downs, something that he emphasized during his first legislative session when he secured the largest allocation to the state’s rainy day fund. “Discipline yourself financially and invest in people,” the Governor told the attendees. “View every one of them (your employees) as a true asset. When you want other people to be successful, you will be successful.”

Knoxville attendees happy with the region’s visibility

Those from Knoxville and Oak Ridge were celebrating Wednesday afternoon after two start-ups – Quantum Lock Technologies LLC and Qardian Labs captured first and third place in the “Student Edition Live Pitch Competition” and $35,000 in prize money (click here for our article).  The third local start-up in the competition was Winter Innovations, a serial winner of numerous other student pitch events. While neither StoragePug nor Nth Cycle LLC, two Knoxville area teams in the next day’s “LaunchTN Pitch Competition,” won that event, the region clearly showed the breadth and depth of the start-up community that has mushroomed in recent years.

One of more intriguing panels was focused on the circular economy

Knoxville’s Suzanne Shelton moderated a lively panel focused on the circular economy, defined by Wikipedia as a system “aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources . . . circular systems employ recycling, reuse remanufacturing and refurbishment to create a closed system, minimizing the use of resource input and the creation of waste.” In addition to the topic itself, what made the panel particularly intriguing was the lively, engaged moderation by Shelton, well-known nationally because of the Shelton Group that she founded, and the diverse nature of the panel. One of those on the panel was Jeff McCord, Tennessee Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development, who noted the importance of the state understanding the circular economy and helping ensure Tennessee has the workforce required.

Oaklyn Consulting and PYA host investor luncheon

PYA, the power behind teknovation.biz, teamed-up with Oaklyn Consulting to host an invitation only luncheon for investors attending the “36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival.”  It was an opportunity to further emphasize the strength of the statewide start-up ecosystem to out-of-state investors.

Doug Speight co-founds fifth start-up

Our former colleague at Oak Ridge National Laboratory was in Nashville to participate on one of the panels and told attendees he has just co-founded his fifth start-up. Named AnnexTech Partners, the new venture is in stealth mode, Speight explained. As such, he was clearly cryptic in sharing much information, although he did reveal it was in the “inclusive innovation space” with a focus on helping people of color derisk their new ventures. Speight left American Underground earlier this year.

Edwin Williams has a company in the latest Atlanta Tech Village

The Johnson City-based Founder of Perserbid told us he’s participating in the “It Takes a Village” pre-accelerator program offered by the Atlanta Tech Village. Williams travels to the Peach State on Wednesdays and returns to Johnson City on Fridays to participate in the nearly four-month diversity and inclusion initiative that emphasizes the importance of supporting diverse perspectives and inclusive work environments in technology. It started August 2 and ends November 19. “They are really good and helpful,” Williams said of the team running the pre-accelerator.

Bellhops’ Cam Doody shares fundraising story

Cam Doody, Founder, President and Chair of Chattanooga-headquartered Bellhops, shared the company’s fundraising history during a chat with Sid Chambless, Executive Director and Managing Partner at Nashville Capital Network. At the outset, the then named Dorm Movers raised $24,000 over two years from friends and family. After its most recent Series C that netted $32 million, the company that has 270 full-time employees and serves 60 cities has raised almost $60 million. Doody noted that Bellhops has recently opened corporate offices in two other cities, largely because of the challenges of recruiting talent. “What Chattanooga needs is other companies in a similar size to us,” he explained. That would make it easier to convince highly-skilled individuals that they could find another job if necessary and also help address the trailing significant other challenge.

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