Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
October 11, 2012 | Tom Ballard

Innova’s Ken Woody now lives in the local area

His job hasn’t changed, but Ken Woody has recently moved 400 miles east, and his presence should be a plus for the Innovation Valley.

The President of Innova, a Memphis-based venture capital firm that also houses one of the state’s TNInvestco programs, is with his wife in Knoxville to be closer to their Carolina-based parents.

In a recent series of conversations with, Woody said that he was increasingly spending more time in parts of the state other than Memphis, so home base is flexible. He also noted that much of his work involves analysis of potential deals that is not dependent on location. And, his partner, Jan Bouten, is firmly entrenched in Memphis.

For the Innovation Valley, Woody’s presence adds another venture capitalist to the local ecosystem and, perhaps more important, a person who helps manage one of the TNInvestcos. None of the 10 is actually headquartered in this region, although one – Nashville-based Solidus – launched Venture Incite in East Tennessee.

Woody helped found Innova in late 2007 with funding from the Memphis Tomorrow and the MemphisED Initiative of Memphis Fast Forward, a joint City of Memphis and Shelby County effort.

“The goal was to invest in Memphis companies,” he said. Innova’s first fund is a pre-seed, seed and early stage investor focused on starting and funding high-growth companies in the biosciences, technology and agbio fields. Almost two years later, it launched Innova Fund II, LP when it was selected to be one of the initial TNInvestcos.

“For every dollar that Innova has invested in companies, we’ve brought in close to $3 of outside funding,” Woody says proudly.

To date, Innova has invested in 23 companies, and 18 of those are in Memphis. “Eight of the 23 came out of technology transfer,” Woody noted. Two of the five that are not Memphis-based are located in East Tennessee – TrakLok in Knoxville and Quantum in Chattanooga.

Now that he is in Knoxville, Woody says that he hopes to “apply the things that we’ve learned in Memphis to help East Tennessee.” One of those that he hopes to replicate is monthly meetings with the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF), something that he did with Richard Magid and his UTRF team in Memphis.

Innova and MB Ventures, another Memphis-based venture firm, sponsored the recent innovative and highly successful “ZeroTo510” boot camp accelerator at Memphis Bioworks that has resulted in five of the six companies receiving subsequent funding.

Woody describes himself as a networker, and it was clear during our most recent discussion that he has already connected with a number of new people in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region.

He was born “just South of Asheville,” but spent 17 years in corporate life with General Electric (GE Medical Systems followed by GE Healthcare) and a year with a  Johnson and Johnson subsidiary (Vice President for Sales) before accepting a position as Senior Vice President for Sales at Memphis-based Smith and Nephew.

“We did not like the winters in the Northeast,” Woody explained.

He left Smith and Nephew after three years and helped Memphis BioWorks Foundation launch Innova.

In his five years as a venture capitalist, Woody says his thoughts and ideas have changed. One concept was to be the “VC in the white hat,” a reality that he changed after learning such a posture was impossible.

“While we always want to help the companies be successful, we need to protect our interests AND the company so we can continue to grow,” he explains.

A second belief that he holds is that “money doesn’t usually solve problems.” Woody believes that start-ups need structure, a business plan and processes before they need dollars.

He is also an advocate for retaining the best resources. “Good consultants are worth their weight in gold,” he says.

Finally, and perhaps most important, he continually asks entrepreneurs, “How are you going to get paid for your product?”

Woody’s presence in Knoxville clearly can be of benefit to the region and a benefit for Tennessee entrepreneurism and commercialization.

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