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Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
August 19, 2012 | Tom Ballard

“Investor Day” latest in statewide series of boot camp graduations

K-12 schools, colleges and universities are welcoming students back for another academic year, while a number of the state’s entrepreneurial “boot camps” are in graduation mode.

Chattanooga held is “Demo Day” for the “Gig Tank” initiative August 9 (go to and type in “Gig Tank” to search for previous articles). Memphis followed exactly a week later with its “Investor Day” for the six teams in its inaugural “ZeroTo510 Medical Device Accelerator.” Nashville’s JumpStart Foundry holds its graduation this week (see separate article in today’s posts on

It’s not just about adult entrepreneurs. High school students received attention when the University of Tennessee, Knoxville joined with the Ultimate Life Institute and Entrepreneurs of Knoxville to host a week-long residential camp several weeks ago called the “Empowered Teen Entrepreneurship Camp.” We have an interview with the winning team coming-up later this week.

These four events, as well as efforts underway or planned in other areas of the state, are directly supporting the goal that Governor Bill Haslam and Commissioner Bill Hagerty have to accelerate the growth of start-ups in Tennessee.

I was in Memphis on other business last week and took the opportunity to attend the “Investor Day” along with about 125 other people. Those who were able to attend saw some intriguing medical device technologies presented by six entrepreneurs who had obviously benefitted from the 13-week camp.

The “ZeroTo510” event was put together by four organizations – two Memphis-based venture capital and TNInvestco firms (Innova and MB Ventures) along with the Memphis BioWorks Foundation and the Seed Hatchery. Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C. helped sponsor the “Investor Day.”

Last Thursday’s event featured presentations by Pitt Hyde, Founder of AutoZone and Chairman of the Boards of several groups including Memphis start-up GTx, Inc. and Memphis BioWorks; Assistant Commissioner Alice Rolli of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development; and Dr. Steve Charles, a Memphis surgeon and serial entrepreneur.

Charles, who is also a mechanical and electrical engineer, used a combination of humor and straight talk to deliver some lessons learned from his personal school of hard knocks. One such example involved one of his start-ups which Charles said was several million dollars in debt. To illustrate a key points – commitment, Charles told the audience of the time when his accountant asked about making payroll and paying other bills such as his mortgage. Charles told the financial guy to pay everything. When the answer was that there was not have enough money, Charles told the accountant to forget the mortgage and pay the employees.

“You have to be committed,” he said matter of factly.

Charles illustrated another point – conviction – by relating the story of overhearing the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of one of his start-ups use the “if we succeed” phrase on several occasions at a social event. When Charles encountered him a little later in the day, he asked the CEO, “How much will it cost to get you to go away?” The CEO was obviously flabbergasted, eventually accepted $30,000, and Charles had made his key point – every entrepreneur needs to believe that “it’s not if but when” as it relates to making the idea or technology successful.

Another Charles point was what he said every successful start-up must be – a 1.5-product company. He said that venture capitalists believe a company with a single product is high risk, while they characterize one that has two or more products as lacking focus. In Charles’ view, a 1.5-product start-up has a platform technology with several product versions and the distinct likelihood that it will evolve into a viable company.

The Memphis initiative’s name – “ZeroTo510” – comes from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 510(k) clearance process that the majority of medical devices have to go through before commercial deployment.

Companies that wanted to be part of the Memphis boot camp had to apply. If they were accepted, they were eligible for $50,000 in funding each contributed by Innova and MB Ventures.

The (Memphis) Daily News posted a story that described each of the presenting companies. It can be found at

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