By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Joy O’Shell’s return home to East Tennessee is a win for her and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC).
The Kingston native left the region for Chicago nearly 18 years ago, soon after graduation from the University of Tennessee. Since then, O’Shell has lived in the Windy City, Seattle, Denver and New York City before deciding it was time to return home with her husband and three children.
Today, she’s living again in Roane County, but bringing her considerable experience in the music industry to play as KEC’s Director of Outreach and Marketing which, coincidentally, is in the midst of its second annual “MediaWorks” business accelerator.
“We are really excited to welcome Joy to our team,” said Jim Biggs, Executive Director at KEC. “She’s already had a huge impact through her work as a volunteer on ‘What’s the Big Idea’ and ‘MediaWorks.’ Her extensive background in entertainment and technology will be a great benefit to our programs, and her deep love for East Tennessee will be a wonderful addition to our community.”
O’Shell, who has been a KEC volunteer since the beginning of the year, succeeds Mitch Brooks, a mainstay since KEC opened. He retired at the end of June.
For the effervescent O’Shell, the new role seems to be a natural fit for her skills and, more important, a significant resource for the region’s entrepreneurs.
“This part of East Tennessee is a very special place,” she says. Now that O’Shell has fulfilled her goal of getting back home, she wants to help advance the region’s brand as a media center. It’s a field O’Shell knows a good deal about, having spent much of her career with companies like AOL, Amazon, and SFX Entertainment, Inc.
Music is clearly something that runs deep within O’Shell’s family. Her grandfather played on the legendary “Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round,” a Knoxville radio show that ran for 25 years and helped launch the careers of country stars such as Homer and Jethro, Roy Acuff, Archie Campbell and Chet Atkins. Her father is in foreign affairs and a performing artist at night.
“I always thought that’s what you did,” O’Shell said about holding a day job and working at night as a musician. She even played in a band herself called the Satellite Pumps.
Immediately after college graduation, O’Shell joined Studio One Recording located in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood before deciding to attend law school. She was admitted to the Chicago-Kent College of Law where she earned her law degree with a focus on intellectual property law.
That legal background has been the basis of her professional work since 2000, and it will clearly be an asset to start-ups in the region who are KEC clients.
Ironically, the year 2000 was also a time when the conversion to digital formats for music and videos was beginning to take-off. O’Shell’s first job out of law school was as Director of Product Development for Soundies, Inc., a company that she said was “shining the light on a lost era . . . creating a celestial jukebox.” The name of the company was also a term used to describe early music videos made mostly during World War II.
From Soundies, O’Shell made the leap to a digital-only radio service called MusicNow, which was acquired by Circuit City Stores which, in turn, sold the company to AOL. O’Shell made every transition and was surprised to receive a call from a headhunter seeking talent for a new music store that Amazon was starting.
“Their music industry was entirely based on CDs at the time,” she explained, adding she was “brought on board as Senior Manager of International Content Acquisition. It was her first foray into international work.
“I kept finding this niche where I could continue to innovate,” O’Shell says.
The draw to return to East Tennessee got stronger, so she began researching opportunities in Knoxville. Her work turned-up Joe Vangieri and SoKnox Studios, a company previously profiled on teknovation.biz.
“I cold-called him, and he got back to me immediately,” O’Shell says. That produced a connection to KEC’s Jonathan Sexton and, as they say, the rest is history.
She sees her role as partly economic development and partly service. O’Shell talks about vacant storefronts and buildings in her hometown and other communities, places where new businesses could be started.
“If I don’t come back and help put entrepreneurs back into them, I would not be doing everything I could to give back to our region,” she says. “If I don’t do it, who will?”