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June 10, 2019 | Tom Ballard

KEC’s “The Works” underway with seven start-ups participating

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

It is rare for an entrepreneurial journey to be linear. In fact, those who start on one track usually make some modifications along the way as they try certain things to see what works best and gains the most traction.

That is certainly the case with the latest iteration of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s (KEC) “The Works” accelerator that relaunched this month with seven companies as participants. It continues through mid-August.

“We took a step back from ‘The Works’ last summer to decide what was best for the community,” says Jim Biggs, KEC Executive Director. Seven companies participated in the 2017 edition of the then 12-week program, but Biggs said KEC wanted to assess if the accelerator model – a fixed schedule with everyone moving at the same pace – was still viable for the local start-up community going forward.

During the same time, KEC continued to scale-up a program known as “BrandCamp,” a talent-development initiative that helps nurture aspiring content creators, that was a derivative of some of the lessons learned from the previous summers’ work.

“Our evaluation determined that the accelerator model was a good middle piece to ensure a steady pipeline of scalable companies for KEC to support,” Biggs said. That pipeline begins with programs like “What’s the Big Idea 48-Hour Launch” that KEC coordinates for The Development Corporation of Knox County and leads to its “Growth Co” program for start-ups prepared to really scale their businesses to the proverbial next level.

As a result of that evaluation, “The Works” for 2019 has been modified to include the return of the multi-week program this summer and the addition of a follow-on set of activities for the next year.

“We have defined two goals for this summer’s programming,” Biggs said. One focus will be on customer acquisition, while the other will be on building the start-up’s brand. Together, they are designed to prepare participants to really accelerate their growth.

“Bob Camp and Shawn Carson will lead sessions that focus on how entrepreneurs acquire customers or accelerate their current activities and build an investible story,” Biggs said. In addition to biweekly lunch sessions around those topics, KEC will also focus the alternate weeks on brand development, something he describes as defining “what big rock can we move for you over the summer?”

The branding thinking comes from KEC’s successful “Brand Camp” program, mentioned above, that has paired start-ups with student interns who help with a variety of areas – logos, webpages, social media strategy, and messaging.

For 2019, KEC has engaged four interns – three with a content or design focus and one with a marketing research focus. Part of the funding for the interns comes from LaunchTN through its Specialists program, with KEC supplementing those dollars.

“Our hope is that will not be the end of our engagement,” Biggs says of the summer programming that will conclude by mid-August. “Our plan is to have monthly or bi-monthly sessions with the teams going forward, providing ongoing support and resources to help keep up the momentum from the summer.”

The long-term goal is to help grow more investible companies who gain traction faster.

All but one of the teams participating in the 2019 edition of “The Works” either have been spotlighted recently on or will be soon. They are:

  • Quantum Lock, Erica Grant’s start-up that is creating a new standard of safety using quantum information security.
  • FitCube, founded by Mariano Ruiz to make workouts safer, stronger, and smarter.
  • KnoxvillePage, Anthony Ragland’s local search engine and eCommerce marketplace for the Knoxville community.
  • SeatsOpen, an app that helps individuals reserve workspace and connect with others in your community
  • Happego, Lindsey Lieb’s start-up that utilizes apsychological priming app to build healthy habits with micro bursts of visual motivation.
  • DigDog, Lauren McNamara’s platform for dog lovers that streamlines the way individuals consume and share doggy-related content, creating a new medium of communication between users who celebrate and embrace “pup”culture.
  • Scan2Scan, Fred Jacob’s conference management and communication platform for the wedding industry and beyond.

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