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August 29, 2016 | Tom Ballard

Knoxville Area Urban League launching Paradigm Challenge

Knoxville Area Urban LeagueBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Terrence (TC) Carter believes a new entrepreneurial initiative that the Knoxville Area Urban League (KAUL) is championing in East Knoxville could become a model for other sections of the city as well as communities across the state and nation.

The Paradigm Challenge was one of the winners of a grant under Launch Tennessee’s Creative Communities Initiative. The majority of the 13 recipients, announced in late July, were East Tennessee-based.

“If this works in this community to stimulate economic growth versus economic decline, we can do it in Mechanicsville, Lonsdale, Vestal or anywhere,” KAUL’s Director of Economic and Business Development, believes, and he’s urging everyone to spread the word about the initiative.

Those who know the energetic long-time player in Knoxville’s economic development community are no doubt energized by his passion for this project that starts with a desire to start new businesses in the community that don’t exist elsewhere.

“It’s a place-based, industry specific ideation pitch competition that challenges entrepreneurs to solve business and economic growth challenges facing the East Knoxville business community,” Carter explains. The community is predominantly African American.

“East Knoxville is an area of the city that has struggled – like many communities nationwide – with disinvestment,” he says. “Community residents have expressed a need for employment opportunities within walking distances of neighborhoods in East Knoxville.”

While KAUL is taking the lead, Carter is quick to note that many other organizations are part of the team. They include the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, Knoxville Chamber and its Propel program, Tennessee Small Business Development Center, and Greater Knoxville SCORE chapter.

So, how do KAUL and its partners plan to address the challenge? The answer is a roughly nine-month effort to recruit entrepreneurs and established business owners who want to develop specific business strategies to bring new jobs to the community. Once selected, the individuals will be provided business planning and mentoring services ahead of a pitch event for investment funding set for next June.

Based on community needs, KAUL has targeted three sectors for which it will seek applications:

  • Healthcare, specifically access to primary and urgent care services;
  • Retail and light manufacturing; and
  • Technology such as software development and multi-media.

“I plan to have the contest applications ready at the start of October,” Carter told us. Any resident of Knox County can apply for the program. Being a resident of East Knoxville is not a requirement, but ideas must be focused on bringing jobs to that part of Knoxville.

“I hope to have at least 30 applicants by the end of November,” Carter added. The initial pool will be reduced to 25, and this group will receive training and mentoring for three months before a second evaluation process that will produce 10 finalists.

The final pitch event will be held in June at the Eternal Life Harvest Center Plaza on Martin Luther King Avenue in the Five Points area.

“We want to get behind the three best ideas and make them happen,” Carter says. The support will include cash prizes as well as access to a unique asset that KAUL has – its Empowerment Opportunity Loan Fund.

“We are willing to do equity partnerships with companies,” he says, adding, “If you live in Knoxville or Knox County and want to pitch your idea, please contact me at (865) 524-5511 or email me at

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