By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
A Knoxville technology start-up is relocating its headquarters to Denver after finding the opportunities, both short-term and long-range, greater in the Mile-High City.
For Alicia Caputo, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Avrio Analytics, it’s a bittersweet decision. She and Mik Bertolli, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, are not natives of Knoxville, but they came to love the region and became very engaged in its entrepreneurial ecosystem.
They were part of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) “CodeWorks” accelerator in 2015, one of six finalists in the community’s “Start-up Day Pitch Competition” in 2016, and one of eight teams in Launch Tennessee’s “The TENN” cohort in 2016-17.
Avrio Analytics launched its Sibyl product a little more than a year ago as described in this teknovation.biz article from March 2017. “Most of the clients for Sibyl and our consulting services are not here,” Caputo says. “They are from the Midwest and East Coast, and we’ve grown that base through word of mouth and building a reputation of high-end work.”
At the same time, she adds, “We put a lot of effort in working with local marketing companies, universities and local events to help boost the exposure but didn’t see much success in the local market.” One might say they gave it the “old college try,” but, in the end, she says they did not find the type of buy-in from local businesses to fuel their growth plans like they have realized in just a few months of part-time activities in Denver.
Granted, Denver’s population is between three and four times the size of Knoxville, so you might expect a data analytics firm to find more opportunities in a larger market. Caputo says there is more to it.
“We did appreciate the tools and tips taught in the state programs that we still use today,” she readily admits. Yet, the Rockefeller Habits that they learned during “The TENN” master accelerator are the same ones they have found very successful thus far in Denver.
Caputo also says the decision to relocate the headquarters is not just about investment capital, clearly a common need among the region’s start-ups, but more about local businesses becoming first or early customers. That’s another way to help a start-up generate revenue.
“We met with a lot of local companies in the Knoxville area wanting our help to build projects using AI,” Caputo says in reference to artificial intelligence. Those enterprises included everything from real estate firms to financial institutions and automobile dealers.
“Many wanted free consulting,” she explains. “Then, after giving them all of the tools they wanted, they decided to go with a bigger firm.” That’s a story that we’ve have heard more often than you might expect from many other companies, not just start-ups, about this community. It is also a challenge that KEC is trying to address with its “Local Executive Access Program” program launched this year.
Caputo made her first trip to Denver in January where she says she found a much more technology-focused community and robust programming offered by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. She’s already made two presentations at forums in the Mile-High City and has two more scheduled in the next few months.
“It’s a different world out there,” Caputo says.
So, Avrio Analytics will be focusing its new business development efforts in Denver and eventually to the west toward San Francisco while continuing to have Knoxville offices to serve its existing clients here. In its three years of existence, she says the start-up has built some long-lasting local relationships, specifically calling-out John McNeely, President and CEO of Sword & Shield Enterprise Security Inc. and John Sharpe, CEO of StaffSource.
Caputo offers an important observation about the local region. With so many recent M&A activities here, she says it is critical that the community place much more emphasis on supporting and helping grow tech companies.