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November 10, 2020 | Tom Ballard

Lee Martin ending his 13-year run at UTK, moving into the next phase of his entrepreneurial journey

Once the entrepreneurial bug captures you, it’s hard to ever let it go.

That’s certainly the case with Knoxville’s Lee Martin who launched his first company – TeleRobotics – in 1986. Later start-ups included Abunga and ImmersaCAD. Add to that the last 13 years where, as a faculty member in the Tickle College of Engineering at the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville, Martin has taught entrepreneurship to about 1,500 students.

That role will end with the Fall Semester, but his entrepreneurial pursuits are far from over. In fact, Martin just launched his latest venture – the Pavilion of Pickleball adjacent to Cedar Bluff Racquet Club in West Knoxville.

“It’s about fun, friends and fitness,” he says of the new venture that is only the second indoor pickleball facility in the Southeast. Martin describes the fast-growing sport as “an age-out game for tennis players.”

The Pavilion of Pickleball is “open” 24 hours a day, seven days a week with four enclosed and dedicated courts that have state of the art high-intensity LED lighting and cushioned playing surfaces. Other amenities include a 2,000-square foot gathering and training area, digital keyless entry allowing the 24-hour operation, and an app for court/event reservations.

“I’m trying to figure-out if pickleball is a viable business,” Martin says of the sport, but his latest venture appears to be off to a good start. Opened in early August, the – the Pavilion of Pickleball already has more than 200 members.

With his passion for teaching young entrepreneurs, we were curious about Martin’s decision to retire. “It’s time for a younger entrepreneur to teach,” he said, adding, “I don’t believe in retirement . . . just finding the right balance.”

We spotlighted Martin eight years ago in a two-part series (Part 1 and Part 2) in, so we took the opportunity to assess his thoughts on how the Knoxville-Oak Ridge start-up scene has evolved since then.

“The two most obvious changes are at UT and KEC,” he said, referencing the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. Noting the encouragement that UT is now giving to entrepreneurial involvement, Martin also gave a great deal of credit to the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Haslam College of Business.

“It provides a framework and foundation across the entire campus,” he explained.

Martin also talked about the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education that is attracting “30 high-roller students a year. These are the best of the best of the best . . . creating a funnel that will have a long-term impact on the community.”

Talking about KEC, Martin cited its vibrancy in encouraging people to start companies and fostering more networking among entrepreneurs.

As he leaves the teaching world for another start-up, Martin says, “We have planted seeds in the minds of students. Like a seedling, we hope many of those will start growing.” Now, his latest calling is helping people stay healthy.

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