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April 09, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Market Square Ventures launches new venture capital firm in Knoxville

Five local residents come together to elevate the availability of investment capital for the growing start-up community.

An assessment of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge entrepreneurial ecosystem released in early 2021 identified access to capital for start-ups as the number one weakness of the region. Or, read another way, it identified access to capital as the number one opportunity for growing the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Earlier this year, five local residents launched Market Square Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Knoxville with a focus on investing in early stage start-ups in Tennessee, the Southeast, and Appalachia. The general partners leading the new firm are Brandon Bruce, John Bruck, Marty Brown, Harry Boston, and Rosa Mar.

“We aim to invest in the best start-ups in a traditionally overlooked region where we can get in early and where our capital and connections can make a big impact,” Bruce told us. “First and foremost, we’re looking to invest in great founders.”

“We’re based in Knoxville and eager to invest here,” Bruck explained. “Our typical investments will range from $100,000 to $250,000 in tech or tech-enabled start-ups at the pre-seed or seed stage.”

Bruce and Bruck first started discussing their plans for a venture capital firm more than a year and a half ago, but there was a state rule standing in the way of venture capital firms in Tennessee. They worked with the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance and Launch Tennessee to get the statute revised. The new rule went into effect on Christmas Day 2023.

Market Square Ventures is off to a quick start, no pun intended. It has several Knoxville start-ups in the pipeline, and it invested in VetVerifi, a software company that won the statewide pitch competition last fall in Nashville. The company has developed a secure, automated way for veterinary clinics and pet service providers to fetch and share verified vaccination records in seconds.

Here’s additional information about the general partners:

  • Bruce, a California native, has lived in the Knoxville area since 2007 and has been a strong presence in and supporter of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. He was Co-Founder of Cirrus Insight, a company acquired in late 2018 by a private equity firm. More recently, he co-founded Uncat, a start-up focused on helping accountants and bookkeepers fix uncategorized transactions, where he serves as Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Bruce also founded the 100Knoxvilleinitiative focused on Black-owned businesses, co-founded the Knoxville Technology Council with John McNeely and others, launched the Startup Knox website and podcast with Bruck, serves on the Board of Directors of Cherokee Farm Development Corporation, the latter as overseer of the University of Tennessee’s Research Park (UTRP), and most recently is active in the role of Managing Director of the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator.
  • Bruck moved to the region in late 2015 after a successful 25-year career running BHE Environmental in Cincinnati. He quickly became involved, initially with the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, followed by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UT, Knoxville, and most recently with UTRP’s Spark Innovation Center. Bruck is also on the leadership counsel for ORNL’s Innovation Crossroads and a mentor to many local start-ups.
  • Brown serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of PYA, the power behind and a highly trusted, respected advisory and accounting firm for the business community. PYA serves clients from offices in Atlanta, Charlotte, Helena, Kansas City, Knoxville, Nashville, and Tampa. During his tenure, Brown has helped catapult the firm to national recognition that includes INSIDE Public Accounting Top 100 Firm, Modern Healthcare Top 15 Healthcare Consulting Firm, and INSIDE Public Accounting Third Highest Percentage Female Ownership Among Top 100 Firms.
  • Boston is the Founder and President of Boston Government Services, LLC (BGS), an award-winning engineering, technology, and cybersecurity firm that provides solutions to the federal government and commercial energy sectors’ most challenging missions. With more than 30 years of experience in leading large and complex engineering and environmental programs, both as a senior executive with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and as an executive with several major government contractors, he now leads BGS in supporting government and commercial clients.
  • Mar retired after a 27-year career with Levi Strauss & Co where she held various executive management positions, the last being Global Sourcing Manager. She is currently serving on several community non-profit boards of directors which include Pellissippi State Community College Foundation, WDVX radio station, HoLa Hora Latina Cultural Organization, and the Knox History Project.

Bruce and Bruck will discuss more about Market Square Ventures during a fireside chat Wednesday as part of the PYA-sponsored Ballard Innovation Award.

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