By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
The concept behind Clearpath Ventures and its process model to help new companies more quickly scale is something that John Morris and Guille Cruze first started discussing nine months ago.
The serial entrepreneurs have known each other since the 1990s when Morris founded NetLearning and Cruze was starting The White Stone Group, Inc.
“We had similar products in a similar market, but we never worked together at the time,” Morris says. That changed during Morris’ tenure as President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Tech 2020, the non-for-profit venture development organization that he left at the end of September.
“When I was at Tech 2020, I put Guille with a number of companies,” Morris said. “We had discussions about the model. When I decided to leave, we resumed those discussions.”
The new endeavor is their first joint venture, and it promises to combine their passion for entrepreneurship with the experience and scars of each partner in starting new companies. The concept is to augment a start-up’s staffing so that it has the expertise needed at the right time to capitalize on opportunities.
Unlike Tech 2020 and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center which focus on earlier stage companies, Morris says Clearpath will be true to its name, helping start-ups that have already reached a significant milestone and are on a defined path to growth.
“Our focus is on augmentation of the team after the company gets a start,” Morris says of their new venture. To be a Clearpath client, he says the Founder must be focused on scaling the business, have skin in the game, and have developed a prototype or secured outside investment.
The “secret sauce” that Morris and Cruze bring to the table is years to experience.
“As Guille puts it, we have a lot of scars, so it’s easy to pullout one and say, ‘Don’t do that,’” Morris explains.
The team has looked at other models, but Morris says they “tend to have capital associated with them and treat augmentation as part of the capital strategy.” Clearpath is not ruling out having a capital component in the future, although that’s not a major focus now.
“We will evaluate each company’s needs on a case-by-case basis,” Morris explains.
Morris’ experience includes serving as CEO of several start-ups – Consultec Scientific, NetLearning and Sunlight Direct. Cruze was part of a family software company before founding White Stone and Clinical Health Communications, Inc.
In his role with Clearpath, Morris can draw from the best parts of both worlds – being an entrepreneur and helping entrepreneurs.
And, he clearly wants to continue to be involved in growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region.
“Just because I’m doing something different doesn’t mean I’m going away,” Morris says. We think that’s a really good thing.