For those who know this dynamic duo, one can only imagine how many new ideas a minute came out of the mouths of Brandon Bruce and John Bruck when the two Knoxvillians travelled to and from Cincinnati recently.
What we do know is that one of those ideas that gained traction was conceived on the return trip to Tennessee, and the two have collaborated since then to self-fund and publish the first-ever “Startup Knox Ecosystem Guide.” It is available now via PDF (StartupKnox_EcosystemGuide) and also online here.
Both Bruce and Bruck are very active in the local ecosystem, ironically holding the same title – Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) – at different organizations. Bruce is an EIR at Greater Sum Ventures, while Bruck is an EIR in the Business Accelerator of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
The two are also prolific networkers who are always introducing me to aspiring entrepreneurs in the community. Those introductions are not limited to me; they also extend to others involved with entrepreneurs, depending on the needs and interests of the individuals with whom Bruce and Bruck come in contact.
Yet, as Bruck explained, they saw a real void with the same questions being posed in one way or another during their conversations, particularly with new residents: “If I want to start a company in Knoxville, who can I talk to and where can I go?”
The new “Startup Knox Ecosystem Guide” was developed as a tool to answer that question in an organized way and also avoid repeatedly reinventing the proverbial wheel after each meeting.
“We did not have anything we could share with these new people we met other than providing a list of people for them to contact,” Bruce says. “Instead of recreating the same message over and over, we decided to create an evergreen resource.”
So, on the trip back from Cincinnati, they hatched the idea for the Knoxville-focused guide, and their inspiration came from the city they had just visited which was also Bruck’s former hometown. Eric Weissmann, Vice President at Cincinnati’s Cintrifuse and a key figure in Startup Cincy, has provided a tremendous amount of energy and new ideas to Bruce, Bruck and the entire Knoxville ecosystem.
Their model – the “StartupCincy Ecosystem Map” – is a visualization of the resources available in the Queen City and, more important, a tool to help entrepreneurs navigate the ecosystem that encompasses everything from main street businesses to high growth companies, accelerator programs to venture capitalists.
Clearly, Knoxville’s ecosystem is not as old nor as broad as the one in Cincinnati, but Bruce and Bruck felt it had matured to the stage where a guide would be useful.
“Our first step was to assemble a list of local resources,” Bruck says. “We wanted to make sure we did not exclude anyone.” In spite of their best efforts and after others reviewed the list, they want to hear from those who think another resource should be added.
The first edition of the Guide is divided into seven sections: News, Events, Organizations, Programs, Places, Funding and Education. It lists 99 resources with a URL for each. The print version was designed by The Thought Bureau, while the website version was designed by Glacier Software. Two Roads secured the domain site.
The goal was to develop the inaugural versions as fast as they could within a reasonable budget. Now that Bruce and Bruck have achieved that goal, they want to continue to improve them and hope to generate additional support from others to make the website live and interactive.
Both individuals are involved in more than their EIR roles. Bruce was a Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of bicoastal start-up Cirrus Insight that was sold in late 2018. Today, he’s Chair of the Board of Directors at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and one of the founding members of the Knoxville Technology Council. Bruck is an active member of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s “Innovation Crossroads” (IC) Leadership Council and mentor to several IC companies, an investor member at Queen City Angels in Cincinnati, and a mentor to several local start-ups beyond his EIR role with the Anderson Center.