PART 1: Jim Biggs shares two of KEC’s new initiatives for 2018

KEC(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a two-part series focused on the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s new or expanded initiatives for 2018.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

A new year brings with it exciting plans to build on the foundation that the team at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) has established over the last several years.

Jim Biggs, who just began his fourth year as KEC’s Executive Director, says the non-profit organization has plans to help other communities with their maker movements, expand on its “Works”-branded programming, and enhance activities to help growth stage companies, all the while keeping its focus on being the front door for entrepreneurs in the region.

That first role is clearly intended to help enhance the maker movement where individuals and small-scale manufacturers make things in less than mass quantities and sell them, maybe at a farmer’s markets, via their own websites, or through online marketplaces such as Etsy.

As our readers should recall, Knoxville has embraced the maker movement in a big way, and KEC has been integrally involved. Joy O’Shell, then a KEC staffer, joined two local business people who attended an national Etsy event in 2016. The trio came back committed to putting the city on the maker movement map.

That commitment resulted in the first “Knoxville Maker City Summit” held on the first day of the inaugural “Innov865 Week” later that year. During the event, Knoxville was designated the first “ETSY Maker City” in the U.S. The City has continued to be at the forefront of this national movement, one that just recently resulted in a major partnership between ETSY and the National League of Cities.

KEC has played several key roles locally, including offering the “ETSY Craft Entrepreneurship Program” twice here and once in Morristown. Those classes are a five-session series of workshops, normally held during the evening, to help makers understand the basics of business, and how to sell their goods on the Etsy platform.

“We’ve had great success with the program,” Biggs says. “Forty to 45 percent of the 53 graduates are non-white and 85 percent are women. We’re excited to be able to extend that program to additional communities outside of Knoxville.”

The expansion, which will call for at least six classes and one “Trainer the Trainers” offering over the next two years, is being funded by a grant from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development as part of its efforts to foster entrepreneurship in non-urban areas.

“We strongly believe that this programming can make a meaningful difference in these rural communities,” Biggs says, adding that it will “give a platform to monetize goods for people already making something.”

The “Etsy Craft Entrepreneurship” classes at KEC will follow the current model for maker training – four classes lasting two hours each where “they (participants) learn everything about setting-up a shop, branding, marketing, and optimizing their ETSY presence,” Biggs says. The fifth and final session, which lasts three hours, is described by Biggs as a photo session where KEC’s instructors show participants how to “curate using relatively inexpensive technology – an iPhone and a lightbox – to make standout pictures.”

In addition to the multi-night framework, Biggs says KEC also plans to work with The Biz Foundry in Cookeville to pilot an approach that compresses the program into two full days rather than five session. That program was announced in this recent post.

The second of the “evolutionary things,” as Biggs refers to them, is “Brand Camp.” It will be a multi-week program that is designed to utilize young content creators who will work with local start-ups interested in rebranding themselves. Much of the impetus came from the results of last year’s “The Works” accelerator, where interns played a significant role in helping enhance the brands of the participating companies.

Describing it as KEC’s version of a coding camp, Biggs says that “the young creators would gain valuable experience while providing significant services to local start-ups.”

NEXT: The third “evolutionary” initiative is focused on growth.

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