By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Kanishka Biddanda made a promise in 2002 to see if he could grow his business the way he wanted in Northeast Tennessee.
He gave himself a year and, when the company more than achieved some five-year stretch goals in just eight months, he knew he was committed to the region for the foreseeable future.
Biddanda made another strategic decision a couple of years later when his company merged with another local firm. The combined entity, known as The Creative Trust Agency, Inc., serves a number of Fortune 500 clients with strategic marketing and communications services such as corporate identity, 3D animation and video, marketing plans and campaigns, and website development.
Yet, just a few years after the merger, the entrepreneurial restlessness took hold.
“I got to the point where I was ready for new challenges,” Biddanda said, adding that he would be taking on something new while continuing his role as Creative Director with his agency.
So, what did he decide to tackle? Today, it would be best characterized as an aspect of social entrepreneurship.
For Biddanda, it started with creating a downtown redevelopment firm, which then led him to creating a successful festival and then taking on his current role as the Interim Executive Director of AccelNow, the Northeast Tennessee business accelerator.
“I was very interested in adaptively reusing historic buildings in ways that could bring communities closer,” Biddanda says. He and his two partners focused on developing restaurants inside of buildings constructed in the 1900s. One – Bone Fire Smokehouse – won the “Best Ribs Recipe in the Nation” award in 2009 from the “Live! With Regis & Kelly” television show. Another – Kingsport Grocery Company – featured more than 180 craft beers.
“From there, I wanted a way to give back to our local non-profits,” Biddanda said. His particular focus initially was Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee. Many other charities have benefitted in following years.
“Having a barbecue restaurant, a restaurant that was craft beer focused, and a lifelong love of music, I thought combining those three aspects could create an effective community event – or at the very least, one heckuva party” he jokingly says of his event known as the “Racks by the Tracks BBQ, Beer Tasting & Music Festival.” The festival is held every May.
Biddanda noted that 450 attended the inaugural festival in 2008. “One of the biggest drivers after the first year was the number of community members who stopped me to thank me for creating a festival like that in the region,” he said.
Ever the entrepreneur, he wanted to double attendance the next year. It reached 2,000. From there, the event has grown to more than 12,000 attendees each year.
As fate would have it, opportunity came knocking in late 2013 when Dave Lawrence, AccelNow’s Executive Director, retired. The change in top leadership coincided with an examination of the best long-term home for the organization.
At the time, Biddanda was a member of the Board of Directors of AccelNow, which was operated by East Tennessee State University (ETSU).
“Being within a university structure is great for incubating a non-profit, but isn’t necessarily the best organizational structure to run an accelerator,” Biddanda explains. “Much like the start-ups it assists, an accelerator needs to be agile in responding to changing market needs.”
ETSU and AccelNow’s Board agreed to assess new options, ultimately finding the perfect home in the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce.
NEXT: How Biddanda transitioned from a member of the Board to the leader of the region’s entrepreneurial support organization.