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May 11, 2020 | Tom Ballard

PART 2: Faizer and Sexton explain benefits of KEC and CCI partnership from their perspectives

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a two-part series describing how the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville are collaborating to provide both a meaningful experience for students and valuable help for local start-ups.)

Ironically, the relationship between the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) and the College of Communication and Information (CCI) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) began in a classroom.

“I have been teaching the entrepreneurship course once a year in the fall,” says Melanie Faizer, a CCI Senior Lecturer of Journalism and Electronic Media. “I invited Jonathan (Sexton, then KEC’s Chief Operating Officer) in a couple of years ago as a guest lecturer and invited him to talk about intrapreneurship. We need a lot of innovation in big media.”

As the old saying goes, one thing led to another, spearheaded in part by a CCI student who had worked at KEC and wanted college credit for the experience. If it was beneficial to one student, could others benefit, too?

The short answer is absolutely.

“Jonathan came-up with the syllabus, and we did the trial run last fall with the five students,” Faizer said. “It was real world experience, and the students loved it. There was also excellent oversight from KEC.”

For the always upbeat Sexton, it was a win-win.

“From the students’ perspective, they had a wow moment,” he said. “They didn’t know this thing I know how to do (digital media) is valuable. For start-ups, it’s valuable additional help” when their resources are already limited.

Sexton explained that the students who participated during the Fall Semester were involved in several different ways with six companies that comprised the “Brand Camp” cohort.

“It started with research . . . a lot of it on the market (of each start-up) and competitors,” he said, emphasizing the development of user personas and archetypes to understand users’ needs, experiences, behaviors and goals. After those steps, the students helped create a content calendar – “not just when, but who, why and how,” Sexton explained, adding that “finally, they created content for the start-ups to use.”

Four students joined the effort in Spring Semester.

“It’s been super fun . . . they are so smart,” Sexton said. “At the end of this, they are not just good writers but strategic thinkers.”

Faizer doubled down on the value, emphasizing several benefits that she saw.

“They worked in pressure situations to develop content and see their work show-up on a start-up’s website,” she said. “The experience was also a resume enhancer. Anything entrepreneurial will be transferrable since every company is trying to innovate.”

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