By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
“Whittle Communications brought cool to Knoxville,” Mark Hickman of NorthSouth Productions says emphatically. “It was the best failure that Knoxville ever had.”
He was referring to the company initially known as 13-30 Corporation that was founded by University of Tennessee students Chris Whittle and Phillip Moffitt. Their initial endeavor was a magazine named Knoxville in a Nutshell. Later, they bought Esquire magazine and subsequently launched Channel One News, a then revolutionary idea of broadcasting a national news program for K-12 schools.
During its run, Whittle Communications recruited an amazing array of talented individuals to Knoxville. After the company’s demise, many of those chose to remain. One – Charlie DeBevoise – joined with Hickman to found NorthSouth Productions in 2000.
Although the former had relocated to New York City by the time the video production company was launched, NorthSouth has always had a strong footprint in Knoxville.
This community has a strong legacy in video creativity, thanks to the talent that Whittle Communications attracted and the pioneering work of Ross Bagwell. In fact, both Hickman and DeBevoise worked for Bagwell for nearly five years.
When they started the company in 2000, there was no question as to where Hickman intended to be based.
“I chose to live in Knoxville,” he said. “I love this place. Knoxville has some really unique attributes.”
Like many others, Hickman cited the general lifestyle that includes affordability as well as attributes ranging from the revitalized downtown, mountains and lakes to the cost of living, and intellectual assets at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
There’s also the human capital piece of the equation, and Hickman says there is a sufficient pool of talent from which to draw. That said, creatives can also be recruited to other locations, so the pipeline must be continually refreshed and expanded.
“I’m a huge advocate of homegrown talent,” Hickman says. For that reason, he has signed-up as a mentor for the second “MediaWorks” accelerator sponsored by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. It is now underway.
Helping grow talent locally is not only good for NorthSouth Productions, but also good for a community that already has a national reputation as a video production center.
“You don’t have to be all that smart or talented to make it in this business,” Hickman recalls Tommy Rowland, another of Knoxville’s early video pioneers, telling him. The second part of the quote is the exclamation point: “Just make sure those you work with are.”
Hickman describes the NorthSouth Productions 15-year journey as his dream career.
“I’ve gotten to do exactly what I want to do and live where I want,” he says.