(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a two-part series spotlighting one of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region’s serial entrepreneurs. Part 1 provided an update on the progress that Vig Sherrill and the team at General Graphene are making. The second part focuses on his journey through seven start-ups and the factors that make this an ideal place to grow a tech-based start-up.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
When we asked Vig Sherrill why he has chosen the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region for his seven start-ups, he drew a comparison with an answer that George “Machine Gun” Kelly, a famous gangster from Memphis, offered when asked, “Why do you rob banks? Because that’s where the money is.”
In Sherrill’s case, the President and Chief Executive Officer of General Graphene, answered our question about doing so many start-ups here with the response, “That’s where I live, and I chose it for hygiene factors.” Those reasons start with attracting and retaining really good talent.
“Technology is great and wonderful but, unless you have seasoned, talented management, it is just technology,” he says, citing partners from previous local ventures like Bill Malkes along with Greg Erickson, his current colleague at General Graphene.
Quality of life, amenities like the mountains and lakes, and regional research assets like Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee also contribute to the reasons that Sherrill has remained here.
“This region has a very stable workforce,” he adds, noting that General Graphene has grown to about two dozen employees.
Acknowledging that it is easier to network and raise capital in Silicon Valley, Sherrill explains that there were both advantages and disadvantages that he encountered in raising venture capital in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region. “I had an advantage with General Graphene because I had a few successes before,” Sherrill says, but quickly added, “However, there’s a real challenge in doing something no one has done before. VCs (venture capitalists) in general are herd creatures. They do not work well with long term, innovative technologies.”
As noted in Part 1 of this series, Eric Dobson of the then named Angel Capital Group, now Sheltowee, led the seed round that raised $8.7 million, and Sherrill heaped a good deal of praise on Dobson for believing in the technology and the company’s management team that includes Greg Erickson.
“I’ve been lucky, always getting to work with wonderful people,” Sherrill says. “I might be the poster child of how not to do things, but in general I’m really the lucky one.”