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January 11, 2018 | Tom Ballard

PART 2: KEC’s new initiatives for 2018 include “LEAP,” “NextUp”

KEC(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final 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

As noted in the first article in this series, Jim Biggs, Executive Director of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC), and his team have some exciting new initiatives for 2018. He refers to them as “evolutionary things,” building on the organization’s role in supporting the start-up ecosystem.

One is an expansion of KEC’s efforts to serve maker movement entrepreneurs; the second is helping start-ups that need to rebrand while also providing a valuable learning experience for young content creators.

The third is built on the realization that successful start-ups evolve from what is called the “early stage” to one often referred to as the “growth stage.” There are specific needs that companies in the latter stage have, one of the most critical being revenue from paying customers.

With KEC’s success last year in offering a reformatted “The Works” growth accelerator program, the evolution is natural.

“We plan to have more resources and programming in place this year for growth stage companies,” Biggs says.

The goal will be addressed by continuing the monthly “Growth Works” meet-ups, where successful entrepreneurs share their stories with emerging entrepreneurs, and individuals have the opportunity to build their networks. It will also involve two new initiatives – something called “LEAP,” which stands for “Local Executive Access Program.,” and a multi-day program called “NextUp.”

Biggs says that he and Jonathan Sexton, KEC’s Chief Operating Officer, visited Andreessen Horowitz, a well-known venture fund in the Bay Area, where they learned about the firm’s Executive Briefing Center. Simply stated, it is a matchmaking vehicle for connecting corporate executives and government leaders with the most talented entrepreneurs and technology companies that are driving the next wave of innovation.

The duo found the concept most intriguing and adaptable to needs they heard from both Knoxville’s corporate and start-up community.

“Start-ups need customers; big companies need innovation,” Biggs explained. “We are developing LEAP because we wanted to find customers for companies we are supporting and help mature corporations become more connected to the innovative entrepreneurs throughout Tennessee. The first step is getting to know more about the big companies we are partnering with . . . understanding how they operate and what they are interested in.”

Armed with additional information about the interests of the larger companies, KEC will pull together a list of up to 25 start-ups that might have something of interest to the biggies. The larger company will decide which of those are of interest – probably between six and eight, and KEC will arrange one-on-one discussions between representatives of the start-ups and the big company. The goal of these meetings will be matches that result in growth stage companies becoming customers of, developing pilot projects with, or providing technology that can spark new innovation for an established company.

“We have commitments from Pilot Flying J, Radio Systems Corporation, Bush Brothers, Jewelry TV and DeRoyal,” Biggs says, adding that “there are ongoing conversations with a number of other companies, here and across the state, that have expressed strong interest in participating.”

A unique feature of KEC’s strategy is the sourcing of start-ups and big companies. Biggs and Sexton are not relying solely on local entrepreneurs, but also working with accelerators, investors and institutions across the state. These include programs that are part of the Launch Tennessee network – CO.LAB in Chattanooga, The BizFoundry in Cookeville, Nashville Entrepreneur Center, and EPIcenter in Memphis – as well as others.

Biggs hopes to hold the first of these “LEAP” opportunity sessions in January or February.

As far as “NextUP,” he describes it as “a derivative of what we did in ‘The Works.’ What’s the next big rock an entrepreneur needs to move and how do you successfully approach the challenge?”

KEC will team with Bob Camp, a mentor with the organization and seasoned coach and consultant, to launch “NextUp.” We profiled Camp’s approach to helping companies grow in this recent two-part series (Part 1 and Part 2).

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