Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

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January 22, 2015 | Tom Ballard

PART 6: Final thoughts from the panelists

Dollar Sign(EDITOR’S NOTE: For the third year in a row, we asked angel and venture investors who live in East Tennessee to share their thoughts on 2014 and their predictions for 2015. We were fortunate to have seven individuals provide their insights. Today is the final article in the six-part series.)

TODAY’S QUESTION: What else would you like to say?

David Belitz, Managing Partner, Chattanooga Renaissance Fund:

Thanks for your work in supporting the entrepreneurial environment. Let’s make some big things happen in 2015.

Eric Dobson, Chief Executive Officer, Angel Capital Group:

This was an interesting year.  Valuations were rising and entrepreneurs becoming more confident about their deals again.  I believe we are in an upswing that will last for two to three years of increasing angel investing.  After the stock market crashes, technology bubble, and real-estate bubbles, angel investing is not considered to be as “aggressive” a strategy in previous years.  I think we will see the next five years where more and more angel investing will move online even in angel groups.  The Securities and Exchange Commission continues to examine the definition of the accredited investor status.  They turned their attention this year away from raising the thresholds for accreditation in favor of better defining a “sophisticated” investor, defined in several ways, not the least of which is being a member of an “Established Angel Group.”  If that trend is allowed to take hold, we will see even more individuals entering the angel market over the coming years.

Tony Lettich, Managing Director, The Angel Roundtable:

It’s a great time to be an angel investor! It’s an even better time to be an entrepreneur!

Geoff Robson, President, The Lighthouse Fund:

We will be completing two to four investments in 2015 and working with many active investors in our region to do so.  We look forward to continuing to interact with East Tennessee’s next generation of emerging entrepreneurial leadership teams.  Thanks for the opportunity.

Grady Vanderhoofven, Co-Founder and Co-Manager, Meritus Ventures and Southern Appalachian Fund:

Based on my observations and experiences, I am enthusiastic about the potential in this region.  I relish my opportunities to interact with smart, energetic, creative, hard-working, and proactive people because they inspire me and raise my level of expectation. Many people and a number of institutions and organizations in this region want to work cooperatively to contribute to the rising tide we are experiencing right now. Success in these endeavors requires collaboration, often on a broad scale. Over the course of the past 14 years, we’ve worked with ORNL, UT, Vanderbilt and more than a dozen other institutions within and beyond the southeast. We and our portfolio companies have worked with city, state, federal, and international governmental entities, economic development organizations, foundations, incubators, and accelerators. We’ve raised money in New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Puerto Rico, Virginia, Ohio, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and many other areas. We’ve co-invested with funds, companies, and individuals based in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville, Memphis, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Connecticut, Texas, Boston, Chicago, California, Europe and numerous other places. We’ve had portfolio companies in Memphis and southwest Virginia dating back to 2002, in Chattanooga dating back to 2004, in Knoxville, Mississippi and Kentucky dating back to 2005, and in Oak Ridge, South Carolina and Arkansas dating back to 2007, and we’ve looked at hundreds of deals in countless other locations. Our portfolio companies have employed hundreds of people, have engaged hundreds of vendors, service providers, and consultants, and have delivered products and services to customers throughout the United States and around the world.  While I live in the Knoxville area and maintain an office in Oak Ridge, I am keenly aware that success in this business requires a tremendous amount of collaboration, cooperation, and teamwork across a broad spectrum of people, places, and missions. The entrepreneurial ecosystem is dynamic, and we should never underestimate the power of momentum. Those of us who are engaged in the evolving entrepreneurial ecosystem in this region should do what we can to maintain and increase our collective momentum, and we should avoid scenarios that could diminish momentum.

Ken Woody, President, Innova Memphis:

There continues to be strong collaboration across Tennessee amongst the investors, research institutions, and accelerators. That’s very encouraging for early-stage companies and founders.

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