By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Guille Cruze is a soft spoken, unassuming individual who has built several technology companies in Knoxville and, as a result of that start-up experience, learned a good deal about entrepreneurial success factors.
During a recent interview with teknovation.biz, the Knoxville native shared his personal and professional entrepreneurial journey that included founding or co-founding three companies – a family software business, The White Stone Group, Inc. and Clinical Health Communications, Inc. (CHC).
More recently, Cruze has taken some time away from business and volunteered his time as a mentor for a variety of activities such as the recent “What’s the Big Idea?!” business competition.
“I’ve been free for almost two years now,” he says in reference to his sale of CHC and continued engagement with the acquiring company until 2012. “I’m helping some folks who have start-ups.”
That’s likely to change, although Cruze cannot say specifically when, but he is confident he’ll return to the competitive business sector.
The entrepreneurial journey that Cruze has followed since graduation from Bearden High School is one that has embraced the application of information technology to enterprise-wide challenges.
Like many of his classmates, he entered the University of Tennessee, in his case majoring in Electrical Engineering. During those college years, Cruze laughingly said, “I had a different type of entrepreneurial experience . . . I made bologna and sausage.” He paid his way through college working at the old East Tennessee Packing Company. Remember the Selecto brand?
After graduation, Cruze joined his first start-up as a technical salesperson, traveling the country.
“It was a fast education,” he recalled. “I was selling a cutting-edge piece of software and found myself at a young age interacting with executives at IBM, Harris Corporation, and General Motors.”
With the birth of his first child, Cruze found the travel challenging.
“I jumped from the frying pan into the fire,” he says of the decision to join his father and brother in the early 1980’s at Cruze Computer Systems. It was a software company that developed and installed extensive business applications throughout the southeastern U.S.
“We grew it into a fairly large business in eight years,” Cruze noted, adding that he decided to exit the firm and found his own company – The White Stone Group. His focus was solely on healthcare and specifically the issues of pre-certifications needed from insurance companies before medical procedures could be undertaken.
White Stone grew to 85 people before Cruze took 15 of the employees and founded CHC in 2008. He continues to be a majority owner in White Stone, but is not involved in its current day-to-day operations.
Like his previous start-ups, Cruze focused CHC on a healthcare problem that would benefit from a software solution. In this case, it was the handing-off of patients and their information during the nursing shift change.
CHC was acquired two years after its founding by Vocera Communications, Inc., a Silicon Valley-based entity. Cruze remained with the acquiring company until 2012 when he decided to give-up the commuting.
However, his two years in the start-up rich Silicon Valley ecosystem provided some useful insights we’ll cover in the next article in this series.