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October 06, 2021 | Tom Ballard

Quick fireside chat during “Startup Day” includes some sage advice

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

While the judges made their decisions about the six pitches they heard during Tuesday afternoon’s “Startup Day” in Knoxville, the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s Chris McAdoo moderated a brief but powerful fireside chat with three successful local entrepreneurs.

The trio included: (1) Bill Malkes, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NellOne Therapeutics Inc., who had just been recognized with the “Impact Award” that was presented by Verizon; (2) Chad Seaver, Co-Founder and former CEO of Arkis Biosciences Inc. that was acquired two years ago by Integra LifeSciences Holdings Corporation; and (3) Travis Howerton, Co-Founder of fast growing C2 Labs Inc. NellOne Therapeutics is Malkes’ fourth start-up since moving here from Michigan, while Seaver is now CEO of another start-up named Cintilight.

In rapid fire fashion, the three responded to several questions that McAdoo posed. About what he called the “people side of management,” Malkes said his focus, particularly at GRIDSMART Technologies, was about their passion. Seaver said his experience suggested a “large part is selling the vision and in biotech and healthcare, it’s also the impact” of their work. Howerton said C2 Labs is focused on “customer success . . . celebrating their successes and having fun.”

On the matter of that 3 a.m. experience when you wake-up and might be terrified about what could be happening, Malkes said, “Eighty percent of the stuff you worry about is never going to happen.” Seaver said he was always thinking a few steps ahead. “Never give up and never run out of options. Have a Plan B and C and a pivot.” For Howerton, it was straightforward: “Just learning to accept you are stupid,” meaning you are going to make mistakes but learn from them.

As far as help that is available for entrepreneurs from mentors and others, Malkes described “where we (as a region) are today (is) inspiring . . . it’s overwhelming.” Howerton described the number of people who have offered to help with advice as “unbelievable.”

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