Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

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November 12, 2013 | Tom Ballard

Four more “Start-up Day” presenters profiled

SD Logo-on transparency for webAs previously reported in, more than a dozen entrepreneurs will be pitching their companies during the Knoxville area’s its first ever “Start-up Day” November 21 at The Standard, 416 West Jackson Avenue.

The four-hour event is designed to be a celebration of the region’s entrepreneurs as well as its culture. Short pitches from the entrepreneurs will be interspersed with entertainment from local singers and songwriters.

The event begins at 3 p.m. There is no registration fee, but pre-registration is required. To register, click here. Organizers are the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, Tech 20/20 and Launch Tennessee. Pershing Yoakley & Associates, the power behind, is a corporate sponsor.

Ahead of the November 21 celebration, we will run periodic profiles on the presenting companies. In today’s article, we profile Southern Rock Fitness Club, Retailius, ARiES Energy, and Sonopore.

Southern Rock Fitness Club – This is not your ordinary hardcore gym. Southern Rock is a 10,000 square foot indoor climbing gym that will be full of energy, life and fun. When entering the front doors, the owners say customers are going to be blown away by the mere size of the climbing walls, the eye popping colors, and the amount of energy and excitement. Southern Rock carries this behavior forward in creating an atmosphere that is inviting to all levels of climbers, from the four-year old child that is climbing for the first time, to the timid climber that needs encouragement and instruction and the hardcore climbers who need to be challenged in their climbs.  The owners offer lessons, birthday parties to amaze kids, and team competitions will be available from its staff who are certified by the Climbing Wall Association. Southern Rock’s goal is to be the top climbing gym in the East Tennessee area by offering an experience that will leave people saying, “That was cool, let’s do it again!”

Scott Dougherty is the leading force behind Southern Rock Fitness Club. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) graduate has lived here since 1975 and owned small businesses since 1989. They have ranged from a multi-location convenience store chain to print production and alternative financial banking. A graduate of the, Dougherty has called Knoxville home since 1975. He and his wife, Janet, have two children.

Retailius – This company enables small businesses to optimize, streamline, and grow their businesses through intelligent software. The Retailius POS is the start-up’s primary product. This point of sale software allows small businesses to efficiently and effectively reach consumers through the integration of selling channels. Retailius also has a product pipeline consisting of a white label smart phone application that allows small businesses to create a seamless experience between brick and mortar and electronic commerce to a sensor that enables small businesses to send highly targeted promotions and advertisements within the store environment.

Retailius’ founder is Casey Ash. After graduating from UTK in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Ash decided to take the route of entrepreneurship. While in school, the entrepreneur worked for several retailers and a regional grocer. On the ground floor of the store environments, Ash encountered numerous complaints on a variety of topics from both store employees and customers alike. The primary issues revolved around the point of sale. With nearly 13,000 hours of interacting with and observing customers, Ash has decided to disrupt retail and retail technology to reinvent the point of sale.

ARiES Energy – This Lenoir City-based company is a leading energy contractor that delivers turnkey, clean, and renewable energy solutions. The ARiES acronym stands for Alternative Renewable Innovative Economic Solutions for Energy. As noted in several previous articles on, ARiES Energy develops strategies to avoid rising energy costs and provide the quickest return on investment for its clients by utilizing available incentives, grants, and appropriate technologies.  The company installs solar photovoltaic (commercial and residential), solar thermal, lighting, power conditioning, energy efficiency products/services and biomass/waste-to-energy technologies capable of using almost any cellulosic material to generate power.  ARiES is a policy-driven company that helps its clients achieve policy mandates, company-adopted goals or other energy or sustainability needs by focusing on the current incentives and funding available. ARiES also focuses on developing strategic partnerships that allow its clients to be most successful by securing incentive funding and developing relationships that create ‘win-wins’ for all parties involved.

Mary Shaffer Gill serves as Vice President of ARiES Energy, LLC.  Before launching ARiES, she had played a key role in the development and success of solar technology contractors in East Tennessee.  Gill is responsible for over $7 million in advanced energy grant funding for her clients. Her grant writing recently resulted in three of the 17 Clean TN Energy Grant awards administered by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. In 2010, Gill served on the inaugural board of the Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association (TenneSEIA), where she represents the Tennessee solar industry and helps develop sustainable solar policies at the state level. At ARiES, Gill continues to provide a variety of energy solutions for her customers and is thrilled to be a part of launching a new, innovative waste-to-energy technology manufactured in Tennessee.  Click here to read a recent profile on her.

Sonopore – This company offers a system to allow cheaper and faster genetic engineering of microorganisms which are capable of producing a variety of compounds used in everyday life from plastics and commodity chemicals to fuels and pharmaceuticals.  To improve the production of these compounds, the organisms need to be engineered optimally.  The current process for altering bacterial DNA is time consuming and expensive.  Sonopore replaces current high-voltage systems of delivering DNA with sound wave energy for DNA delivery.  This process reduces equipment cost as well as lab prep time.  While there are immediate applications in the biofuels market, any of the previously cited microbial product markets can use this technology.

The company’s founder is Beth Papanek who received her B.S. in Chemistry and M.S. in Bioenergy from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  Her Master’s was an interdisciplinary science and business degree, allowing experience in basic business skills as well as participating in Illinois Business Consulting. Papanek is currently a doctoral student in Energy Science and Engineering in the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, a joint initiative of UTK and Oak Ridge National Laboratory program. The program encourages interests outside of bench level science including courses in entrepreneurship and energy policy.

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