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May 27, 2020 | Tom Ballard

Techstars engaged to assess the Greater Knoxville innovation ecosystem and provide recommendations to make it better

An idea that has been widely rumored in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge entrepreneurial ecosystem for at least a year is now officially launched with an announcement yesterday.

The public unveiling of “The Innovation Ecosystem Assessment for the Greater Knoxville Metropolitan Area” came via an email co-signed by the top executives at three of the region’s biggest employers – University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd, TVA President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Lyash, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thomas Zacharia. Their enterprises are funding the work.

Noting that the area “must compete nationally and internationally for the industries, jobs and work force that will allow the region to thrive,” the three announced that they have commissioned Techstars, the global platform for investment and innovation that has provided this service to communities nationwide, to look at the area’s entrepreneurial ecosystem over the summer.

For those not familiar with Techstars, it was founded in 2006 in Boulder, CO by several individuals including Brad Feld, a well-known author and speaker on start-ups. The organization held its first program for 10 start-ups in 2007 and, as of 2019, had accepted more than 1,600 companies into its programs. Those start-ups had a combined market capitalization of $18.2 billion.

Today, Techstars operates accelerators across the globe. One of its newest efforts is the “Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator” (see our article here) offered in partnership with Alabama Power, Alabama Department of Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. Local start-up mobius was a participant in last year’s “Techstars Sustainability Accelerator” in Boulder.

The website for the Greater Knoxville initiative notes that “the Techstars team will research the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem through extensive gathering of business metrics and one-on-one interviews. Techstars uses primary and secondary data collection, quantitative analysis, relationship mapping, and qualitative surveys. They will identify relationships that form around key institutions and individuals, and the values and other attributes that have been shown to drive performance. They also will identify a range of other sentiments and other characteristics associated with entrepreneurial success.”

At the end of the assessment, Techstars is expected to “produce a written report summarizing its insights and identifying three to five key takeaways for area leaders to act upon. The assessment results and recommendations will help the community assess area strengths and gaps to fill for long-term sustainability of an innovation effort.”

The Techstars written report will summarize of the current state of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region, provide a detailed “scorecard” of relevant parameters in the region, and outline a roadmap and recommendations for enhancing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region.

The geographic coverage for the assessment includes Knox, Anderson, Blount, and Roane Counties primarily, but will also include other counties as appropriate in the metropolitan area.

Once completed, the report will be presented at a public event.

The kick-off for the study is June 5.