By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
It’s off to California this week for the nine start-ups that comprise this year’s cohort for Launch Tennessee’s “The TENN” master accelerator.
As was the case last year, part of the experience for the Tennessee companies involves interaction with venture capitalists, potential customers, and other entrepreneurs in the Bay Area. Ahead of their departure, we asked the Knoxville participants in “The TENN” for their observations about the program thus far and their expectations of the California trip.
“Our experience has been even better than I had envisioned,” Patrick Hunt, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Fiveworx, said. The Knoxville-based start-up leverages its proprietary platform and big data analytics to drive energy efficiency actions by consumers of its electric utility clients.
“We’ve gained a tremendous amount of insight from our mentors and the experts that participated in our learning days, and we’ve made many more good connections than we otherwise would have in the same period of time.”
Austin Church, Co-Founder of Closeup.fm, another Knoxville-based start-up focused on musicians, echoed Hunt’s thoughts.
“We have experienced LaunchTN’s amazingly comprehensive and generous support. We’ve gotten the help we needed when we needed it. And the people who have volunteered their time and expertise are people who typically charge a premium for their consulting services. To say we’ve been humbled by LaunchTN’s commitment to us as founders and to Closeup’s continued vitality and growth would be an understatement.”
As far as highlights thus far, both Hunt and Church offered several special opportunities.
“Ben Wald of Spartan Systems in Chattanooga helped us totally overhaul our development process and methodology at probably the most crucial point in Closeup’s lifecycle,” Church said. “Closeup is in the music and entertainment space, but we’re still a software development company, right? Because software development is our core business, it is too important to delegate.”
Another highlight was his time with Lisa Calhoun of Write2Market.
“She has this dazzling mix of kindness, enthusiasm, and intelligence,” Church said. “She identified several conceptual gaps in our user acquisition strategy. She then shared a list of tools and helped us map out a practical, step-by-step plan for growing Closeup’s user base week over week. It’s just so unusual to find someone who can meet you 30,000 feet up in the clouds and understand what you’re trying to accomplish and then nosedive you back down to the dirt where the real work begins. We walked out of the room that day with the plan that has become the backbone of our growth strategy.”
For Hunt, the sales and marketing learning day was what he called a “key highlight,” thanks to the advice offered by sales experts. The shared time on the bus during “The TENN’s” statewide Road Show was also memorable, but there was one event that was personally special.
“The biggest highlight for me was the round of applause for my daughter and her ‘e-commerce startup’ (selling Girl Scout Cookies online),” he said. The applause came during a session at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.
So, what do Knoxville’s participants in the visit to California expect?
“Our trip is already booked full with meetings with potential customers and investors, a venture conference, and all the cool activities arranged by LaunchTN,” Hunt noted. “It will be good to be in the Silicon Valley region where there are so many great companies, talented employees, and investors, if for no other reason than to observe how things work in such a great environment for entrepreneurs.”
Church offered similar thoughts.
“Nathan (Fray, Co-Founder) has queued up several meetings with potential investors,” Church said, adding that another set of meetings involve individuals who can be strategic partners.
“We’ve found that relationships in the music and entertainment industry usually take a while to come to fruition,” he explained. “San Francisco will be all about relationships for us, and it’s important that we get out there now so that certain pieces can fall into place next year. We’re very grateful that LaunchTN is making this face-to-face time possible at next to no cost to us. Every penny counts at this stage, and we’ve got the reimbursement receipts to prove that LaunchTN is putting their money where their mouth is.”