Tom Mann was a serial entrepreneur when he decided that the San Diego area did not provide the quality of life that he wanted for his family. He moved across the country to Knoxville and spent another 18 months commuting to an Atlanta-based start-up until he found the right opportunity in his newly adopted city.
Today, the Chief Executive Officer of local start-up TrakLok is a strong advocate for the region where he now lives and works as well as TrakLok which he says is well-positioned for growth in 2012.
In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, Mann used words like “incredible, amazing and phenomenal” to describe the companies that have been started by entrepreneurs in the Innovation Valley and remain here. They include Ruby Tuesday, HGTV, Bandit Lites, Pilot, and Regal Entertainment.
Mann views the fact that company founders in East Tennessee remained in the region as a distinct asset for the Innovation Valley compared to places like San Diego where the entrepreneurs “make their money and leave.”
In 2010 Mann became aware of another local start-up called Telesensors and agreed to come on board as a mentor to the founders. As he explored options for Telesensors, he saw an opportunity to link its strong engineering expertise with TrakLok, and the two companies merged in August 2010.
“The merger sealed the deal for TrakLok to get its Series A funding from Innova,” Mann said. Innova was founded by the Memphis Bioworks Foundation in 2007 and selected as one of the six TNInvestcos earlier in 2010. The TrakLok transaction was the first made by the Innova TNInvestco fund. A Series B round has also been completed, and it was led by Innova with involvement of a high wealth angel. Mann expects a Series C later in 2012.
He readily acknowledges that he did not know the market for TrakLok’s “security and visibility product for the global cargo and transportation market.” Mann had been involved in seven start-ups, three of them were medical devices. His experience was focused on developing and implementing robust business systems – operations, quality assurance, technical services, customer support, accounts receivable and accounts payable .
“If a functional department is missing or poorly performing, everything falls apart,” Mann said, using the analogy of a chain with many links. “It is critical that early stage companies are well-balanced and organized.”
“The business fundamentals at TrakLok are in place now to allow us to grow rapidly,” he added.
TrakLok has finished product design, secured significant customer input, completed reliability testing, and established a business structure. The company also hired a Vice President for Sales in November and a Regional Director of Sales in January with a second Regional Sales Director slated to come on board in the next few weeks.
Because he has managed large manufacturing companies, Mann believes a company like TrakLok should use contract manufacturers to produce product rather than invest in its own plant. He has identified two local firms and one in Kentucky to do this work.
“Contract manufacturing preserves the investors’ capital for product design, sales and marketing,” he said. It also allows a company like TrakLok to rapidly expand manufacturing.
He also intends to contract both warehousing and shipping to best manage TrakLok’s capital.
Mann said that TrakLok’s markets are companies that have high value (e.g., pharmaceuticals and electronics), high security (e.g., explosives, nuclear and radiological) or critical chain of custody (e.g., tobacco, food and pharmaceuticals) needs.
“Our goal during 2012 is to test as many models as possible and see where the best (market) options are,” Mann said.
Mann believes East Tennessee’s strategic location offers a significant economic development opportunity to establish a contract manufacturing and warehousing cluster to serve customers here and elsewhere.
In describing his philosophy as an entrepreneur focused on the business basics, Mann used a baseball analogy. “My career is based on one base hit after another,” he said. “I’m not someone who expects to hit a game winning home run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two strikes.”