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June 05, 2014 | Tom Ballard

Vendor Registry growing, building new relationships, expanding geographically

Vendor Registry-teknoBy Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

It’s hard to imagine things looking much better at this stage for local start-up Vendor Registry.

The company just “exited” Launch Tennessee’s inaugural “The TENN” master accelerator program with the top prize, a whole lot of new connections, a major international customer, and plans to close its initial Series A round of outside funding.

Vendor Registry has even expanded into a second state – Georgia – and was one of the top six companies selected by investors at last week’s Baker Donelson “Southeastern Regional Capital Connections 2014.”

We sat down for lunch recently with Co-Founders Brian Strong and Chris Van Beke to get an update after their whirlwind experience that literally took them from coast-to-coast for six months.

“We learned that working with local governments is not just a problem for small businesses,” Van Beke said. “It’s an every business problem,” meaning large companies as well as those that Strong describes as the “owner-operators.”

That realization came through “The TENN” experience and opened-up a new business opportunity with a major international player – Microsoft.

For those not familiar with Vendor Registry, the company serves as an electronic intermediary – providing an online registration and bid notification service that connects buyers wanting to recruit more bidders and vendors wanting to be put in front of more buyers.

“We bring feet on the street for everyone, whether small or large,” Van Beke explains in painting a picture of the company’s service. That presence, initially in Tennessee but now expanded into Georgia, is the heart of Vendor Registry’s business concept.

“It’s where we want to be,” Strong says. “We always wanted to be the translator . . . right in the middle. We facilitate, helping business and government work together.”

We have known Van Beke for a number of years and met Strong soon after launching in early 2012. As such, we’ve followed their evolution with great interest.

“We’ve learned a ton,” Strong said in describing their more than two-year journey and the more recent activities with “The TENN.”

Van Beke says they have a good knowledge of the Tennessee government market and many of its nuances such as procurements that are above $25,000 compared to those under that threshold. Those at the higher level are advertised, require sealed bids and are generally overseen by a central purchasing office.

Capturing information about the smaller procurements is more challenging, because Tennessee law does not require the same conditions.

“We’re learning how to improve our flow of information and how we capture more information more efficiently,” he adds.

In its work for Microsoft, Vendor Registry is helping the global giant get registered for enterprise level bids as the Washington State-based entity rolls out 80 retail stores in 32 markets to better serve and support the government market. One of those stores was just announced for Knoxville.

“This is as much of an opportunity for us as it is for them,” Van Beke says of the Microsoft relationship.

As far as the Series A funding, Van Beke simply says, “There’s a lot of investor interest, both in Tennessee and outside.” Vendor Registry would like to raise between $750,000 and $1 million.

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