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July 06, 2015 | Tom Ballard

“X factors” describe this year’s KEC “MediaWorks”

MediaWorks(EDITOR’S NOTE: We are spotlighting two East Tennessee accelerator programs this week and the unique ties that one local company has to both “GIGTANK” in Chattanooga and “MediaWorks” in Knoxville. Today’s article focuses on the latter program.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

Jonathan Sexton talks about 2X and 4X factors in describing changes made for the second “MediaWorks” accelerator now underway under the auspices of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC).

The Entrepreneur-in-Residence at KEC is not referring to “The X Factor,” the global music competition. Instead, he’s talking about lessons learned from last year’s inaugural program that are incorporated in the latest iteration.

“How do we increase the rigor,” Sexton says he and the KEC team – Jim Biggs, Emily Skaar and Mitch Brooks – asked themselves. Unlike some accelerators, “MediaWorks” is not a residential, full-time effort. Most of the entrepreneurs have day jobs.

The answer to the question is reflected in their own X factor.

“We’ve doubled the time spent and the size of the team,” Sexton explains. “We required every team to have a co-founder unless it was already generating revenue.”

That 2X requirement is a significant change from 2014 when only two teams had at least two co-founders.

“My experience and what I’ve learned from others says that you can’t do it alone,” Sexton says. “It’s immensely useful for teams to have help shouldering the emotional burden.”

In addition to doubling the size of each entrepreneurial team, KEC has also doubled the time the teams spend in formal activities.

“We’ve introduced three weekend sprints . . . one each month,” Sexton explained. These are, in essence, 48-hour weekends modeled after the “What’s the Big Idea” competition earlier this year.

The first of the weekend-long sprints in May was focused on customer interviews. Each team had to find at least 30 potential customers with whom they would discuss the concept and get validation.

The second sprint was a hackathon earlier this month held with support from Codestock. The purpose was to develop a minimally viable product.

Since “MediaWorks” does not provide seed capital to the participating teams, Sexton believes this opportunity is a significant value add.

“The dollar value there is easily worth the $10,000 to $15,000 we cannot give them,” he says.

The third sprint, set for July, will focus on investor prep as the teams prepare for the August 11 “MediaWorks Demo Day” starting at 4 p.m. at the Square Room on Market Square.

The final X factor improvement is the critically important mentoring component. KEC assigns a lead mentor to each team but also uses specialty mentors who bring expertise from areas like finance, marketing, and law.

“We’ve increased our mentor team by a 4X factor,” Sexton notes proudly. “That allows us to really be precise about getting them the help they want.”

For a list of this year’s “MediaWorks” teams, click here (MediaWorks 2015 Teams). One of those – Evolvr – is participating in two programs – KEC’s and “GIGTANK” in Chattanooga. We’ll profile this Knoxville-based start-up in a series starting tomorrow.

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