Small pieces of information about something really big are beginning to accumulate. Last fall an article appeared in the News Sentinel regarding a possible Entrepreneur Center on Market Square. If it came to fruition, it would occupy the space once utilized by Knox Ivi at 17 Market Square just a floor below the Chamber of Commerce. The space was leased by the city and was being redesigned for the purpose and the organization would likely be patterned after Nashville’s Entrepreneur Center which opened in 2010 as a public/private cooperative effort.
Exactly what would it do? It’s hard for me to gather from the article. Clearly they would provide a space in which people with an entrepreneurial bent would come together. In that space the apparent hope is that needs will be met, relationships formed, and endeavors would be undertaken. The details were more than a bit fuzzy. Comments on the article ranged from moans of government gone amuck to a boondoggle for local politicians to amazement that we’ve fallen behind again paired with delight that we’ve finally gotten on with it.
A quiet winter followed, but now things seem to be happening. A Facebook Page has appeared which gives little detail, but already has over 100 “likes.” The only substantive statement reads, “If you are an entrepreneur, investor, mentor, or professional in Knoxville interested in engaging in venturing, this is your program” “Engaging in venturing” seems a clunky phrase, at best. I didn’t fail to copy and paste the period at the end of the odd sentence: there is none. It promises that a description is, “COMING SOON!”
But there are other crumbs. There is a website, though there is no link to it from the Facebook page. The homepage includes the same sentence noted above, though they included a period for the website. It adds, “We take Knoxville’s most promising new companies and we train them, mentor them, and push them to the next level. If you are looking for the investable early stage ventures in this region Knoxville Entrepreneur Center is the place to be.” “Investable?”
It lists upcoming events such as “Membership Application Close,” April 4, followed by a ribbon cutting this Friday, April 5. Again, I’m confused. Membership closes before the ribbon is cut? There is also a bootcamp of some sort listed for the summer and later in the summer a business competition and film festival. No explanations are offered about any of the above. So, should we join? You may join as an “entrepreneur, mentor, professional or advisor.” I looked into joining as an entrepreneur and the $100 fee changed my mind.
But here’s something I find even more strange: The city has announced on their webpage the following:
Public Meeting Apr. 4 on Broadband Internet Access Downtown
March 21, 2013 – City officials and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center invite interested downtown residents and business representatives for a discussion of broadband Internet access in the Central Business Improvement District on Thursday, April 4 at 5:30 p.m. at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center located at 17 Market Square.As the demands for high-speed Internet grow for both commercial and residential uses, the City has a strong interest in ensuring that our downtown area can meet those needs.This discussion will aim to highlight any problem areas and possible ways to address them.
This event comes on the same day as the closure of membership, the day before the ribbon cutting and it is not mentioned at all on the Center’s web page! What? This is huge news. Broadband for all of downtown? Are you kidding me? This could be massive both for businesses as well as for residents. It’s the first effort of the new center and they don’t mention it on their webpage? It is mentioned once on the Facebook Page.
I found out about it through downtown hanger-around and general Internet noodler, Art Carmichael. He made an event and invited me and about six hundred of his closest friends on Facebook. I’m inviting you. Please be at 17 Market Square at 5:30 on Thursday. This could completely change the trajectory of downtown development if companies know this kind of infrastructure is available. It could also make the Metropulse Best of Knoxville Poll honest by making Market Square truly the best Wi-fi Hotspot which it wins every year even though it is virtually impossible to get the smallest signal out on the square.
I hope this center is a great place that encourages innovation and helps develop local dreams while drawing creative people to our city. I hope this low-key start is just to give us a tease before bringing us in in a big way. But, whatever their long-term prospects, I hope their first effort results in broadband access throughout downtown. Come support it: 17 Market Square, 5:30 on Thursday.
In the meantime, we can only look at Chattanooga with envy: