You’ve had one, right? That idea that came to you as you pondered how to make a better ice cube or how to get a beer from the refrigerator without leaving your recliner? We’ve all said, “I bet if someone invented “X” they could get rich,” or “I’ve got this idea that could make somebody a million dollars.” Some of us just marvel at the simple ideas that make someone rich, seemingly overnight. Later in this article I’m going to tell you how to get rich off your Big Idea – or at least how to get started on the path to riches.
Knoxville has a history of producing some of the companies that figured out how to do something just a little differently or a little better and made a resulting fortune. Clayton Mobile Homes, Whittle Communications, Scripps and Pilot Oil are well known examples. Maybe the first was the Dempster Dumpster. Not very sexy, but pretty important – they’re everywhere.
The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center recently hosted their annual Startup Day at the Standard. It features power pitches by some of the most promising companies coming out of our area. Some of them inhabit the idea stage, while others such as Newsbreak (the televised news/commercial programming you watch while you pump gas) are well down the path to success on a large scale.
I’d emailed Jonathan Sexton, the current Entrepreneur in Residence at the K.E.C. just a few days earlier and asked a question that a reader had posed in connection with another of their events that I’d covered. The reader observed the lack of women and minorities. I guessed the start up world in Knoxville might not have a large supply of either, but I decided to go to the person who could answer the questions. He invited me to the Startup Day and to a follow-up interview.
We sat down at Coffee and Chocolate for a conversation and Jonathan noted that the event to which the reader had referred, Media Works, was specifically for tech startups and that those are generally dominated by males and, in fact, no females applied for that event. The board at the KEC actually has as many female as male members and the current chair is female and the organization is very interested in including both women and minorities. Sounds good, but I asked Jonathan to tell me some ways that the organization is reaching out to these groups.
The KEC currently sponsors a “Women in Technology” support group of sorts. They also have an ongoing relationship with the Executive Women’s Association in an effort to generate more female mentors. He pointed out (as you can see in the photographs accompanying this article) that women played a very large role in the recent Start Up Day, starting with the keynote address by Susan Packard, co-founder of HGTV.
Minority outreach – and Jonathan and I discussed the fact that it’s really outreach to children living in poverty – includes their involvement with the Knoxville Urban League. They’ve partnered with them to recruit members to their Co-starters program which is a nine week class that takes students (young or old) though the steps of developing an idea, a business plan and a pitch along with help provided by appropriate mentors for their project. They’ve also worked with the Emerald Youth Foundation. Matt Madlock, whose startup has attracted investment from Richard Branson, spoke to 25 – 30 students from that program.
So what about that big idea you’ve got? You’ve got an opportunity to submit your idea for a shot at a three-day crash course in developing and pitching the concept. The winner of the competition will be enrolled in the Co-Starters program with an opportunity to receive $10,000 at its conclusion to be used in implementing your newly-minted business plan. Think you’ve got what it takes? You’ll find the application and rules here. The deadline for this event sponsored by the KEC and the Chamber of Commerce is January 7, with the event taking place January 23 – 25.
Why is all this so important? Why do we need a KEC or events like this one? Because if one of these ideas really works out in a big way, we could have our next major employer or catalyst for investment. If a local person has an idea that draws several million in investment money, that’s cash that comes to our city. If we have enough of these work it can have a major impact on our economy and on the kinds of professionals and jobs we are able to attract. It really matters.
So get your Big Idea on and let’s see what you’ve got, Knoxville.