Today’s article is written by Contributing Writer, Heather Ryerson
Knoxville Entrepreneur Center opened its doors in 2013 as a business accelerator to support and help sustain entrepreneurs through programming, classes, mentoring, and education on reaching financial goals. This year marks their 10th anniversary, and former Mayor Madeline Rogero who was present at the original ribbon cutting shared her enthusiasm for how the organization has thrived. She shared pieces of her original speech from the opening of KEC and highlighted the importance of supporting individuals with big ideas to make their dreams become reality.
Knoxville already enjoyed a talented business community, whose leaders wanted to help a new generation reach its potential. This drove the creation of KEC. A part of the key to success in any city is its economic development and supporting entrepreneurs toward success helps to grow and retain the talent that creates that development.
KEC’s website states, “Since 2013, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center has been a ‘center of gravity, without being the center of attention.’ We’ve built a collaborative, supportive community with our partners where entrepreneurs can thrive.” They believe in changing lives through entrepreneurship with a focus on innovation, diversity, connectivity, sustainability, and accessibility.
I sat down with CEO Jim Biggs, who has been with KEC for 9 ½ years, nearly the entire life of the organization, and Chris McAdoo, local maker and Director of Strategy and Engagement at KEC. Chris is also the host of the podcast, Big Ideas Welcome. This podcast, sponsored by KEC, is dedicated to creativity and big ideas and how those can change the world. We discussed the past 10 years of work at KEC and the impact it continues to have on the city.
The organization’s mission is to support founders (entrepreneurs) so that they can take the next steps in their business plans. While the focus of the mission has always been entrepreneurs, they have shifted from a focus the businesses to the founders themselves. They recognize that behind every business and idea are people, and helping those individuals and groups to become their best enhances the company and the community.
Chris emphasized the importance of meeting founders where they are. Whether you are coming in with a dream or coming in with an established business, KEC can help you to go the next mile in your journey whether that is with gaining capital, getting legal advice, or helping you to dream even bigger. KEC supports businesses, both large and small, and has the ability to work with everything in between. This allows them to have the most significant impact on Knoxville’s business community emphasizing connection and education.
Jim has lived in cities around the country, and he senses a unique quality in the Knoxville community and its people: a willingness to to invest in each other and a desire to see other businesses thrive. We want to learn each other’s stories. A KEC communities Made for Knoxville, led by Jaylnn Baker focuses on that storytelling. It “is a storytelling initiative led by Knoxville Entrepreneur Center to spotlight Knoxville’s diverse entrepreneurial community – ranging from “solopreneurs,” makers, growth stage tech companies, investors, and established institutions.”
If you click on no other links in this article (although I hope it won’t be just one!), visit the Made for Knoxville website. You will find a business, creation or idea that will introduce you to some incredible people. It will make you proud to live in our city and may even direct you to a new favorite business. KEC offers a directory of over 400 entrepreneurs. The largest such directory in the country, expect them to supercharge this community in the coming years.
With a dozen programs geared at all levels of entrepreneurial interests, there is something for everyone.
Other communities you may recognize are The Maker City, which hosts the Maker City Summit and provides regular meet-ups for the maker community, Let Her Speak (also has a podcast), and Women in Entrepreneurship (WiE), both led by Catherine Porth. These communities support their respective groups and provide networking, mentoring opportunities, and relationship-building. One of my favorite events hosted by KEC and the Mayor’s Maker Council is the annual Maker City Summit. You may recall the article I wrote on my experience attending last fall. It is a must-do for anyone who is looking for inspiration, connection, and practical tools to grow their business.
KEC also does its own version of Shark Tank with the “What’s the Big Idea” Pitch Competition. This contest allows businesses and individuals with big ideas to present those to the community for open voting and select judges to have a chance to win $10k, provided by the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce, toward their innovation. This year’s winner was Jonathan Halley with Big Slate Media.
KEC provides a service to Knoxville in ways we may never fully know, and I’m certain they will continue to provide the highest quality service and energy to propel our business community toward higher growth. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the benefits of diving into this organization, so if you have an idea or want to know more about how you can support KEC as a mentor, coach, or partner, click the link and get started!