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December 12, 2012

As we head into the holiday season, one question comes to mind: What do small businesses really need? In listening to entrepreneurs, this is  big question that is asked often. Small businesses are concerned about the so-called “Fiscal Cliff”, the proverbial lack of capital and financing and fights over regulation. These stand as the bags of coal small businesses have been handed as gifts. So what else is “under the tree” that can motivate a small business to get into the “holiday spirit?”

To answer that question, one must jump into Santa’s sleigh and take a ride through the small business ecosystem in order to get a proper perspective. There is one area that is not controlled by regulation, nor requires approval from Congress, and fits with our Volunteer spirit in East Tennessee…MENTORING. There are several experts that are pushing the philosophy that mentoring is the next great movement in the growth of small businesses.

A quick sleigh ride through the Innovation Valley (www.knoxvilleoakridge.com) ecosystem and you will find formal mentor protégé programs, peer to peer mentoring, technical mentoring, and accelerated mentoring. Let’s take a quick look at some various programs.

Mentor Protégé Programs

First stop on our ride is atop the Knoxville Chamber offices. Over the past four years our mentors have helped change the lives of several small businesses. Mentors such as Prestige Cleaners, Tennova, ES&H, Children’s Hospital, Messer Construction and many others helped bring the mentor protégé concept into the Chamber world. We have protégés who are now leaders in their own industries and more importantly have found ways to keep their doors open and grow in the midst of one of the worst recessions we have ever seen. Our mentors are a testament to the fact that giving is truly why our region is fertile ground for entrepreneurs. We are now recruiting new protégés for 2013. To apply go to: http://www.knoxvillechamber.com/mentor-and-protege-program

With that shameless plug aside, other mentor protégé programs in the region include Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) whose program is designed to assist protégés in the federal contracting arena: http://www.orau.org/working-with-orau/procurement/proc-mentor-protege.aspx.  Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s mentor protégé program seeks to assist energy-related firms in an effort to enhance their ability to perform local area governmental contracts: http://www.ornl.gov/adm/smallbusiness/Mentor.shtml.

URS Corporation recognizes the importance of small disadvantaged firms and has established a mentor protégé program: http://www.urscorp.com/About_URS/index.php?s=37.

Government leader Y-12 supports the local and regional economy by mentoring small businesses and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) through the Socioeconomic Program Office (SPO). http://www.y12.doe.gov/business/socioeconomic/.

The City of Knoxville is strengthening its mentor protégé programming to assist firms through its Equal Business Opportunity Program (EBOP). Email Joshalyn Hundley on updates as this program: jhundley@cityofknoxville.org.


Technical Mentoring

Small businesses who need mentoring for micro-loans can simply look to the Knoxville Area Urban League (KAUL) http://www.thekaul.org/what-we-do/opportunity-to-prosper-entrepreneurship/.

For over forty years, SCORE has been one of the entities in our ecosystem that provide one on one technical mentoring: http://greaterknoxville.score.org/mentors. Their group of volunteer executives truly personifies the definition of mentorship.

When you visit the Knoxville Chamber, stop by the offices of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC), which also provides technical mentoring and one-on-one assistance counseling: https://www.tsbdc.org/default.aspx.

If your business is interested in international exporting mentoring you should speak with Rob Leach who runs the Knoxville Export Center office housed at the Knoxville Chamber: www.buyusa.gov/tennessee. If you are a manufacturer you definitely need to know about the services of the University Tennessee’s Center for Industrial Services (UTCIS): https://cis.tennessee.edu/Pages/default.aspx. They also have the Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) Program for those needing mentoring in the government contracting arena: https://cis.tennessee.edu/connecting/ptac/Pages/default.aspx.

Peer to Peer Mentoring

Peer to peer mentoring is strong in the region as well. The Knoxville Chamber has taken cues from small businesses and started a series of CEO Circle groups facilitated by business coaching firm Estrada Strategies:http://estradastrategies.com/knoxville/. Contact Mark Field at mfield@knoxvillechamber.com for more info. EOK has long been an example of peer to peer mentoring with a philosophy of “members helping members”:  http://www.eokhq.com/. Local family owned businesses have been helping one another through the Legacy Centre for Family Business and Entrepreneurship (TLC): http://www.tnlegacy.com/Entrepreneurs’ Organization – East Tennessee Chapter (EO ET) has been providing peer to peer guidance since 1996: http://www.eoeasttn.com/.

Just in time for the holidays, entrepreneurs should be excited about the new Entrepreneur Center under construction below the Knoxville Chamber offices: http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2012/oct/10/knoxville-entrepreneur-center-advances/. Along with the continued growth of the East Tennessee Accelerator Coalition (ETRAC): www.etrac.org small businesses do have many avenues and pathways to get mentoring.

This is just a quick overview of some of the many local mentoring programs that small businesses should see as “gifts under the tree” as you plan for 2013. If I missed a program that provides business mentoring, please count it to my reindeer mind and not my reindeer heart. Merry Christmas and Happy Mentoring!!!

October 24, 2012

The latest installment of an annual ranking from Tax Foundation finds Tennesseans enjoy the third lowest tax burden in the United States. The study combines both local and state tax rates to find the local tax burden.

Tennesseans have long enjoyed their status as one of just a handful of states with no state income tax, a factor that has made it a prime contender for business expansions and recruitment.

“The absence of a major tax is a dominant factor in vaulting many of these ten states to the top of the rankings,” the study concluded.

Tennessee’s state-local tax burden is 7.7% according to the study, well below the national average of 9.9%. In 2011, the same group found Tennessee’s tax burden a tick higher, at 7.8%. The Volunteer State has remained among the ten lowest tax burdens in the country since 1977 according to the Tax Foundation.

As indicated in the map below, the Tax Foundation found New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut the three highest taxed states in terms of tax burden.



October 12, 2012

Shortly after celebrating BHS Corrugated’s groundbreaking at Hardin Business Park, Rhonda Rice, the Chamber’s executive vice president and I left East Tennessee for a summit called CoreNet in Orlando, Florida.

CoreNet Global’s fall summit features more than 1,500 of the top corporate real estate decision makers in the world and gives us, as Chamber staff, the opportunity to meet and market available properties in the Innovation Valley region and keep our fingers on the pulse of global trends and possible company movement.

In fact, at CoreNet we had extensive conversations with one Dallas based site consultant. This individual is working on behalf of a manufacturer and has already started an analysis that includes East Tennessee. We’re hopeful to continue building that relationship and hopefully getting a closer look as this particular project moves forward.

There is some other good news according to the experts at the conference: industrial vacancy rates are declining across the United States. I believe our local rates will follow that trend and some of the facilities we have had on the market for three-to-four years will start to see increased interest and eventually be purchased.  Within the past few months, we are already experiencing more requests for information and property inquiries than we saw 2009-2011. As of today, our local industrial vacancy rate hovers around 8% while our office vacancy rate is around 9%.

A number of the sessions at CoreNet were directly applicable to what we do as Chamber staff while working to drive economic development in the area. Effective community/company partnerships, developing human capital and an effective workforce, the future of U.S. manufacturing, and the role of financial incentives in location decision making were just a few of the topics discussed.

Executives from a number of well-known companies, like Coca-Cola, Whirlpool, and Lockheed Martin led the sessions and provided real insight into we should expect as we market and recruit new companies to the Innovation Valley.

Another key component of the CoreNet event was a private reception held by the Tennessee Economic Partnership for business leaders and site selection consultants.   I have the privilege this year of serving as Chair of this entity which helps the State of Tennessee market itself as a great place to do business.

All-in-all, CoreNet provided a good experience for us to showcase what the Innovation Valley has to offer while helping maintain the relationships we work tirelessly to build with site selection professionals around the country.

Doug Laywer is the Knoxville Chamber’s vice president of economic development. He works closely with site selection consultants and business leaders from across the globe to promote the Knoxville-area and help brings jobs to the Innovation Valley.


October 05, 2012

So I am at a dinner meeting in Lousiville, Kentucky where one of my colleagues mentioned the word CO-OPETITION.

Immediately after our dinner,  I rushed back to my hotel and “Googled” the word and was instantly attracted to the philosophy behind it. In a nutshell,  Co-opetition (sometime Co-opertition) is the philosophy that marries competition and cooperation.

The theory was coined by New York University Professor Adam Brandenburger and Yale professor Barry Nalebuff. They have creatively created a framework for businesses to collaborate and gain growth while using the notion of “game theory” to change the way the business game is played.

All us as entrepreneurs are constantly looking for ways to beat our competition and find new clients before our competitors do. This is the game that has been played in business for decades. What if the best way to gain additional cash flow and clients is to partner with your competition? And what if while partnering with your competition you also decide to change the rules for which the game is played to suit your advantage?

Yes,  I know this sounds a little farfetched and sounds like another new way to sell books. However, this concept is actually an old philosophy that proves itself time and time again. Here’s the main concept:

Co-opetition is a combination of competition and cooperation. In the normal business world void of co-opetition, a business is in a static condition. This means you open your business in the same way, you provide a consistent service to your consistent clients and you market in the same ways to get new clients. The co-opetition model states that in the “new economy” things are more dynamic and most companies who want to grow can achieve more success by working with others than working alone.

When companies work together they can move from a static situation, i.e. a plateau in cash flow, and increase market share they would have never penetrated. At that point the same companies who were partners compete over the market share in the new market. Either way,  it’s a win-win for all involved.

We as entrepreneurs have been conditioned to think that the game of business is a cut throat winner takes all scenario. In this very global and dynamic new economy that notion and conditioning has shifted. Co-opetition says that there can be multiple winners in a given marketplace. The goal of any business is to create return on investment no matter the condition of others in your industry. No matter what part of the industry you examine someone is making profit. Putting the co-opetition philosophy into your business allows for you to be one of them.

Local examples of co-opetition strategies are evident in the partnership of local firm Green Mountain Coffee and Starbucks. Both sell coffee and are competitors but they found ways to practice co-opetition. Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee now compete with and against each other but in new markets that they created.

In the final analysis at some point in your business you will reach plateaus in your competition.  If you are at that point where you are winning your fair share against the competition but they are too then you should look at practicing the notions of co-opetition.  Moving forward the Propel program will be incorporating the practices of co-opetition into our training programs so stay tuned!

Doug Minter is the Knoxville Chamber’s Business Development Manager. Minter spearheads the Chamber’s Propel business development program and can be reached at dminter@knoxvillechamber.com.

For more information on Co-opetition go to http://mayet.som.yale.edu/coopetition/


September 19, 2012

The latest report from Brookings MetroMonitor shines favorably on Knoxville’s local eocnomy. The report, released September 18th found Knoxville as the 12th strongest overall metro area in economic recovery.

The ranking was up two spots from the 14th overall rating Brookings put on Knoxville last quarter.

See Knoxville’s complete ranking here:

Brookings found Knoxville among the top 20 in several economic areas including employment, output, and housing prices. The Knoxville metropolitan area has consistently ranked among the best in Tennessee in unemployment rate.

The think-tank’s study found government jobs have decreased in the Knoxville area while the fastest growing sectors are construction and mining.

Knoxville outperformed all other Tennessee metropolitan areas with the exception of Nashville, which finished one-spot higher in overall ranking at 11th.

In the latest quarter, output in the Knoxville metropolitan area actually jumped ahead of pre-recession levels. Other indicators, such as employment are now very close (less than 1%) to where they were at the start of 2008.

September 12, 2012

Former Tennessee quarterback and current team member at Tennessee Sports Radio Eric Ainge touched on Tennessee’s proud football tradition, role models, and the importance of community at a recent lunch event with the Knoxville Chamber’s ambassadors.

The Chamber Ambassadors are volunteers from Chamber member businesses who help promote the community and ensure Chamber functions run as smoothly as possible.

“You guys volunteer to help the Chamber and Knoxville, right? That’s why I moved back to here,” Ainge said. “Knoxville is the biggest small-town in America,” Ainge said. “Everyone knows each other and everyone helps each other.”

As a UT player, Ainge said he’d hear all the things about Knoxville and the importance of the football program, but it wasn’t something they really believed or took much stock in as 20-year-olds.

“I always heard when I was playing football, when we won games everybody else made more money,” he said. “As a player, it was a joke but now that I actually live here and doing what I do on radio, and television, it’s true. We’ve won two football games and with Florida this weekend, everyone is excited.”

Originally from near Portland, Oregon, Ainge also touched on his personal history and what he sees as potential problems with the way society views athletes. He pointed as situations like Tyron Mathieu, Louisiana State University’s “Honey Badger” who was recently kicked off the team.

Eric Ainge 3

Ainge asserts most fans don’t pay attention to the underlying problems that cause habitual drug problems, like marijuana use and essentially ignore the issues that cause the behavior in the first place.

“It’s easy to look at them as a fan and say ‘oh what an idiot!’,” he said. “We know how we treat these players, if Tyler Bray were in here right now, whew, he’s way cooler than I am,” Ainge said.

Ainge currently volunteers with the Metropolitan Drug Commission and other community groups to help stop prescription drug use among teenagers and young people.

At the conclusion of about a 15-minute discussion, Ainge opened it up for questions from the Ambassadors.

“I’m glad that I’m here and you guys want me to speak, it’s a lot cooler to me now than it would have been when I was 22-years-old. Just a few years later, it’s a lot more special to me because I know people appreciate my perspective.”

August 28, 2012

As the community kicks-off 2012’s United Way giving campaign, the Knoxville Chamber is once again proud to be a partner in helping make the community even stronger.

Over the past several months, Chamber staff members have been busy raising money for the United Way. Through an employee pledge drive, plinko games, and other fundraisers, Chamber staff have given and pledged more than $10,000 to the United Way’s effort.

Chamber CEO and President Mike Edwards addressed the crowd at Tuesday morning’s kick-off and stressed the importance of community support to the organization.

This year’s campaign, spearheaded by University of Tennessee Medical Center CEO Joe Landsman, is hoping to raise $12 million. This year marks the 90th year the United Way has served Knoxville.

August 16, 2012

Innovation Valley was in the driver’s seat in front of just under 1,000 automotive industry officials and executives at the recent Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing in Traverse City, Michigan.

Doug Lawyer, the Chamber’s vice president for economic development and current Chairman of the Tennessee Economic Partnership attended the annual conference. Lawyer stressed Tennessee’s prominent position in the industry and had the opportunity to share some of the opportunities available for automotive component companies in Tennessee.

“It is the best opportunity to network and meet automotive professionals each year,” Lawyer said. “I had the chance to speak with several individuals about Tennessee and what we have available from a facility and workforce standpoint.”

Lawyer said the National Transportation Research Center, carbon fiber research, and East Tennessee’s automotive history were all hot topics in his conversations.

“There are more than 900 automotive suppliers in Tennessee, and, of course, we have the three large manufacturing facilities in Nissan, General Motors, and Volkswagen,” he said.

Tennessee’s governor was also a part of the conference for the first time in its history. At a reception for about 100 automotive executives, Gov. Bill Haslam spoke of Tennessee’s business-friendly attitude and told the Pilot’s story.

Haslam is one of just a handful of governors not representing Michigan that have been invited to speak at the C.A.R. management briefing.

“The Tennessee Economic Partnership worked for more than a year to get a Tennessee representative in front of an audience at the briefing,” Lawyer said. “It’s the Michigan governor’s home-turf so it isn’t an easy thing to get a someone from another state. Governor Haslam was terrific and the Tennessee-specific reception as very well received by everyone at the conference.”

July 10, 2012

Half a year after national television cameras and production crews took over their West Knoxville neighborhood, things haven’t slowed down too much as the Watson Family and staff of The Restoration House plan an expansion.

Daniel Watson and Lori Haskell of The Restoration House addressed Knoxville Chamber Ambassadors Tuesday afternoon. Watson, who was flown with his family to Florida while the Extreme Makeover team gutted and refurbished his home shared his perspective while Haskell was able to give behind-the-scenes insight into the build process and what was happening at ground zero for the week of production.

The Restoration House offers services to single mothers in need. In many ways, the non-profits founder says they fill a niche between agencies such as Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries and Habitat for Humanity. ABC television crews spent more than a week in Knoxville last winter shooting for the show Extreme Makeover Home Edition.

Haskell largely dealt with the media and volunteers that flooded The Restoration House’s phone lines in the hours following the announcement they would receive the Extreme Makeover.

“There really is no way to prepare for what’s happening,” Haskell said.

Throughout the week, the ABC network crew filmed more than 600 hours worth of video footage that will be whittled down to a 2 hour television special airing sometime around Thanksgiving. At this point they haven’t set a date or time for the show to air.

During the week, producers flew Watson to Clearwater, Florida while they worked on the home. He wasn’t allowed to take photos but says the family received first-class treatment throughout the trip.

When he arrived back in Knoxville for the big reveal, it wasn’t the stunning refurbished home that caught his attention. Instead, he was awestruck by the volunteers standing outside the home to welcome the Watsons back to East Tennessee.

“The whole process was very overwhelming,” Watson said. “Things like that don’t just get done on their own.”

Since the show was shot, Watson says The Restoration House has put an eye toward the future. The non-profit is receiving about 35 referrals per month of single mothers in need of assistance. They’ve also made a significant land purchase of about 6 acres with plans to build up to 24 more housing units near their existing West Knoxville property.

They plan to break ground on the first round of expansion in October of this year.

June 15, 2012

Judges crowned Mark Wassenaar, the founder of Virtuous Products, Inc. as the winner of this year’s What’s the Big Idea!? Business Plan Competition Thursday night, sponsored by Rodefer Moss & Co.

Virtuous Products has developed a unique material that is ideal for flooring, counter tops, and outdoor casual furniture called Sedonite. Using recycled glass, Sedonite offers the strength and look of resin or cement-based competitors but at a much lower cost.

“We were impressed by all the entrepreneurs who took part in this competition,” Todd Napier, executive vice president of The Development Corporation of Knox County and co-presenter of the program with the Knoxville Chamber and Tech20/20 said. “Virtuous Products shows an enormous amount of promise and the judges indicated they expect big things from the start-up in the years to come.”

Virtuous Products started in the competition in April by submitting a simple business plan. From there, each of the 12 quarter-finalist companies attended a series of Idea Launch seminars with a focus on solidifying business plans in a format that would entice investors. In all, Virtuous Products survived four rounds of judging that included both written summaries and in-person presentations. Wassenaar is a Lenoir City resident and would like to start manufacturing operations in Knox County.

DineTouch, a start-up that allows restaurant patrons to order food directly from their smartphone and LineShark, a start-up offering professional audio input and output to any mobile device, provided worthy competition as finalists.

“I’ve been in manufacturing my whole life. I try to get out but it just keeps coming back because there is so much creativity involved. I literally lie awake at night thinking of new ideas,” Mark Wassenaar, the founder and CEO of Virtuous Products said. “This competition, even if I didn’t win, it would have been an unbelievable opportunity because the competition really helped me along the way.”

Wassenaar has plans to use the prize money to purchase a glass crusher, which will allow him to take recycled beer bottles and smash them into a sand-like consistency. From there, his company takes the material and can put it into a molding with a proprietary bonding agent that creates a faux stone surface that is as strong and less expensive than most competitors on the market today.

In all, Virtuous Products wins a prize package that includes:

•       $10,000 grant for start-up costs
•       $15,000 potential investment: Tech 20/20 Venture Start-up Fund
•       One-year’s rent at the Fairview Technology Center
•       Accounting services provided by Rodefer Moss & Company
•       Business coaching provided by CEO Advisors
•       IT Hosting/Services by The IT Company & Digital Crossing Networks
•       Legal Services by Kathleen Zitzman
•       Chamber membership by the Knoxville Chamber

•       Business coaching by Tech 20/20
About the Knoxville Chamber:
The Knoxville Chamber is the region’s leading business organization with more than 2,000 members that employ more than 276,000 individuals. More than 80 percent of Chamber members are small businesses with 50 or fewer employees. It fulfills its mission of Driving Regional Economic Prosperity by recruiting new businesses and supporting existing companies, and serves as the lead economic development agency in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley. The organization has an active government advocacy program and supports pro-business policies. Members receive marketing, networking, professional development benefits, and many other cost-effective services. For more information visit www.knoxvillechamber.com.

June 11, 2012

Thumbtack.com, in partnership with the Kauffman Foundation, has released new data showing that small businesses rank Tennessee among the top ten least costly states nationwide for hiring a new employee.  Tennessee ranked #6 on the list of least costly states to hire a new employee.

There are a lot of “business climate rankings”, but there aren’t any that draw upon considerable data from small business owners themselves. The Thumbtack.com Small Business Survey is the only survey to draw data from an extensive, nationwide universe of job creators and entrepreneurs themselves in order to investigate the best places in the country to do business.

“After a two-month survey of over 6,000 small business owners nationwide, Tennessee ranked very favorably across a variety of categories,” said Sander Daniels, co-founder of Thumbtack.com. “Small businesses continue to feel squeezed by the current economic realities, and state and local policies can mean the difference between success and failure. In a variety of areas, Tennessee seems to be doing a great job helping its small businesses succeed.”

Some of the key findings for Tennessee include:

  • Tennessee excelled in a variety of categories earning ‘A’ grades for the small business friendliness of its tax codes and its zoning regulations.
  • Surprisingly, women-owned small businesses in Tennessee felt much more comfortable economically than did their male counterparts. Female entrepreneurs were 38% more likely than male entrepreneurs to rate their company’s current financial situation as “good” or “very good”.
  • Although Tennessee ranked highly in many categories, it earned only a ‘B-’ grade for its overall small business friendliness. This is partly the result of Tennessee small businesses’ concern over their future economic prospects, for which the state ranked #30 nationwide.
  • Eastern Tennessee is the state’s stand-out region, receiving #1 rankings for 5 of the 17 categories rated by small businesses.
  • Small businesses run by liberals seem to be doing significantly better than small businesses run by conservatives. Liberal entrepreneurs in Tennessee were 25% more likely than the state’s conservative entrepreneurs to rate their business’s financial situation as “good” or “very good”.
  • The full survey results can be seen here and include full sets of rankings, dozens of easily searchable quotes from Tennessee small businesses, regional comparisons within states, and Census data comparing Tennessee’s key demographics against those of other states.

“I’ve had no problems whatsoever in establishing and maintaining my business here in Tennessee. I don’t think that I would be as happy anywhere else as I am here.” - CPR instructor, Murfreesboro

Survey methodology:
Thumbtack.com surveyed 6,022 small businesses across the United States. The survey asked questions about the friendliness of states towards small business and about small business finances, such as:

  • “In general, how would you rate your state’s support of small business owners?”
  • “Would you discourage or encourage someone from starting a new business in your state?” and
  • “How would you rate your company’s financial situation today?”

Thumbtack.com and Kauffman ranked states and cities against one another along 21 metrics.  The full methodology paper can be found here.

June 05, 2012

The following is a message from Knoxville Chamber President and CEO Mike Edwards:

Chamber Members,

Last night’s vote by the Knox County Commission was a big win for Knox County Schools and all those that support academic improvement. Together we proved that the school system and its improvement can, and should, be the central focus of citizens and elected officials.

Thank you for contacting commissioners, attending meetings, and being concerned. Please make a point to thank commissioners Sam McKenzie, Amy Broyles, Richard Briggs, Brad Anders, Mike Brown, Mike Hammond, and Ed Shouse.

The Knoxville Chamber is committed to working with Knox County Schools. We will push them to make improvements. We will demand that they show results. We will encourage them to identify savings and spend with focus and precision. Finally, we will work with them over the next year to demonstrate the funding needs to the community, the mayor, and the county commission.

We will need your help.

Thanks again,
Mike Edwards

June 05, 2012

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has named Jonathan Williams, president and CEO of Accord Federal Services this year’s Veteran Small Business Champion.

“These award winners represent the many excellent small businesses that we have in the Volunteer State,” said Walter Perry, District Director of SBA’s Tennessee District Office.  “All across Tennessee, our hard working award winners are the very best at what they do,” said District Director Perry.

Williams and Accord Federal Services won the award by demonstrating excellent performance and by providing services to veterans in the small business community.

Williams is expected to receive the award from SBA officials during a ceremony at the Knoxville Chamber later this month.

Williams, seen on the left with his management team was also a finalist for Young Entrepreneur of the Year at this year’s Pinnacle Business Awards.

SBA’s Tennessee District also honors Small Business Champions and award winners in several additional categories.  All the winners, along with the location of their businesses:

Tennessee SBA Small Business Persons of the Year: Famous Five Dining, LLC; Tamara and Michael Lister; Laurel and Doug Renegar, founders

Region IV SBA Home Based Business Champion: Beverley Anderson, Founder, Home Based Business Chamber of Commerce, Memphis

Region IV SBA Prime Contractor of the Year: Glenn Marcum, CEO, Ecostruct, Pleasant View

Region IV and National SBA Small Business Subcontractor of the Year: Misty Mayes, President, Management Solutions LLC, Knoxville.

Minority Small Business Champion: Tommy Vallejos, Founder, Hispanic Organization for Progress & Education in Clarksville

Financial Services Champions of the Year: Erick Hicklin from SunTrust Bank (regional bank winner), Nashville and Paula DeBerry from Commerce Union Bank (community bank winner), in Gallatin

Veteran Small Business Champion: Jonathan E. Williams, President & CEO, Tennessee Veterans Business Association, Knoxville

Jeffery Butland Family-Owned Business: Kim Willis, CEO, Columbia Construction Company, Columbia

Exporter of the Year: Barry and Monica Cochran, CEO & President, L.F. Deardorff & Sons, Cleveland

Entrepreneurial Success Award; Phil and Dianna Pipkin, owners, Phil’s Dream Pit, Kingsport

Womens’ Business Champions: Kimberly Bingham and Savannah Gulyas, owners, Sez Sew, Dyersburg.

National SBA Small Business Investment Company(SBIC): Michael Blackburn, Petra Capital, Nashville

A complete list of all award winners is available on the National Small Business Week Web site at http://www.nationalsmallbusinessweek.com.

May 29, 2012

After sifting through dozens of applications, the Knoxville Chamber, The Development Corporation of Knox County, and Tech 20/20 are proud to present this year’s finalists in the What’s the Big Idea!? Business Plan Competition. The competition is sponsored by Rodefer Moss & Company and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“Throughout this competition, judges have come away very impressed not only with the innovative ideas each competitor brought to the table, but also their dedication throughout a series of workshops focused on helping them build a business and get their product to market,” Todd Napier, executive vice president of The Development Corporation said. “We’re excited to see it all come together June 14 and help catapult one of these big ideas forward.”

Joey Natour of DineTouch presents to judges.

The 3 Finalists are:

Dine Touch, CEO Joey Natour

Smartphone integration of the dining experience that allows restaurant patrons to order food, pay their bill, and communicate with staff via their smartphone.

“DineTouch is unique because we integrate with the restaurants’ point of sales systems. Other companies in similar markets use text or faxing to receive orders. Integrating with the point of sales system means no hardware needs to be installed and it means the restaurant staff will use the same system,” CEO Joey Natour said.

Line Shark, Founders Jed Eaton and Jonathan Mayer

Professional audio output for mobile devices that allows real time recording for musicians directly into their iPhone or Android phone.

“By enabling simultaneous recording and playback, LineShark unlocks the potential for mobile devices to actively create and transform music,” co-founder Jed Eaton said.

Virtuous Products, CEO Mark Wassenaar

“Sedonite” product for counter top industry and outdoor furniture industry provides an affordable and energy-conscious alternative to using new materials.

“This innovative product allows, because of its fast initial set time and quick overall cure time enables the producer to create a product unlike any other in the industry aesthetically,” CEO Mark Wassennar said.

Each of the finalists will present their business plans June 14 at the Square Room on Market Square from 5-7 p.m., the public is invited to attend. The winner will also be announced at the event.

The winning entrepreneur will be eligible for more than $35,000 in capital and business services including:

  • $10,000 cash grant for start-up costs
  • $15,000 potential equity investment by Tech 20/20 Venture Start-Up Fund
  • One-year’s rent at the Fairview Technology Center
  • Services provided by: Rodefer Moss & Company (accounting), CEO Advisors (business coaching), The IT Company & Digital Crossing Networks (IT hosting and services), Kathleen Zitzman (legal services), Knoxville Chamber (membership), and Tech2020 (business coaching)
May 22, 2012

Knoxville Chamber member Management Solutions, LLC is taking home a prestigious honor from the U.S. Small Business Administration: Small Business Subcontractor of the Year.

The woman-owned business was named the winner Tuesday morning at a breakfast event sponsored by Sage as part of the SBA’s National Small Business Week celebration. A SBA news release details the awards and the SBA also has an interview with President/Founder of Management Solutions, Misty Mayes.

Management Solutions was selected from among nine regional prime contractors and 10 regional subcontractors of the year.  The award honor small businesses Management Solutions founder and president, Misty Mayes.that provide outstanding goods and services to the federal government as prime contractors or as subcontractors.

“When federal contracts get into the hands of small businesses, it is a win-win for the federal government, small businesses, the economy and the job market,” said SBA Administrator

Karen G. Mills.   “Last year, the federal government awarded nearly $100 billion in federal contracts to small businesses like the ones being honored today.  These businesses help boost the nation’s economy and they are outstanding examples of how to successfully navigate the federal contracting arena.”

Small Business Subcontractor of the Year: Management Solutions LLC is a woman-owned project management services company specializing in project management/control services, project management training, construction management, information systems application/integration, process improvement, and cost estimating services.  Since 2002, it has provided project management support to the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory for scientific, national security and infrastructure projects.  Management Solutions supports 17 divisions of the laboratory.  The company developed Oak Ridge’s project management system, its procedures, software solutions and trained Oak Ridge’s lab personnel.  It has grown from three employees to 40 and from a contract valued at $8,000 to more than $18 million.  It also holds subcontracts from the Department of Defense and various commercial firms.

May 17, 2012

Thursday afternoon the Knoxville-Knox County League of Women Voters became the latest group to stand behind the Knox County Board of Education’s proposed budget plan. The plan would require an additional $35 million in structural funding and promises increased student achievement in Knox County.

“If you want to change the fate of the children and the future of our community, tell your commissioners to pass this budget,” the league said in a written statement. “It is a bold plan to advance the schools quickly and ensure that more children succeed.”

The Chamber’s board unanimously approved the plan several weeks ago in a unanimous vote. You can read more about the resolution they approved and the Knox County School Board’s plan here.

See below for the League of Women Voters’ entire statement:

The League of Women Voters of Knoxville-Knox County supports adequate funding for public schools based on our state position, and formally endorses the $35 million increase in the schools budget as recommended by the Knox County School Board.

The Education committee urges all members to read the following facts and contact your commissioners immediately to support adequate funding for education and this once in a decade opportunity to invest in a stronger community. WE MUST BE VOCAL NOW! THE VOTE COMES IN TWO WEEKS AND COMMISSIONERS ARE COUNTING CALLS, EMAILS, LETTERS. CONTACTS ARE BELOW.

1) OUR SUPPORT IS BASED ON THESE FACTS (sources: KCS, Metropulse, and Chamber)

* Only 47% of our third-graders scored proficient or advanced in reading under the new higher state standards.
* In the Class of 2011, only 19% hit all 4 ACT benchmarks, a nationally recognized indicator of college and workforce readiness (only 685 students out of 2,905 are prepared!).
* Over 60% of students going to area community colleges need remediation.

* Per pupil expenditures of $8,508 this past school year fall
well below the state average of $9,084, and further yet, below Hamilton County’s
$9,398 and Davidson County’s $11,080, let alone Oak Ridge’s $12,112.
* Knox County has not increased its $2.36 property tax rate in over 12 years. The median homeowner would pay around $10.65 a month , given how the current proposal is written. For someone with a $100,000 house that amounts to .21 cents/day, much less than a cup of coffee.

The proposed budget is based on Knox County School’s first ever five year strategic plan, a roadmap to the investments needed to improve our school performance. The budget adds a $35 million increase over the $384,670,000 base budget. This is on top of the expected $13 million increase in state funds due to enrollment growth. We consider the $35 million the equivalent of a permanent raise. It is a bold plan to advance the schools quickly and ensure that more children succeed.

Key points:

– Spending will pay for school renovation costs up front, avoiding debt and large interest costs over the long term.
– In the first years, most of the increase goes to renovating schools; The proportion shifts after Year 1 and more of the increase will go to the classroom and operation portion; The operational budget will increase by $7 million more over each of the next 5 years. See charts at www.bethebestknox.com

– The plan targets 9 research-based strategies for improvement including: instructional coaches, full day and five year age kindergarten, additional teaching days, learning technology, including school-wide wifi access, devices, training, and tech support, community schools to address family and community involvement and non-academic needs [local League position], and performance pay. See full list at: http://knoxschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/443879/File/2012-13%20Budget/Video/vid3.htm?sessionid=e3ef8166c94163587128379876684d4
–The base budget includes a 2.5% base raise for all teaching staff plus merit raises for nearly half the teaching staff. Under this plan, if granted a “raise,” the increase in funds coming from enrollment growth could then go toward increasing base salaries for teaching and support staff [*LWV position promotes raise in base pay for teachers and staff, we rank 37th in state].

– The schools agree to be accountable to the citizens and produce improvement [*LWV would like to see an annual report].


1. Knox County Schools lists documents and past presentations on their homepage to understand the budget and Five Year plan:

2. As a public service, the Chamber created an easy to read website to
help citizens learn about the school budget and strategic plan at: www.bethebestknox.com Budget charts and documents are found in one place: www.bethebestknox.com/p/meeting-in-box.html

3. All the news articles related to the budget, with good analysis: http://www.bethebestknox.com/

4. Critics say Central Office is bloated, but salaries and numbers do not reflect this. See report: http://www.knoxvillechamber.com/pdf/Everything%20You%20Might%20Want%20to%20Know%20about%20Central%20Administration.pdf

** NOTE: To send an email to every county commissioner, send to: commission@knoxcounty.org Individual commissioner names, addresses and phones are found at: http://www.knoxcounty.org/commission/pdfs/kccdirectory.pdf Emails are
** NOT SURE OF YOUR DISTRICT? Go to www.kgis.org– Choose Online Data and then Voter Location – this will tell you all of your elected officials for your address.

Sample Wording


May 21: County Commission work session at 2:00pm to speak at public forum, call 215-2534 to get on the agenda.
May 29: County Commission meeting at 1:45pm*; to speak at public forum, call 215-2534 to get on the agenda.
May 30: THEY VOTE! County Commission special called meeting re: KCS’ Budget at 5pm*

To receive weekly e-newsletter information about the budget proposal from Support Our Schools, send your email to sos.knoxtn@gmail.com.
LIKE the Support Our Schools Facebook page.
If you like social media, please post your support on Facebook and Twitter.

May 17, 2012

Two East Tennessee startups with strong ties to the Chamber’s mentor/protégé program earned high honors at Governor Bill Haslam’s Innovation Conference.

StallTalk, an advertising concept that places huge banner ads across portable toilets and DineTouch, a downloadable application that allows diners to order and pay for meals from their table, both received accolades at the conference.

 The TennesseanStallTalk received a “Judge’s Best” award, Founder and CEO Matt Tunstall has contracts to cover 143,000 port-a-johns across 62 markets in 25 states.

Tunstall is a part of the Chamber and Innovation Valley’s mentor/protégé program that pairs young businesses with established business leaders for guidance.

“It’s a captive audience, with people often waiting in line 15 minutes or more to get to the restroom,” Tunstall said. “We thought we might as well give them something to look at while they’re waiting.”

“I’m proud to see these companies earn this recognition at the state level and I think there are even bigger things on the horizon for both of the young men,” Doug Minter, the Knoxville Chamber’s business development manager said.

The young company is also part of the new entrepreneurial initiative ETRAC, the East Tennessee Regional Accelerator Coalition, a multi-organizational effort to help push start-ups to success. The Chamber is a partner in that effort.

“Prior to the recession, I think we had an ego-system, with companies touting their own benefits, and now I think we have an eco-system with everyone working together to make the region one of the best places for young businesses to grow in the country,” Minter said. The Tennessean

Joey Natour’s DineTouch earned the People’s Choice Award at the conference. Natour worked with the Chamber through the Propel program. Propel provided counseling to the company. The sessions helped Natour grow the idea and work through issues as DineTouch started to grow.

“Nobody offers in-restaurant mobile ordering now,” Natour said. “Mobile ordering is now limited to take-out food.”

DineTouch potentially offers restaurants more revenues because guests would no longer have to wait for servers to take an order. Instead, they can succumb to cravings and order instantly, receiving their products faster and potentially ringing up larger orders.

May 16, 2012

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has named Knoxville-based Management Solutions, LLC, as Region IV Subcontractor of the Year.  Management Solutions also is eligible for the SBA’s Subcontractor of the Year national award that will be chosen from among the 10 regional winners and presented during Small Business Week, May 20-26, in Washington, D.C.

Management Solutions was nominated for this award by the Small Business Programs Office of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for its work in project management, project controls, and related IT and administrative support.

“I am absolutely thrilled for our team that Management Solutions has been selected for this honor,” said Misty Mayes, PMP, president and CEO of Management Solutions, LLC.  “We are immensely proud of our partnership with ORNL and thank them for their nomination of us and our work.  We have a dedicated team focused on providing ORNL with expert project management/project controls to support scientific and national security projects as well as the many ORNL infrastructure projects required to ensure that the physical environment supports the Laboratory’s scientific agenda, and to be recognized for our work is a true honor.”

The ORNL Small Business Programs Office works diligently to ensure opportunities for small business subcontracting at ORNL. The ORNL Small Business Programs Office mission is to serve as the advocate and point of contact for small businesses and educational institutions that seek contracting opportunities within the Laboratory.
“We first started working with Management Solutions when they were a part of ORNL’s Mentor/Protégé Program, and quickly realized that they knew how to do business,” said Keith S. Joy, director, ORNL Small Business Programs. “They perform outstanding work, they listen to their customers, they accept advice on how to better their services, they are patient, and what I really like, is that they give back to the small business community by helping other small businesses understand how they are successful.”
Nominees for the award were judged on several criteria including overall management, delivery performance, technical capabilities, labor relations, cost performance, resource utilization, customer interface and results.  The SBA is divided into 10 regions with SBA Region IV encompassing eight states: Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.

May 11, 2012

Friday morning, a group of small businesspeople rallied to show support for the budget adopted by the Knox County Board of Education. The $35 million structural increase requested by the Board will implement the Knox County Schools’ 5-year strategic plan, which emphasizes high skills, technology, and the critical thinking so important in today’s workplace.

“I, and the small businesspeople that have joined me this morning, have something very important to say to the Knox County Commission,” said Terry Turner, owner of All Occasions Party Rentals. “Adopt the budget recommended by Knox County’s Board of Education!”

More than a dozen small businesspeople attended the gathering. Their message was that they view the $35 million structural increase requested by the Board of Education and the 35-cent property tax increase required to fund it as an investment in their companies, their children, and the community.

“As a retail business we depend on the health of the local economy to survive,” said Kristi Lannon, owner of Crass Couture, which hosted the group of small businesspeople. “A key ingredient in the growth of this business is the growth of the local economy. I am convinced that as new businesses come to town and existing businesses grow, their new employees will visit my store. So, how do we attract new companies and new jobs? A well skilled workforce is the key.”

Communities with a high skilled workforce will attract the best, highest paying jobs in the future. Knox County, home to a major research university and with major research assets nearby, is poised to be a significant player in the high tech economy. However, without ample high skilled workers companies will locate and grow elsewhere.

“Perhaps the most important thing you need to run a successful small business is dedicated employees,” continued Turner. “Those employees must be skilled and well educated too.”

Small businesses, perhaps more than larger companies, need employees that function without supervision, can independently solve problems, are fluent in technology, and are able to multitask. Levels of management and oversight are not possible in small businesses. Therefore, employees must have excellent skills and a high quality education. The Board of Education’s budget plan provides students with that level of academic rigor and holds teachers, principles, and administrators accountable for the results. Currently, 81 percent of Knox County graduates lack the necessary skills to enter the workforce or move on to post-secondary training. Once implemented, students graduating will have those skills and businesses will have more success in finding the employees they need.

Turner, Lannon, and others in attendance have children that attend Knox County Schools. “They deserve the best education possible and the best future we can give them. And so does each and every Knox County student!” said Lannon.

May 08, 2012

The Knoxville Chamber recognized the best of the best in business at the eighth annual Pinnacle Awards gala held on May 4, 2012 at the Knoxville Convention Center. The event was presented by BB&T and honored recipients in nine categories. The categories recognize the range of businesses that make up the thriving Knoxville economy, and honor contributions to business enterprise and the greater community.

The winners are as follows:

Innovator Award, sponsored by Pershing Yoakley & Associates – Given to a business that has developed a new technology, innovative product or service, or applied a business system or service in an innovative way. Finalists were Agile Technologies, Aqua-Chem, and Cadre5.

The winner is Aqua-Chem. From developing portable water purification systems that delivered water to American forces during World War II to cutting edge sustainable technology that will enable industrial plants to recycle up to 90 percent of wastewater, Aqua-Chem has spent 83 years establishing itself as a global leader in water technologies. Initially based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the company relocated to Knoxville in 1989 to take advantage of a skilled, flexible workforce in an expanding area of the country with excellent transportation access.

Small Business Excellence Award, presented by BB&T – Honors a small business with 50 or fewer employees that has consistently grown its workforce and revenue and overcome obstacles including access to capital, operational efficiency, control of expenses, customer loyalty, and distribution. The finalists were All Occasions Party Rentals, M Force Staffing, and Management Solutions, LLC.

The winner in this category is All Occasions Party Rentals. With the goal of providing clients with a “unique event experience – every event, every time,” the company has established itself as the area’s premier party rental company. Its diverse inventory enables the company to accommodate everything from high-end parties, weddings, and large festivals, to small gatherings at someone’s house. The company experienced its most profitable year in 2011, and in March 2012 launched a new sister-company, All Conference & Expo Services, and secured the contract with the Knoxville Convention Center to operate as the preferred contractor for tradeshow services.

Impact Award, sponsored by Aqua-Chem – Presented to a business that displays a commitment to making East Tennessee a better place to live through the development and support of a community or program. This year’s finalists were Grace Construction, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and PetSafe.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters was presented the award. In three-and-a-half short years, the company and its employees have made monumental gifts of money and time to the Knoxville area. The Brewing a Better World grant program has contributed $350,000 to local organizations and plans to infuse another $830,000 during 2012. Through its CAFE Program, which stands for Community Action for Employees, Green Mountain encourages employees to volunteer at a non-profit or school by providing 52 paid hours each year for such activities. This program has generated 21,000 volunteer hours by employees in the Knoxville area.

Minority-Owned Business Excellence Award, sponsored by Covenant Health – Presented to a minority business that has produced outstanding business results and growth and overcome the obstacles of race or sex. Finalists were Always Moore Janitorial Service, ComputerWorks, and Manny’s Catering.

Always Moore Janitorial won this year’s award. The company is a commercial and residential janitorial service located in Oak Ridge that provides methodical, detailed, and professional cleaning services. Always Moore was started in 2008 by Delnise Moore, a 2012 graduate of Innovation Valley’s mentor/protégé program. The company’s revenue tripled in the first two years of operation, doubled in the third year, and tripled again this past year.

Woman-Owned Business Excellence Award, sponsored by LBMC – Given to an outstanding East Tennessee woman-owned company that is independently owned, operated, and controlled by a female. The winner is selected based on a demonstrated ability to compete in a non-diverse field. The finalists were Ackermann PR, Elizabeth Eason Architecture, LLC, and The Trust Company.

The winner is The Trust Company. Founded in 1987 with just three employees The Trust Company is the oldest independent trust company headquartered in Tennessee. Now, as it celebrates its 25th anniversary, the company has 54 employees and manages assets of approximately 1.6 billion dollars. The Greater Knoxville Business Journal’s Book of Lists ranks it as the largest woman-owned financial services company in the area. It offers its clients a full-range of services that include investment management; personal trust; estate administration; retirement plan services; IRA’s; and financial, estate and generational planning.

Business Excellence Awards – Awarded to a company headquartered in East Tennessee or a company with significant presence in East Tennessee that has shown remarkable profitability, growth, and stability. Nominees must be recognized regionally, nationally, and/or internationally in their respective business sector and should have made significant investments in facilities and employees. Two awards are presented, one company with 51-150 employees company-wide and one company with 151+ employees

Finalists for the Mid-Sized Business Excellence Award were Consolidated Products, Inc., Power Systems, Inc., and Strata-G, LLC. The 2012 winner is Consolidated Products. As technologies have evolved over the years, so has the company. It offers customers flexographic labels, and a full spectrum of services and solutions including dome labels, digital printing, laser die cutting, thermal transfer, and Radio Frequency Identification just to name a few. Its IDentiTRAK Technologies division specializes in providing turnkey RFID and warehouse management solutions. The company is an industry leader in lean manufacturing and provides products and services worldwide.

The finalists for the Large Business Excellence Award, which was presented by Cherokee Distributing, included 21st Mortgage Corporation, Cellular Sales, and Jewelry Television. The winner is Cellular Sales. Founded in 1993 by University of Tennessee graduates Dane and Meg Scism, the company is the nation’s largest Verizon premium wireless retailer. During each of the last four years the company has been named one of the nation’s fastest growing, privately owned retailers by Inc. magazine. A three-year growth rate of 193 percent has Cellular Sales ranked on the Inc. 5000 as the 75th fastest growing retailer. The growth is only going to continue as the company plans to open 150 stores in 2012, increasing its total number to well over 600 stores nationally.

Young Entrepreneur Award, sponsored by UT-Battelle – Presented to a professional forty or younger who is on track to be one of tomorrow’s top business and community leaders. 2012 finalists for the award were Parker Frost, founder of Gigmark, Chris McAdoo, owner of Best Behavior Creative Club, and Jonathan Williams, founder of Accord Federal Services.

The winner is Parker Frost. Frost started the custom software solutions company that produces a patented Interactive Flash Drive technology in 2008. The IFD technology provides a cost-effective, cutting-edge marketing tool for companies with its three-pronged approach. It provides a branded physical media, it offers branded interactive software, and it includes a content management system and user analytics allowing clients to update and edit their message on an ongoing basis. Gigmark’s client list includes such established nationally brands as Ford, NASCAR, and General Motors.

James A. Haslam, II Leadership Award, sponsored by Prestige Cleaners – Awarded to a longtime business leader who exhibits strength in character, resolve, commitment to our community, and exemplary success in business.

Larry Martin is the 2012 honoree. He spent 36 years with First Tennessee starting his career as a branch manager in Memphis and retired in 2006 as the Chief Operating Officer for First Tennessee Financial Services where he oversaw all the Tennessee regional bank markets; merchant services processing; Hickory Venture Capital; Synaxis Group; and the commercial, corporate, and middle market divisions of the bank. His career brought him to Knoxville in 1987 as the regional president of the bank and he never left. His community service included leadership roles on the boards of the Covenant Health System, Family Investment Foundation, East Tennessee Foundation, Partnership for Neighborhood Improvement, the Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation, the Boy Scouts, Leadership Knoxville, and the Knoxville Chamber. Upon retiring, he joined Mayor Bill Haslam’s administration as the senior director of finance and deputy to the Mayor, a role he maintained after Mayor Haslam became Governor Haslam, during the interim tenure of Mayor Daniel Brown. This past November, Mayor Madeline Rogero asked him to lead the transition team for her administration.

The Pinnacle Business Awards is one of Knoxville’s marquee annual events and over 550 businesspeople attend the annual celebration sponsored by BB&T. This year, attendees were treated to an exciting evening marked by a reception and silent auction, sponsored by WSI Oak Ridge, followed by dinner and awards presentation emceed by Robin Wilhoit of WBIR-TV.

Additional sponsors included EnergySolutions, the Greater Knoxville Business Journal, Bluegill Creative, Bandit Lites and Sound Ventures. Media sponsors included the Greater Knoxville Business Journal and Knoxville News Sentinel.

April 27, 2012

After sifting through dozens of applications, the Knoxville Chamber, The Development Corporation of Knox County, and Tech 20/20 are proud to present this year’s quarterfinalists in the What’s the Big Idea!? Business Plan Competition. The competition is sponsored by Rodefer Moss and Company.

“All of the applications were very impressive and we’re excited to move forward with these twelve quarterfinalists,” Todd Napier, executive vice president of The Development Corporation said. “Nurturing start-ups and small businesses is a big part of what we do and we’re proud to have Rodefer Moss, the Knoxville Chamber, and Tech 20/20 helping inspire entrepreneurs.”

The 12 quarterfinalists are:

Casenova Backpack

Innovative backpack design

Dine Touch

Smartphone integration of the dining experience

Energy Video Game

Energy awareness video game

Games Plus

Mobile video gaming theater


Web-based credentialing service to assist emergency responders

Infinite Aero Solutions

Unmanned aerial vehicles for law enforcement agencies

Line Shark

Professional audio output for mobile devices


Shoe appearance alteration product

Perpetual Inventory

Perpetual inventory counting device for high volume SKUs


Silicon water bottle for easy travel and use

Virtuous Products

“Sedonite” product for counter top industry and outdoor furniture industry

Winning Diabetics

Multi-lingual diabetic network and affordable diabetic product brand

Each quarterfinalist now advances to a series of courses led by community business leaders with a focus on developing an effective business plan that is ready to present to venture capitalists. Six semifinalists will be identified following judging of an executive summary and will then pitch their ideas to a panel of judges.

The final round of judging will take place on June 14 at the Square Room on Market Square from 5-7 p.m. The three finalists will pitch their ideas to a final set of judges and a live audience. The winner will also be announced at the event.

The winning entrepreneur will be eligible for more than $35,000 in capital and business services including:

  • $10,000 cash grant for start-up costs
  • $15,000 potential equity investment by Oak Ridge National Laboratory & CROET
  • One-year’s rent at the Fairview Technology Center

· S Services provided by: Rodefer Moss & Company (accounting), CEO Advisors (business coaching), The IT Company & Digital Crossing Networks (IT hosting and services), Kathleen Zitzman (legal services), Knoxville Chamber (membership), and Tech2020 (business coaching)

April 26, 2012

Citing the need for a well-educated and high-skilled workforce, the Board of Directors of the Knoxville Chamber voted Thursday morning to support the budget adopted by the Knox County Schools Board of Education, which requested funding in the amount of $432.71 million, and included a structural increase of $35 million. The budget funds KCS’s bold plan to increase student performance and meet the performance targets in the strategic plan.

“The community with the best schools wins,” said Mitch Steenrod, chairman of the Chamber Board. “A highly skilled workforce makes the difference in a local company’s ability to grow, provide good, high-paying jobs, and contribute to the community. It is also the key differentiator when companies decide to relocate or expand. This will be the preferred location for new jobs if we make Knox County Schools the Best in the Southeast – a goal adopted by the School Board and Knox County Commission.”

In 2007 the Board of the Knoxville Chamber realized that a leading public education system was critical if the Innovation Valley region was to accomplish it goals of attracting high paying jobs, capitalizing on the high tech, research, and science assets of the area, and excelling in the global economy. The organization began working with the Knox County Schools system, challenging it to demonstrate which programs were successful and articulating precisely the kinds and amount of additional resources it needed to produce students with an adequate education. That work lead to the formulation of a strategic plan and KCS’s 100-90-90-90 goal. The Chamber also secured grant funding, designed, and built the Education Management Information System – a data warehouse that turns information into a management tool available to principals and teachers.

EMIS allows educators to track individual student progress with granular detail and allows administrators to budget with a complete understanding of the impact of each educational program. EMIS helped to inform the recommendations made in the budget adopted by the Board of Education, and will be used to clearly demonstrate where the system accomplishes its goals and where it falls short.

The Chamber’s work with KCS has been focused solely on outcomes because well-prepared students are critical for business and personal success.

“While Knox County’s unemployment rate is the lowest among the state’s metro areas, it is too high and there are too many people underemployed,” said Mike Edwards, the Knoxville Chamber’s president & CEO. “At the same time, there are companies in the region that have job openings they cannot fill because available workers do not have the needed skills. That’s an indictment of our education system and it means we all need to focus on ensuring that students are getting the proper problem-solving skills. We must do a better job of preparing students for the jobs of the future – jobs that will require high-tech skills and the mental agility to identify problems and find solutions.”

The Knoxville Chamber Board clearly stated that if the KCS budget is funded by the Knox County Commission it must be accompanied by the highest degree of accountability possible, which means appropriate action should be taken if adequate results are not shown in five years.

The resolution is as follows:

A Resolution of the Knoxville Chamber Board of Directors SUPPORTING


WHEREAS, in order to become America’s Best Business Address, the Knoxville region needs to have the most-skilled and educated workforce to meet existing and future industry workforce needs; and

WHEREAS, higher levels of education are fundamentally linked with increased earnings, increased spending, job growth, increased tax revenue, and increased social welfare; and

WHEREAS, the Knoxville Chamber entered into a critical friendship with the Knox County Schools (KCS) five years ago and immediately identified budget development and cost analysis as a priority in order for the KCS to significantly improve its student outcomes; and

WHEREAS, the Knoxville Chamber partnered with the KCS to develop a data warehouse tool called the Education Management Information System (“EMIS”), which allows for the analysis of multiple types of relevant school and student information, including pairing student performance with the costs of instruction or programs in determining the return on tax dollar investment; and

WHEREAS, the Knox County Schools Board of Education and Knox County Commission together committed to a goal for the Knox County Schools to be the best school district in the Southeast United States; and

WHEREAS, the Tennessee Supreme Court has determined that the State Constitution requires that the state provide, at a minimum, an adequate education described as “the opportunity to acquire knowledge, develop the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally prepare students intellectually for a mature life;” and

WHEREAS, the Basic Education Program (or BEP), established in the Tennessee Education Finance Act of 1977, defines the formula used by the State of Tennessee to allocate state funds for K-12 education to school districts; and

WHEREAS, the current provisions of BEP funding are insufficient to provide an adequate education for all students in Knox County and are insufficient to reach the ambitious goals outlined in the KCS Strategic Plan; and

WHEREAS, the current funding appropriated from Knox County is also insufficient to fund an education that will produce a skilled and educated workforce; and

WHEREAS, only 38 percent of KCS incoming freshmen graduate in four years with both a high school diploma and a score of 21 or better on the ACT; and

WHEREAS, only 47 percent of KCS third-grade students scored “proficient” or “advanced” in Reading/English Language Arts on the TCAP in the 2010-2011 academic year; and

WHEREAS, a mere 19 percent of the KCS class of 2011 met all four ACT college readiness benchmarks, which are proven indicators of a student’s likelihood of success in post-secondary training and the workplace; and

WHEREAS, by analyzing data extracted from EMIS to understand where resources are currently allocated in the KCS, the KCS staff developed a Return on Investment (ROI) Report, with Knoxville Chamber input, that demonstrates the present return on investment for several major district initiatives, including the Magnet school program, block scheduling and Project Grad; and

WHEREAS, the ROI Report recognizes the incremental progress KCS has made in achieving the Performance Targets outlined in the Strategic Plan but acknowledges that this progress is insufficient and that multiple strategies and intense effort are necessary to produce the desired outcomes, which require a significant additional investment in the Knox County Schools; and

WHEREAS, the Knox County Schools Board of Education approved a budget of $432.71 million to fund a bold plan to increase student performance and meet the Performance Targets in the Strategic Plan, which includes a $35 million structural increase to be appropriated in FY 2013 and fully integrated into the general operating budget in FY 2017; and

WHEREAS, should such a budget increase materialize it shall be accompanied by the highest degree of accountability possible, which means appropriate action should be taken if adequate results are not shown in five years; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED, that the Board of Directors of the Knoxville Chamber supports the request of the Knox County Schools Board of Education for a budget request of $432.71 million, including a structural increase of $35 million; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that copies of this resolution shall be forwarded to the Knox County Schools Board of Education, the Knox County Commission, the Mayor of Knox County, the Knoxville City Council, and the City of Knoxville Mayor.

ADOPTED at a duly called meeting of the Board of Directors of the Knoxville Chamber at which a quorum was present and voting, on the 26th day of April, 2012.

April 12, 2012

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The Knoxville Chamber is proud to announce 24 finalists for the 2012 Pinnacle Business Awards. Over 175 companies were nominated for eight different awards recognizing outstanding businesses and businesspeople. Each year the Chamber’s board of directors is charged with the tough task of judging the applications and determining the finalists and eventual winners.

“A Pinnacle Award is the most prestigious award you can win as a local businessperson, entrepreneur, or organization,” Mike Edwards, President and CEO of the Knoxville Chamber said. “We’re proud to honor the dedication, community support, and success these businesses all represent.”

The Pinnacle Award winners will be announced May 4 at the Pinnacle Awards Gala, presented by BB&T at the Knoxville Convention Center. Tickets and table sponsorships are available at the Knoxville Chamber’s website.

Young Entrepreneur Award, presented by UT-Battelle:

Parker Frost, Gigmark

Chris McAdoo, Best Behavior Creative Club

Jonathan Williams, Accord Federal Services, LLC

Impact Award, presented by Aqua-Chem:

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters

Grace Construction


Minority-Owned Business Excellence Award, presented by Covenant Health


Manny’s Catering

Always Moore Janitorial Service

Large Business Excellence Award, presented by Cherokee Distributing

21st Mortgage Corporation

Cellular Sales

Jewelry Television

Mid-Sized Business Excellence Award, presented by the Knoxville Chamber

Consolidated Products, Inc.

Power Systems, Inc.

Strata-G, LLC

Woman-Owned Business Excellence Award, presented by LBMC

Ackermann PR

Elizabeth Eason Architecture LLC

The Trust Company

Innovator Award, presented by Pershing Yoakley & Assoc.

Agile Technologies



Small Business Excellence Award, presented by BB&T

All Occasions Party Rentals

M Force Staffing

Management Solutions LLC

The Pinnacle Business Awards, presented by BB&T are sponsored by: WSI Oak Ridge, EnergySolutions, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, Aqua-Chem, UT-Battelle, Cherokee Distributing, Covenant Health, Prestige Cleaners, LMBC, The Greater Knoxville Business Journal, and Bluegill Creative. Production assistance is provided by Bandit Lites and Sound Ventures.

April 09, 2012

Sixteen Knoxville Chamber restaurants are participating in the ninth annual Dine Out For Education Tuesday, April 17. The event raised more than $17,000 for Knox County Schools last year.

Participants agree to give 10 percent of that day’s revenue to Knox County Schools.

Knoxville Chamber Restaurants Participating


McAlister’s Deli


Brixx Pizza

Lenny’s Sub Shop

Sonny’s Real Pit BBQ

Mahogany’s at Crowne Plaza



Puleo’s Grille

The Lunchbox

Peerless Restaurant

Chandler’s Deli

Jason’s Deli

Cafe 4

Latitude 35

In all, 41 restaurants across Knox County will be participating in the annual event.

March 30, 2012

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A homegrown company and former tenant of the county’s small business incubator, Visionary Solutions, is proud to announce an expansion to the WestBridge Business Park in West Knox County.

The minority-owned company provides materials transport services for a number of clients in East Tennessee and currently employs approximately 78 people with plans to add more within the next 1 ½ years. Over the past 18 months, Visionary Solutions has worked with Doug Minter, the Knoxville Chamber’s business development manager to find space that will allow his business to grow.

“It’s herculean. We started out in a  one-room incubator space and we moved into a 15,000 square foot space. Now we’ve got 9 acres,”  Cavanaugh Mims, Visionary Solutions founder and owner said.

Visionary Solutions purchased 2553 Quality Lane, a piece of property in WestBridge. The space formerly housed the 84 Lumber Truss Plant and was privately held  prior to the sale. The move is a  great example of the Chamber’s  on-going efforts to help existing  businesses thrive in the Innovation  Valley.

Mims is anticipating the purchase will amount to more than $3 million in capital investment, with an initial investment of $1 million. As the corporate headquarters, Mims also anticipates a number additional jobs will be added over the next several years as the move allows the company to triple its office space.

“Cavanaugh and Visionary Solutions are the poster child for what we try to do when it comes to business retention and expansion at the Chamber,” Doug Minter, the Knoxville Chamber’s business development manager said. “Visionary Solutions has shown the dedication to not only start a business that delivers great value to its clients, the company is now giving back and helping other start-ups in the area.”

A mentor in the Knoxville Chamber’s mentor/protégé program, Mims is sharing office space with Quality RX Returns, a protégé in the program. The Chamber’s mentor/protégé program pairs start-up business owners with established business leaders in the community. Since it’s inception three years ago, participants in the Chamber’s mentor/protégé program have seen more than $30 million in local economic impact and the creation of several dozen new jobs. The mentor/protégé program is a component of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley regional economic development initiative.

“To whom much is given, much is required. Somebody had to help us get to where we are now. We’ve opened ourselves up to new opportunities and sometimes joint ventures can be a lot more opportunity than just going alone,” Mims said.

Mims expects to be moved into their new facility in May.

March 13, 2012

Knoxville is tied for the crown of best city for jobs this spring, according to a survey released Tuesday by ManpowerGroup, an employment services group.

After surveys conducted with 18,000 employers across the country, Manpower found about one-quarter of Knoxville businesses plan to add employees this spring. Knoxville and Greenville, SC are tops in the country.

Knoxville’s health care industry, automotive suppliers, renewable energy services, and food manufacturing are doing particularly well right now, says Rhonda Rice, executive vice president of the Knoxville Chamber.

Some of the biggest employers in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley are Scripps Networks, Covenant Health, Energy Solutions, Exedy America, Pilot Flying J, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“Through our existing industry visits we have seen companies beginning to hire again,” Rice says. “As the economy has picked up, even if only slightly, Knoxville companies are feeling more confident and are proceeding with expansion plans that have been on hold for the last couple of years.”

Syracuse, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa rounded out the survey’s top 5.

You can read more about the Manpower Group survey at Forbes’ website.

March 05, 2012

Several East Tennessee teams picked up honors at the 2nd Annual Smoky Mountains Regional of the FIRST Robotics Competition over the weekend.

You can see the robots in action here. In the competition, teams design, build, and operate robots against teams from other schools.

Hardin Valley Academy’s team picked up honors for the Engineering Excellence Award sponsored by Delphi for their basketball playing robot. Oak Ridge High School won the rookie of the year award and the team from Rogersville was a regional finalist.

“FIRST is a great way to showcase what a STEM education is all about to the entire community. These students are working hands-on with science and putting together the skillset many of our employers are looking for right here in East Tennessee,” Jennifer Evans, the Knoxville Chamber’s vice president of workforce development and education said.

The three regional champions expected to go on to nationals are:
LaSalle, Ontario
Indianapolis, IN
Somerset, KY

For more on the competition, check out FIRST Robotics’ Tennessee website: www.tnfirst.org

March 01, 2012

A pair of Knoxville Chamber members deserve to be celebrating after being named 2012 Blue Ribbon Award Winners from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Now, the two businesses, Analysis and Measurement Services Corporation and Pyxl need East Tennessee’s help to take home a $10,000 prize.

“We’re honored to be selected as one of the U.S. Chamber’s Blue Ribbon Small Business Award winners,” said Josh Phillips, president of Pyxl said in a release. “The last few years have been a period of significant growth for Pyxl and all of our employees, and it’s great to be recognized by the U.S. Chamber for our growth and success.”

Both businesses are part of a field of 75 total candidates from across the country. To help them out, head to the U.S. Chamber’s voting portal and cast your ballot. You can only vote once per e-mail address. Voting closes March 15.

“Today, the Chamber celebrates the positive impact made by these companies and is proud to recognize them for their outstanding achievements,” said Thomas J. Donohue, U.S. Chamber president and CEO.

In addition, two Knoxville businesses were commended for their business practices and contributions to the economy. The honorees are Studio Four Design and The Tomato Head.

The Knoxville Chamber congratulates all four of the local businesses on their success while encouraging the community to show Pyxl and Analysis and Measurement Services support by giving the businesses their vote.

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