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The University of Tennessee Research Foundation has started a new mentoring program for entrepreneurs with a UT connection, in cooperation with Three Roots Capital.

The UTRF Checkerboard Portfolio offers a variety of help for startups, but focuses on how to get funding, according to a news release.

That’s where 3Roots’ expertise comes in, mentoring entrepreneurs through the fundraising process and offering the firm’s connections, according to Maha Krishnamurthy, UTRF assistant vice president of licensing.

“Getting companies to the stage where investors want to invest in their product or service is crucial for developing a foundation for future growth and success,” UTRF Vice President Stacey Patterson said in the news release. “Through the Checkerboard Portfolio, we can give entrepreneurs the tools they need to raise outside capital, develop customer relationships, and above all, craft the best story they can use to sell their product or service to investors.”

Checkerboard Portfolio is aimed mostly at new businesses seeking to commercialize technology developed at or with the research foundation. If those companies succeed, that can mean royalties for the research foundation which can be reinvested in Checkerboard Portfolio or other projects at UT, according to the news release.

“We already have companies in the Checkerboard Portfolio,” Krishnamurthy said. There are five so far, and the maximum the program can handle at once is about eight, she said.

“This is about creating an environment at UT that is conducive to entrepreneurship, startups, and support of companies that can benefit the University, its students and faculty, and the community,” 3Roots President and CEO Grady Vanderhoofven said in the news release. “Three Roots Capital is pleased to be a partner with UTRF on the Checkerboard Portfolio, and to have an opportunity to bring our skills and expertise to the table to contribute to the program’s success.”

The founders of 3Roots, which is only about a year old, are well known to the research foundation already, Krishnamurthy said.

Checkerboard Portfolio is a one-year program for now, but its backers hope to extend it if all goes well, she said.