Large crowd fills Scruffy City Hall for “Innov865 Investor Series” forum

Teknovation Biz article by Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Images by UTRF

They mostly came from the greater Knoxville area, but there was also a handful of visitors from Chattanooga and Johnson City who attended the inaugural offering in the “Innov865 Investor Series.”

Hosted by the “Innov865 Alliance,” the nearly two-hour program drew about 100 individuals – entrepreneurs, existing investors, and hopefully some interested in getting involved – on Tuesday evening to Scruffy City Hall on Market Square. It has become a favorite venue for events focused on the local entrepreneurial community.

Out-of-town entrepreneurs, we talked to at the event included Jason Luna and Nirav Patel of Chattanooga’s Rapid RMS, the feature story in yesterday’s edition of, and Johnson City residents Edwin Williams of Perserbid Inc. and David Nelson of BrewFund. Both Williams and Nelson are key drivers of the Startup Tri-Cities initiative.

What struck me more than anything about the Tuesday evening event was the breadth of “investment firepower” on the stage. It was clearly the most number of investors from the region that we have seen on one program in the more than six years that we have been covering events for

Brandon Bruce, Kristina Montague, Jack Studer, Grady Vanderhoofven

l-r: Brandon Bruce, Kristina Montague, Jack Studer, Grady Vanderhoofven

Those participating in one of three panels and explaining the focus of their firms or funds were:

They were joined by two local entrepreneurs – Chris Van Beke, Co-Founder and CEO of Vendor Registry, and Bob Bradley, CEO of NewsBreak Media Networks – who shared their experience in raising investment capital.

Brandon Bruce, Chris Van Beke

l-r: Brandon Bruce, Chris Van Beke

The line of the evening goes to Van Beke who observed that “it’s really easy to get to a yes, but really hard to get a check.” That’s sage advice for those who are trying to secure funding commitments for their start-ups.

As far as the panelists, they reflected the spectrum of capital from the earliest stage, represented by the not-yet-launched TennesSeed Fund that is targeted at proof-of-concept investments, to Greater Sum Ventures with its largest deal being a $250 million acquisition.

Brandon Bruce, Bob Bradley

l-r: Brandon Bruce, Bob Bradley

There was a common theme emphasized time after time by participants on the first two panels that were focused on early and growth stage investments respectively. They talked about co-investment, frequently noting deals they had done with fellow panelists, and the importance of traunching the release of funds based on entrepreneurs reaching established milestones.

Organizers of the event were John Bruck, a member of the “Innov865 Alliance” and also a very active member of Queen City Angels Ayala; Brandon Bruce, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Cirrus Insight; and Jim Biggs, Executive Director of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.

Bruce was the engaging and inspiring moderator.

*UTRF is a founding member of the Innov865 Alliance.