published Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Brock: Demo days showcase Tennessee startups

By Charlie Brock
Shoes made with a 3D printer by the company Feetz are displayed in this file photo.
Shoes made with a 3D printer by the company Feetz are displayed in this file photo.
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

August is a big month in Tennessee's thriving community of entrepreneurs: it's when many of Tennessee's startup accelerators host "demo days" to mark the graduation of their summer cohorts. Graduating companies have gone through a rigorous mentorship-driven program that has prepared them for the next step in their entrepreneurship journey -- and the results have been very strong, with every accelerator producing new companies that have generated strong investor interest and/or the customers they need to build a sustaining enterprise. Anyone who attended one or more of the accelerator demo days this month had to come away with a deep appreciation for the thriving entrepreneurial spirit that encompasses our state.

In Chattanooga, two graduates of the GIGTANK accelerator -- Feetz from San Francisco and Seambot from Alabama -- have decided to stay in Chattanooga to take advantage of the city's 1 Gigabit-per-second Internet and growing expertise in the 3-D printing/additive manufacturing industry.

In Knoxville, the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center graduated nine digital media companies through their inaugural MediaWorks program. For a first year cohort program, there is definitely a great deal of traction happening for these graduates. Four companies -- Audiohand, Vuture, Closeup.fm and Street Jelly -- are in the midst of looking at investment deals. ParOne, a digital signage company for golf, received a $100,000 investment during the MediaWorks program.

In Nashville, nine companies graduated from the Jumpstart Foundry (JSF) accelerator this August, and three have quickly attracted investor interest: Spotwise -- a real-time parking management platform to generate more revenue and reduce costs for parking lot operators -- secured their first investment from Premier Parking after a pilot program; Octovis -- a data collection services company that uses Google Glass to push patient data into the EHR -- is working on closing a funding deal; and Healthcare MarketMaker -- a cloud-based marketplace that empowers buyers and sellers of medical and dental practices -- recently closed a $65,000 investment. While JSF has traditionally provided $15,000 in seed funding to all cohort companies, they recently announced that going forward, each company will receive an investment of $100,000.

In Memphis, several startups from each of the four Start Co. cohorts are in talks with investors or making significant strides in other areas. From Start Co.'s Seed Hatchery accelerator, Phase has released a minimum viable product app in the Google Play store.

From the Upstart accelerator, Play-tag has more than 1,000 active members and a commitment from Hollywood Feed to offer their product in all 50 of its stores. eDivv has more than 4,000 subscribers, has facilitated more than 16,000 beauty product trades among 46,000 registered products and had 1.3 million page views in the last month. Barter Sugar has launched a private beta and has partnered with more than 10 universities and art organizations. Cabsolutely has a commitment from Yellow Cab and Checker Cab to provide their app to Memphis-based cab drivers upon successful build-out.

Start Co.'s Sparkgap accelerator saw Graph Story close its first angel round of $250,000 and launch a private beta with 250 users. Finally, in Start Co.'s Sky High program for social startups, Care2Manage has raised $30,000 to build out its platform and already has paying customers.

Another Memphis accelerator, ZeroTo510, also graduated a strong class of startups in the medical device field -- and each one received $50,000 in seed capital from co-investors Innova and MB Venture Partners. The four graduates are: Blood Monitoring Solutions, EndoInsight, Innometrix and Compression Kinetics.

A graduate of Tullahoma's autoXLR8R accelerator -- CyberLoop-- is taking advantage of Tennessee's network of accelerators with plans to continue its education at the Biz Foundry's fall accelerator in Cookeville.

Thanks to Tennessee's unique network of accelerators, this has been a very successful summer for startups in Tennessee -- and we're not done. Later this fall, Launch Tennessee will select the 10 of the most promising accelerator graduates to participate in The TENN, our master accelerator program that helps new companies get to the next stage of development. For more information on The TENN, visit www.thetenn.org.

Chattanooga native Charlie Brock is CEO of Launch Tennessee.

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