Knoxville Starts Here

Our Mission is to build a community here where entrepreneurs have access to the capital, customers and talent they need to be successful.

We believe:

  • Entrepreneurship lives at the intersection of creativity, commerce, and empowerment.
  • Startups thrive in the presence of diversity – of experience, opportunity, resources and culture.
  • New businesses add both economic and social value to our community.

Vision: A home for any startup here.

At KEC, we spend our time thinking about and working with entrepreneurs. A lot of time. Like always.

If you’re an entrepreneur, our goal at KEC is to get you started and help you grow, and to connect you with folks in the community who want to see that happen.

But there’s more…. At KEC, we are working toward an entrepreneurial ecosystem where a broad variety of stakeholders, public and private, for-profit and not, have a seat at the table, each recognizing that it has a uniquely important role to play in ensuring that new businesses have the resources, support and access they need to prosper. So even if you’re not an entrepreneur, you have a place in our community, and we’re here to help you find it.

Our Story

Our region supports a broad array of organizations who seek to provide entrepreneurs with advice, guidance and financing to support their efforts. Those include Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, the Knoxville Area Chamber, the Knoxville Area Urban League, Innovation Valley Partnership, Tech 2020, the UT Research Foundation, the UT Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, TVA, the regional Small Business Development Centers, Entrepreneurs of Knoxville and Score. Moreover, this region is also home to several world-class institutions that both create and support entrepreneurs in East Tennessee. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Y-12 National Security Complex, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Pellissippi State Technical Community College and Roane State Community College produce some of the most revolutionary ideas and technologies imaginable, and have added greatly to the abundance of opportunities for entrepreneurs to start new businesses here.

All of these organizations have become invaluable resources to entrepreneurs throughout East Tennessee, and strong drivers of economic and cultural development in our region. KEC is fortunate to serve a number of roles in that thriving ecosystem:

  1. In 2013, KEC became the ‘front door’ for entrepreneurs in East Tennessee. Through events, outreach programs and classes, KEC has attracted tremendous interest from our community for our efforts to invigorate and empower local entrepreneurs. Since opening in April, 2013, our efforts have allowed KEC to interact with hundreds of aspiring business owners, providing advice and guidance on the best path forward for their new enterprise. A growing pool of talented mentors represents an investment by our business community in the future prospects for this region, and the 24 teams that have graduated from our accelerator programs continue to set a strong example for others to follow,
  2. As importantly, by establishing strong relationships with other institutions and organizations that also provide entrepreneur-facing services here, our region has become the hub of a vibrant ecosystem working to increase opportunities for new business creation. There is now a consistent collaboration among assets in our community, connecting entrepreneurs with the resources they need to be successful. That robust network mentioned above has allowed us to multiply the impact of funding provided to those organizations. Whether through technology transfer, student initiatives or collaborative events, those partnerships have resulted in an even greater number of new businesses being successfully launched in our region.
  3. Finally, our collective efforts reflect a vibrant and resurgent community that is inspiring a new generation of entrepreneurs here. Startups working with KEC and other organizations are invigorating the region, creating opportunities to work in exciting, cutting edge businesses that will attract an innovative, diverse and talented pool of new workers to East Tennessee.

Our experience working with these businesses over the past eighteen months have taught us that entrepreneurs add both economic and social value to a community. As with many other communities nationally, there is a growing trend in East Tennessee toward a startup culture that embraces innovation and creativity, is less risk averse, and is becoming more accepting of failure. That trend is both the result of, and creates the demand for, organizations that can help support and nurture that process.

Continued success for KEC, and by extension for the region, will depend on our collective ability to continue addressing three areas critical to any startup community: 1) developing, retaining and attracting talented workers; 2) providing access to new sources of capital; and 3) establishing connections to the broader business community, enabling opportunities for mentors, partnership and customers to grow from those relationships.

In the long run, engaging entrepreneurs successfully demands a “whole community” approach. Much as in early childhood development, it takes a village to raise a startup. No one organization can provide all the resources a startup community needs. KEC’s approach to a strong regional partnership has allowed entrepreneurs here to find success through multiple channels, and has had a widely distributed impact throughout the counties in East Tennessee that will continue to grow as those relationships deepen.

Ultimately, it’s the startups that matter here, and startups succeeding here that matters.

KEC's guidance and resources were vital to the successful launch of Sing and Spell. The team there helped us make it possible. Thank you KEC!

Cathy Vangieri, President, Sing and Spell