Whether it’s a high-growth startup or taking the next step in a handmade business, we are creating space for big ideas.
10 years. 1,000s of events, classes, & workshops. 1,000s of entrepreneurs. 1,000s of connections.
Knoxville Entrepreneur Center is a business accelerator built in 2013 to serve as a bridge for entrepreneurs in East Tennessee. Since opening, KEC has been a “center of gravity, without being the center of attention” in our entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Our work consists of concentrated efforts to help build a collaborative, supportive environment where entrepreneurs can thrive.
We do this through mentorship opportunities, classes, events, and cohorts to help every kind of entrepreneur at any stage.
Our Purpose is changing lives through entrepreneurship.
KEC exists to help people with ideas become founders with companies. We work to increase the economic and community success of founders from all walks of life, as well as early stage companies in Knoxville and East Tennessee by connecting them with the resources they need, from mentorship and education to capital.
Our Mission is to create a thriving entrepreneurial community that is accessible, diverse, and sustainable.
Our community should be a place where entrepreneurs have access to the capital, customers and talent they need to be successful. We are a member of the Innov865 Alliance, a group of companies and stakeholders dedicated to advocating for Knoxville’s startups and entrepreneurs, ensuring our ecosystem is strong, vibrant and coordinated.
Our Vision is to become the most founder-friendly city in America.
At KEC, we spend our time (like, all of our time) thinking about and working with entrepreneurs. Our goal is to get you started, help you grow, and to connect you with folks in the community who want to see that happen. We are committed to developing the ecosystem and providing a welcoming environment for all types of entrepreneurs and makers.
- 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.
- KEC is funded by partners who are 100% on board with our purpose, mission, and vision.
Innovation: We are “founder-first” and believe that big challenges are best met when creative ideas are allowed to flourish, imagination is rewarded, and “it’s always been done this way” is never accepted as an answer.
Connectivity: We believe that an intentional, engaged network is essential to a successful entrepreneurial community, and that the people and companies that “came before” share a calling to lift up those that are “up next.”
Sustainability: We believe that a culture of entrepreneurship is crucial to building a healthy community, economy, and environment.
Diversity: We believe that a successful community culture thrives in the presence of diversity – of people, experiences, and opportunities.
Accessibility: We are committed to an inclusive, accessible entrepreneurial community, where those who are willing to take risk, create opportunities, and turn big ideas into action are supported and given access to the resources necessary to succeed.
In April 2013, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center began hosting events, outreach programs and classes to uplift and empower local entrepreneurs. Over time, these efforts have attracted tremendous interest from our community. This has allowed us to interact with hundreds of aspiring business owners, offer guidance and become known as “the front door” for entrepreneurs to find the best path forward for their new enterprise.
Since opening, KEC has established strong relationships with many institutions and organizations that also provide entrepreneur-facing services in the region. Those include 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.
There are also several world-class institutions in the area that both create and support entrepreneurs in East Tennessee, namely 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. These organizations 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.
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.
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 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.
We believe strongly in the power of connections – and we want to connect with you. Follow Knoxville Entrepreneur Center on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to see what’s new. Sign up for our mailing list to stay up-to-date with our event calendar, local startup news, and everything else going on at KEC.
Knoxville Entrepreneur Center does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, ethnic or national origin, sex, disability, age status as a protected veteran or any other class protected by Federal or State laws and regulations and by Tennessee Board of Regents policies with respect to employment, programs, and activities.
How to use KEC:
Connect with a Mentor: Got an idea for a new business venture? Come talk to us! Attend a LiftOff session to meet with a panel of our amazing community business mentors and learn how we can help you. Or send us a message and let us guide you through the process.
Participate in an Accelerator Program: Feeling stuck trying to get to your next level? That’s okay. That’s why we’re here. Choose from a wide selection of programs designed to help you advance forward towards your dreams no matter where you’re starting from. There’s something for everyone. Go here to find where you might fit in.
Join a Community: Find a community that can best surround and support you through your journey.
Attend KEC Events: You are welcome to attend our public events where we can meet and chat about you, your idea, and what we can do to help you. Sign up here to get our mailing list so you can stay current on what is happening at KEC (we usually communicate once a week). You may also follow us on our blog, Facebook and Twitter, or check our event calendar to learn about upcoming events that way too.
Become a Stakeholder: Stakeholders, public and private, for-profit and not, all have a seat at the table in the entrepreneurial ecosystem we are working towards – 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.
Become a Mentor: Over the years, we have worked with a growing pool of talented mentors from the business community as well as teams that have graduated from our accelerator programs – both which continue to set a strong example for others to follow. If you’re a coder, designer, writer, strategist, attorney, MBA etc. we often have possibilities to join startup teams during our programs, and we have all sorts of interesting events for you to attend, network, and learn. We refer to you as our Technical Mentors. Interested in becoming a mentor, tell us more about yourself here.