KEC’s 2023 Year in Review

2023 has been a BIG year for KEC

We kicked off the year with a new team member, Kelsi Walker, who is our new Communications and Marketing Coordinator. We had another great What’s The Big Idea Pitch Competition with six highly engaged and dedicated teams. We celebrated 10 Years of KEC in April with a big party at the office downtown. In the Spring, KEC also hosted our first Inflection.Point program specifically for outdoor and recreation focused businesses. 

Amelia Bartlett, our Rural Outreach Coordinator, continued her work with rural communities across our region and helped support entrepreneurs across 15 counties. 

Over the Summer, we hosted our annual accelerator program, The Works, lead by KEC veterans – Bob and Melissa Camp, and had 5 engaged and dedicated companies. 

As always, our fall was exceptionally jam-packed. We hosted The Maker City Summit at The Maker Exchange to kickoff Innov865 Week in September. That week also included a Women in Entrepreneurship meetup, Startup Day, and Raising & Rising for us. We also kicked off the fall Co.Starters class that week because we don’t like to make things easy on ourselves. 

October and November weren’t any slower – we hosted another Made for Knoxville Meetup, lead a Brandcamp program for the SPARK Accelerator, kicked off the Let Her Lead program, and hosted Let Her Speak workshops! We also hosted our annual Growth & Grit event at the Southern Railway Station highlighting Knoxville’s Inc. 5000 nominated companies! 

It’s easy enough to list out all the events and classes we’ve held over the past 12 months, but we thought it might be a bit more impactful to hear from the KEC team members who made it all happen and pair those quotes with the actual numbers from our programs. 

2023 has been a great year, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2024! 

Total # of Event Attendees:


# of Rural Programming Participants:


# of Makers Served


# of Participants from underserved Communities


Total # of Events / Classes / Workshops:


# of Program Graduates:


# of Tennessee Counties Served: 


Total # of Startups Served:

Over 300


“Over the past 10 years, KEC has had the good fortune to be able to grow alongside a community that’s been growing up. It’s fun to see companies that were just starting out when I joined KEC in 2014, now grow and be successful. 

2023 has been a big year of growth for our organization, with the expansion of programming within KEC and across our programs like 100Knoxville, The Maker City, and Let Her Speak. We’re growing in all areas, and it’s been exciting to see everyone come together over the year to pull off great events.” 

-Jim Biggs, Executive Director

“My first year with the KEC team has been an incredible whirlwind. I’ve met so many amazing people and feel so inspired by the way this community encourages one another to chase dreams and build amazing businesses.

I have two favorite memories. What’s the Big Idea Pitch competition was so energizing. It was 48 hours of 8 teams building pitches to win $10,000. My favorite part was when I would get to pop into my friend Jaleria Rivera’s team for her project, Space Craft. I’ve known about Jaleria’s project for years and seeing her team of mentors and teammates take 48 hours to invest in the future of Space Craft was awesome. Watching the growth happen in real time, knowing how long Jaleria’s been dreaming about it, was beautiful.

My other favorite memory was working with the Maker City team and Summit Committee on this years Maker City Summit. I got to do a lot of behind the scenes work which really put me in a position to be able to see the hard work so many people poured into that event. It was incredible to see so many creatives believing in themselves and showing up for education and community building…. and there was a mini horse!”

-Kelsi Walker, Communications and Marketing Coordinator

“My favorite thing about being a part of KEC for so many years has been seeing our programming evolves and adapts to the needs of our community. I love seeing how What’s the Big Idea takes shape depending on the companies competing. I enjoy the challenge of planning Brandcamp based on the current marketing and branding needs of the companies participating. I love being a part of the Women In Entrepreneurship planning team because over the years we get to see how the speakers we’ve brought in have actually impacted the women in the group because they show up month after month and keep us updated. I’m excited for what the new year brings because we never know exactly what it will look like until we meet the companies participating.”

-Delaney Lawson, Operations Director

“It would be easy to say that The Maker City Summit was my favorite event of the year, but the moments that stand out the most are those that fall in-between.

Behind the scenes where the problem solving happens in smaller conversations – where makers share energy and passion to make it happen for the larger community. Those times are filled with consideration and laughter. Those are what fill my heart.”

-Courtney Hendricks, Director of Maker Initiatives

“It’s impossible to pick a favorite event or memory from 2023, there’s just too many! Moments that stand out for me are seeing all the Maker demonstrations at the Dogwood Arts Festival, the Maker City’s Resource Fair, the What’s the Big Ideas Pitch competition 48-Hour launch and traveling to Nashville for Launch TN‘s 3686 Fest. Knoxville has a thriving community of entrepreneurs and it’s awesome to be a part of it!”

-Holly Rainey, KEC and The Maker City Social Media Coordinator

“It is a continued joy to in the “front row” of such a vibrant entrepreneurial community. Big stages at events like What’s the Big Idea, Startup Day, and Raising & Rising are always a highlight for me – but what really stands out is the work that goes on behind the scenes. Entrepreneurship is no easy task, and I couldn’t be more proud of Big Ideas Welcome podcast guests Jonathan Clark, or artist Paris Woodhull,  who have shown the world what “The Maker City” is really capable of at scale – and I’m looking forward to working to help power the trajectory of folks like “Inflection.Point” graduate Hope Westall of Alt Route Meals and “The Works” graduate Edwin Williams of Zenhammer. I’m reminded every day that what we do is not just about “business as usual” for entrepreneurs – it’s about growing a sustainable culture, nurturing an active community network, and continuing to forge a path of unapologetic innovation for everyone willing to put in the work.”

-Chris McAdoo, Director of Strategy and Engagement

“I’ve been a part of Women in Entrepreneurship – Knoxville since I first moved to the area in 2017 and it’s truly amazing how much the group has grown. On the second Tuesday of every month, I leave KEC knowing lives were impacted that day. Women’s dreams were supported, knowledge was shared, and connections were made. And this year I had the opportunity to lead a workshop I developed with my dear friend, Booth Andrews. Going to a WiE meeting always makes me feel like I’m home.” 

-Catherine Porth, Director of Insights and Development

“From photographing to interviewing to writing stories of entrepreneurs, this year has provided so many incredible opportunities for storytelling. Through KEC’s Made For Knoxville initiative, I’ve had the honor of hearing from small business owners in every industry, learning what makes them tick, and helping them get their passion out into the world. Beyond that, I’ve loved exchanging stories through 100Knoxville podcast interviews, Let Her Speak events, and The Maker City Summit. In so many ways, KEC has facilitated meaningful connections for me and others in Knoxville.”

-Jalynn Baker, Coordinator of Storytelling Initiatives

From Jonathan Halley, (founder of Big Slate Media and B-Roll Bank), winner of the 2023 What’s The Big Idea Pitch Competition, participant in The Works 2023, and pitcher at Startup Day 2023: 

“The KEC has given me the support I needed to take on the risks and vulnerability of entrepreneurship this year! They gave me a platform to share my ideas, connected me with experts to help refine them, and opened my eyes to the incredible start-up community in this city. Because of this, 2023 was an incredible year of growth for my business but arguably more importantly, for me as a founder and entrepreneur. Winning the What’s the Big Idea pitch competition gave me confidence that people cared about the problem B Roll Bank solves. Being part of The Works cohort taught me discipline and practical steps to grow and finally, Start Up Day taught me I’m not alone – there are some amazing businesses in East Tennessee that are truly changing the world. Knoxville is certainly on its way to being the most founder-friendly city in the country and it’s because of the connection, support, and encouragement entrepreneurs get from the KEC.”

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