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Connecting entrepreneurs to an ecosystem of support

Jim Biggs and Brandon Bruce, executive director and board chair of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, respectively, share some insight into the factors that set Knoxville apart as a hub of entrepreneurship.

For Jim Biggs, one of the best parts of working with Knoxville’s entrepreneurs is getting to see companies succeed across an incredibly diverse range of industries.

“One of the strengths of our community is that we’re able to accommodate just about any kind of business growing and succeeding here,” he shared. “We have the number one manufactured home producer in the world; we have the number one operator of travel centers and convenience stores in the world; we have the number one operator of movie screens in the world.”

In this episode of Disrupt the Continuum, Biggs, along with Brandon Bruce, share how KEC is working to further strengthen Knoxville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and support makers and startups through collaborative partnerships.

Providing a Gateway to Knoxville’s Resources

When a group of entrepreneurs and community leaders decided to start KEC, they mostly wanted to create a hub where entrepreneurs could get connected with all the other resources that already existed in the community.

“We needed a front door for entrepreneurs, and a place for people — agnostic to what they were doing — to be able to start and grow a business, and to provide a sort of connective tissue to all the other amazing organizations and institutions here,” Biggs shared.

With this goal as its foundation, KEC provides programming to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses, but it also introduces those entrepreneurs to other organizations and resources throughout the region.

“Not only is Knoxville a great place to get your start, and Knoxville Entrepreneur Center is the front door,” Bruce explained, “but once you do get that market traction, there’s a tremendous number of resources that will help you to scale and help you to get that growth that you need.”

Bruce — an entrepreneur who’d seen firsthand the benefits of Knoxville’s ecosystem — decided to take this connectivity one step further by creating the Knoxville Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Guide, a comprehensive “map” of all the resources available to entrepreneurs.

“There are more resources every year,” he explained. “They’ve changed over time, but thankfully there’s more and more coming in support of entrepreneurs every year.”

For Biggs, the guide demonstrates just how far Knoxville’s organizations have come in terms of building partnerships and connections.

“We were able to pull that list together probably in the matter of a week,” he shared. “It’s a really strong testament to the power of the relationships that have been built here between those organizations.”

Building for the Future

Even as they appreciate all the growth they’ve seen in Knoxville’s entrepreneurial community, Bruce and Biggs are determined to continue building more opportunities to help entrepreneurs thrive.

For example, since Knoxville was the first official Etsy Maker City in the U.S., KEC launched The Maker City initiative, helped build a maker directory, and partnered with Etsy to provide craft entrepreneurship classes to local makers.

They also turned Brand Camp — a program that teaches content creators how to build a business — into a partnership with the University of Tennessee where communication department students are paired with a startup for an internship practicum.

With these and other programs, Bruce and Biggs take pride in the fact that they’re equipping people to turn their passions into businesses, which in turn fosters greater economic development and attracts talent to the region.

“More and more people in Knoxville are embracing the fact that they can do what they love, make a great living doing it, and make a lot of people happy with the goods and services they can produce,” Bruce shared.

Please subscribe, rate, and review Disrupt the Continuum wherever you listen to podcasts. This season we’re sharing Tennessee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem story. It’s about how, as a statewide community, we collaborate and provide resources founders need to build, scale, and execute their businesses. It’s the power of our statewide network and the boots-on-the-ground startups that #BuildTN.

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