Entrepreneurs from 10 startups are on a tour across Tennessee after winning a spot in the state's master business accelerator program, and they stopped in Chattanooga Wednesday.
The new program—called The TENN—is part of a public-private partnership by Launch Tennessee, which aims to support the development of high-growth companies throughout the state with the goal of job creation and economic growth.
Twenty businesses recently pitched for a chance to participate in the program, and judges chose 10, including one local company called HATponics.
At the Wednesday event, leaders of Chattanooga Renaissance Fund announced a new $10 million fund to support local entrepreneurs.
Leaders of the fund have currently received commitments of $2 million toward their goal of $10 million and are hoping to double their pool of partners to more than 100.
The top 10 chosen got access to $10,000 in funding and an array of resources and connections that will be made available during a tour of the state.
After one company dropped out, officials added another locally based company, called HutGrip, whose leaders also recently pitched at the Gig Tank Demo Day.
The roadshow includes stops throughout the state, where the startups will meet with executives at companies such as Eastman Chemical, Scripps Networks Interactive, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, HCA, First Tennessee and FedEx.
Participants have a chance to network, present short elevator pitches and receive feedback at each visit.
Wednesday morning, before pitching at a luncheon at a new downtown workspace called Society of Work, the entrepreneurs pitched to BCBST officials.
And BCBST is a sponsor of the event.
Roy Vaughn, vice president of corporate communication with BCBST, said the company leaders who are pitching on the road tour are future job creators in the state. And they are potential BCBST customers, he said.
Although BCBST is often associated with sponsoring causes that relate to health, promoting economic growth is part of the company's mission. The company also sponsored last summer's Gig Tank competition.
"We believe that fostering innovation is good for Tennessee," he said.
Last year, BCBST gave more than $10 million in community giving across the state, he also said.
And some of the entrepreneurs who pitched have health-related businesses, which BCBST leaders are paying close attention to, Vaughn said.
Surgilight by View Medical
CEO of View Medical Simren Dhaliwal told the audience that doctors and veterinarians need better lighting to see during surgery.
He talked about the frequency of surgeons leaving foreign objects inside patients after surgery and about how poor lighting can be a time-sucker and safety issue.
"[Our product] is a cost-effective alternative to reduce surgery times and improve patient outcomes," he said.
They are also working to get the product into medical schools and eventually want the Surgilight to be used at medical facilities and animal hospitals.
The team is looking for a $400,000 investment to help support their work.
CEO of Vendor Registry Brian Strong said his company is aiming to make it easier and more efficient to work with local governments.
Vendor Registry allows business leaders to find potential deals and governments to find more companies bidding for projects.
The product is sold as a subscription-based model, and company leaders want to eliminate repetitive paperwork and digitize documents to make it easier for businesses and governments to work together.
"It's high-revenue, high [profit] margins, and it's ready to grow," Strong said of the business.
Jian Huang, CEO of Survature, told the crowd that the survey industry has two problems—survey fatigue and bad data produced from surveys.
So his company aims to change the user experience and make taking surveys feel less like a test.
Businesses can use the company's product to get better feedback from customers and ultimately better serve them, he said.
The surveys his team have created are user-friendly and not invasive, he said. The product, called AnswerCloud, collects and analyzes survey responses and can help business owners get important feedback, he said.
"The user experience becomes one of, 'Let's have a conversation,'" he said.
Richard Billings, CEO of Screwpulp, said that breaking into the traditional book publishing model is nearly impossible. And anyone who does get a book published doesn't get a great portion of the sales revenues.
Many people have turned to self-publishing, and Screwpulp is an e-book marketplace that allows writers to promote their own books.
"It's a marketplace to sell work and get analytics to track marketing—making them the CEO of their own book company," he said.
The company will keep 25 percent of every book sold via the marketplace, and he said the company has a $2.2 billion potential market.
CEO James Bell said his team has created a product that makes it easier for hospital patients to move around with all their medical equipment.
He said that, sometimes in hospitals, it can take up to five people to help a patient walk around.
So his single platform that has six wheels and a low center of gravity is a better way to get patients mobilized without requiring so much help.
The team has already sold 100 Mobilizers.
They are asking for $400,000 to launch a marketing campaign and plan to be cash flow-positive by the middle of next year.
HutGrip is cloud-based software that monitors manufacturing processes, so leaders manage their processes and predict and prevent equipment failures, Bogdana Rakova, who pitched for the team, said.
HutGrip sensors collect and store data—temperature, humidity, speed, pressure, flow, vibration levels, energy consumption per machine and others.
The team is currently working with six businesses in five different industries, such as wine making and snack cake production, to perfect the product.
They are seeking $500,000 and strategic partners in the manufacturing world.
Hydroponics is soilless agriculture, and aquaculture is the farming of fish.
With HATponics, Cox and his team of about 11 employees use the waste from the fish they raise to grow food, such as herbs, vegetables and fruit, in a portable format.
Then, they can ship the portable farms anywhere in the world to help feed masses and educate students.
Cox has a research farm in Rossville, Ga., and office space on Chattanooga's Southside at The Company Lab.
He and his team want to feed 20 million people worldwide by 2020, he said.
This company aims to connect companies with hackers. And hacker means "somebody who maintains mastery over computers," CEO Teja Yenamandra said.
Yenamandra and his team can help any company looking to disrupt, innovate and overturn an existing market, he said.
Elite talent can be difficult to find, he said. So Gun.io can help connect talented developers with companies that need their skills.
The company has gotten to where it is on about $15,000, and the team is now looking for $550,000 to make three new hires.
Yenamandra said his company will be cash flow-positive in month 12.
Got You In
CEO John Mark Eberhardt designed an app to help connect barbers with customers.
He is selling tools to barbers to help them manage appointments.
Since February, he and his team have registered more than 300 barbers in 38 states.
Their system allows people to book appointments within 45 seconds, and they are selling the app to individual barbers for $25 a month. It's $50 a month for a barbershop and free to students.
Eberhardt also said he plans to offer the app to salons.
Steven Elliott pitched eClinic, which aims to break down barriers between patients and health care providers.
eClinic is the virtual communication line between providers and patients that provides more effective and convenient communication, he said.
The online app allows patients to connect with providers via phone or computer.
It has basic intake documents, a scheduling tool and secure two-way voice and video messaging, Elliott said.
The team just secured some funding from a venture capital firm in Nashville and will create revenue by charging providers fees and via transactional fees, he said.
"Better health care begins with better communication," Elliott said.
Sign up for our email list to get your morning news delivered directly to your inbox. All we need is your email address.