Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Spotlight: Knoxville, TN

Knoxville, TN

Knoxville, TN ranks #4 on their listing of the TOP 10 Cities with the Lowest Startup Costs.
(source- smartasset.com, Septemeber 5th, 2015)

Knoxville, TN, also known as K-Town and the Heart of the Valley, is the third largest city in the state of Tennessee. It is also the home of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the University of Tennessee, which was formed in 1794 as Blount College, and is known as one of the gateways to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The city is located between the Great Smoky Mountains to the east and the Cumberland Plateau to the west. It is also located on the Tennessee River which is formed from the confluence of the Holston and French Broad Rivers. According to a September, 2015 study by smartasset.com, Knoxville, TN ranks number four on their listing of the TOP 10 Cities with the Lowest Startup Costs. Only Wichita, KS, Columbia, SC  and Chattanooga, TN rank higher.

Based on this ranking, FundingSage has reviewed the resources that make up Knoxville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem:

Entrepreneurial Meetups:

  1. 10X Business Masterminds
    Work together to achieve their “highest business goals” through collaboration, support and personal accountability.
  2. ACG Knoxville
    The Knoxville chapter of the Angel Capital Group, which also has chapters in other major cities such as Denver, Kansas City, Nashville, Ashland, Charleston and Fort Lauderdale.
  3. Cashflow Game and Networking
    A Knoxville Meetup Group for new and experienced investors which get together to discuss investing and play the game Cashflow created by Rich Dad.
  4. East Tennessee Referral Group
    A group of business owners who work together to help each other build a stronger business community through referrals.
  5. Entrepreneurs & Network Marketing Pros of Knoxville
    A meetup which focuses on starting and building business structures based on the processes of the Bedrock Business Success Academy.
  6. Entrepreneurs of Knoxville
    A diverse group including business owners, entrepreneurs, investors, inventors and change leaders who desire to share best practices.
  7. KnoxPy
    A group for those with an interest in the Python programming language.
  8. Knoxville CocoaHeads
    Focused on discussions related to Apple’s Cocoa and Cocoa Touch Frameworks for programming on OS, X and iOS.
  9. Knoxville eCommerce Mastermind Group
    Current eCommerce store owners, Shopify Experts, and eCommerce professionals who come together to share ideas, best practices, tools, etc. and unlock their “inner eCommerce geek”.
  10. Knoxville Entrepreneurship Meetup
    A group of investors and entrepreneurs working to support early stage startups. The group is part of a global ecosystem called the Collaborative Entrepreneurship Network.
  11. The Knoxville Professional Women’s Networking Meetup
    “Women only” group who desire to grow, promote their businesses, create exposure for their products and build personal and professional networks.
  12. The Knoxville Real Estate Investors Networking Group Meetup
    Includes those interested in networking with other real estate industry participants such as investors, professionals and trade partners.
  13. Knoxville SEO
    Meetup group has as its’ purpose “to help educate Knoxville business owners and entrepreneurs on the benefits of doing SEO and to help make these services available on a broader basis”.
  14. The Knoxville Small Business Meetup
    Supports those seeking growth and new business opportunities through networking.
  15. The Knoxville Small Business Marketing Meetup
    Allows business owners to brainstorm marketing ideas with other business owners, supporting the growth of their businesses through the discovery and vetting of such creative marketing ideas.
  16. Knoxville Women in Networking
    Meet once a month and provide local professional women the opportunity to share about their business and exchange leads and referrals.
  17. Maryville FNI Group
    A business networking group which is focused on advancing the business and cooperative nature of its’ members.
  18. Successful Women Marketing Together
    For women who “are serious about moving their business forward and want to get the word out about their business”.
  19. Women CEOs in Knoxville
    Meetup for female CEOs who are serious about doing what it takes to start and build a business.
  20. Women ‘n’ Wine in Knoxville
    Provides a “unique opportunity for women to socialize with new friends, make valuable business contacts, and promote their businesses and community interests”.
  21. VARDNet
    The Virtual / Augmented Reality Developers Network is a group of virtual reality developers, programmers, computer animation specialists and 3d modelers, many of whom are entrepreneurs, but all of whom which have an interest in virtual reality.
  22. The Xchange Network
    Business networking group about collaboration and the sharing of knowledge, experience and consumer referrals through incentive marketing.

Regular Entrepreneurial Events:

Startup Competitions:

  • Boyd Venture Challenge
    At the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation of the Haslam College of Business, the University of Tennessee is a seed fund grant for UT Knoxville students conducted in the spring and fall of each year.
  • FTC Business Plan Competition
    The Fairview Technology Center’s annual startup business competition.
  • Knoxville Startup Day
    An annual event, coordinated by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center designed to celebrate the startup and entrepreneurial culture in East Tennessee.
  • The Tennessee Venture Challenge
  • An annual competition coordinated by the UT Research Foundation and open to anyone who desires to learn more about commercializing their business idea. Business ideas should be centered on ideas from campuses or institutes within the UT system.
  • The Undergraduate Business Plan Competition
    Of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the Haslam College of Business, the University of Tennessee is an “annual competition allows participants to enhance their understanding of new venture creation, polish their communication skills, minimize the risks involved in creating a sound business plan, and network with other entrepreneurially-oriented students, successful local entrepreneurs, and potential investors. This three-round competition takes place each spring semester and is open to any undergraduate student on the Knoxville campuses”.
  • The Vol Court Pitch Competition
    Of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the Haslam College of Business, the University of Tennessee is a six week entrepreneurial speaker series which culminates in a pitch competition enabling attendees to put into practice their learnings. Awards include $1,500 cash, space in the UTRF Business Incubator and assorted other business services.
  • What’s the Big Idea Idea Competition
    A weekend startup launch program presented by The Development Corporation of Knox County.

Co-working Space:

  • LiquidSpace
    “on demand” office rental space in Knoxville where a workspace can be obtained by the hour, day or month.
  • Technology Cooperative is a nonprofit founded to create a tech-focused community that provides access and awareness to computer related technologies.


  • Knox Makers
    Provides workspace for ambitious woodworking, metalworking, crafting and electronic zones, all equipped with tools and supplies. Meeting and classroom areas are also available.
  • ModernStudio’s
    Their goal is to give art groups that have traditionally found it difficult to obtain venue space, a proper place to perform.


  • Fairview Technology Center
    An incubator provided by The Development Corporation of Knox County  for small, startup, technology based firms.
  • UTRF Business Incubator
    “provides entrepreneurs with an environment that encourages learning, growth and self-sustainability. Located on the Knoxville campus, participants learn from both experts and each other as they navigate the complex path of starting and building a technology-based business”.

Incubators vs. Accelerators: Which will best fit your needs?


Knoxville, TNThe Knoxville Entrepreneur Center “is a business accelerator located on Market Square built to serve as the front door for entrepreneurs in East Tennessee.  If provides numerous programs including CO.Starters, and TheWorks.

The Works accelerator includes:

  • CodeWorks is an accelerator program for coders and technical founders working to create a business that leverages their abilities and facilitates the development of their startups.
  • MediaWorks is an accelerator program to support content creators in their efforts to develop products and services and build them into startup opportunities.

Colleges / Universities: 

  •  Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation
    At the Haslam College of Business, the University of Tennessee has as a mission “to foster an entrepreneurial culture at the university and across the state by developing student skills, providing experiential learning opportunities, conducting meaningful entrepreneurial research, and connecting students with mentors and resources that enable them to successfully start and grow new businesses”.

Angel Groups / VCs:

Entrepreneurial Newsletter Coverage:

  • Startup Southerner
    “is an inclusive media platform that explores the dynamics of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the south”.
    Provides tech startup news, events and resources for entrepreneurs across the country.
    A web based new service with a focus on spotlighting and celebrating all things related to technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship in East Tennessee.
  • Venture Tennessee Connections
    An online entrepreneurial and business news service with a focus on related activities in the state of Tennessee and surrounding areas.


Interested in Ecosystem Spotlights of other cities in the southeast, USA?

Augusta, GeorgiaChattanooga, TennesseeGreensboro, North Carolina

Are you familiar with entrepreneurial ecosystem infrastructure in Knoxville not included in the article above?  If so, let us know via a comment below and we will add it to the article. 



Tony Lettich

Tony Lettich has previous Business Analysis, Business Valuation, M&A, and Venture Capital experience and currently serves as the Managing Director of The Angel Roundtable and a Partner in Sheehan, Lettich M&A Advisory. He is also a co-founder of FundingSage, which provides valuable information, tools and resources to entrepreneurs seeking to launch and build startups.