Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Spotlight: Knoxville, TN

Knoxville, TN

Knoxville is a mid-sized city on the Tennessee River that is blossoming as an entrepreneurial hotspot in the Southeast United States.

Knoxville, TN, also known as K-Town and the Heart of the Valley, is the state’s third largest city. 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’s also located on the banks of the Tennessee River, which is formed from the confluence of the Holston and French Broad Rivers.

In a 2020 ValuePenguin study performed to determine the best U.S. cities for small business, Knoxville ranked 170th overall and 69th in the “Economy” category. The city also frequently ranks as having one of the country’s lowest costs of living, an asset to local entrepreneurs. Additionally, Knoxville was recently ranked as the seventh-least expensive city in the Council for Community and Economic Research’s Cost of Living Index for quarter 3 of 2019.

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

Entrepreneurial Meetups:

Knox Makers, a local makerspace, hosts weekly events that allow makers in the area to meet one another as well as showcase the projects they’ve been working on.

Launch Networking in Knoxville is a weekly opportunity for local business owners to trade referrals with one another and make professional connections.

The Knoxville Professional Women’s Networking group is an opportunity specifically for area women in business and entrepreneurship to meet one another and expand their networks.

Those interested in entering the world of real estate investing as well as longtime investors can attend this group’s monthly meetings.

Similar to Knoxville Professional Women’s Networking, Successful Women Marketing Together is a networking group designed specifically to support women in the world of business and entrepreneurship.

Regular Entrepreneurial Events:

B-Sides Knoxville is an annual conference focusing on technology and cybersecurity. Specifically, the program aims to create a relaxed and educational environment and provide the opportunity for attendees to make connections.

Since 2008, CodeStock has been an annual two-day event held in Knoxville. The conference is designed to help educate and connect the technology community through 90+ sessions held between the two days.

Hosted by the Knoxville Chamber, the Endeavor Summit is an annual conference designed to support and celebrate young entrepreneurs and professionals in the area.

The Innov865 Alliance is an organization that hosts a variety of regular events related to entrepreneurship and small business. Since 2018, it’s also held Innov865 Week, a weeklong conference that includes a major pitch competition.

Every year, the Maker City Summit is held to support those interested in maker businesses through workshops, presentations from successful keynote speakers as well as networking opportunities.

The Pinnacle Business Awards are an annual black-tie awards ceremony and networking event honoring the Knoxville area’s most successful businesses and startups.


Startup Competitions:

The University of Tennessee’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation hosts a handful of startup competitions open to students, with a grand total of over $40,000 in prizes available.

Every year, tech enthusiasts from the Greater Knoxville area can compete in the Knoxville City Hackathon. Competitors have 28 hours to work on their civic-minded tech project, with over $6,400 in cash prizes up for grabs.

The SEC Student Pitch Competition is not specific to the area, but is open to all students at SEC colleges, including the University of Tennessee.

Every year, one day of Innov865 Week is Startup Day, a “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition between six area startups that offers up to $10,000 in cash prizes.

Organized by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, What’s The Big Idea? is a 48-hour business pitch competition. Winners earn enrollment into a local business incubator as well as up to $10,000 in reimbursement for business launch costs.


Co-working Space:

CoWorking Knoxville is currently temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it offers a wide range of membership plans.

Girl Boss Offices is a co-working space specifically designed for women in entrepreneurship. In addition to providing work space, the company also aims to develop the entrepreneurship skills of its members.

LiquidSpace is a company that organizes office space available to rent in cities all around the country, as well as Knoxville.

Technology Cooperative is an organization that provides area children with access to technology and other resources, but it is also used as co-working space during weekdays.


Maker spaces:

The University of Tennessee’s College of Architecture and Design runs the Fab Lab, a 20,000 square foot maker space located in a restored historic building in downtown Knoxville.

After joining Knox Makers, members have 24/7 access to the space’s wide array of tools and small-scale manufacturing equipment as well as prototyping tools.

Undergraduate and graduate students at UT can use the MABE Maker Lab’s range of industrial technologies. These include 3D printers and scanners as well as CNC machines and more.



Just down the road from Knoxville, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory runs Innovation Crossroads. Every year, the lab picks top entrepreneurs from around the world to join their prestigious technology program

The University of Tennessee Research Park runs the Spark Innovation Center, a program that assists early-stage technology companies located in East Tennessee.

The University of Tennessee Research Foundation runs a business incubator that works specifically with promising young technology startups.

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



The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation runs a Business Accelerator program designed to support startups led by students.

Knoxville, TN

The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center runs a variety of accelerator programs designed to support local startups regardless of the stage of development.



Colleges / Universities: 

Maryville College doesn’t offer a specific degree program in entrepreneurship, but the school’s business program includes majors in international business and management.

Students at South College in Knoxville can earn a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a concentration in entrepreneurship.

The University of Tennessee’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation provides entrepreneurial students a variety of resources, both inside of the classroom and out.


Angel Groups / VCs:

Since 2018, the Appalachian Investors Alliance has invested in promising startups located in Knoxville and the greater Appalachian region.

The Sheltowee Angel Network is a group of angel investors with locations in Nashville and Louisville, KY as well as Knoxville. Specifically, the group focuses on investing in science and technology startups.

Three Roots Capital is an organization that provides a wide array of funding opportunities to business owners and entrepreneurs as well as other financial services.


Entrepreneurial Newsletter Coverage:

Among the many newsletters offered by the Knoxville News-Sentinel is Knox.biz, which sends subscribers important local business headlines every weekday.

Startup Southerner is a website that breaks down and analyzes business and tech news throughout the south. In addition, the website offers a newsletter.

Teknovation is a web-based news service focusing on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship throughout East Tennessee.

Tennessee Business Daily, which covers business news from all around the state, offers a newsletter that brings the biggest news and updates right to subscribers’ inboxes.


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.