Q&A: As Terminus announces $1.8 million raise, CEO gives reasons to grow a tech company in Atlanta

Terminus, a B2B account-based marketing software provider, announced last month that the Atlanta-based group raised $1.8 million of seed financing from Hyde Park Venture Partners (HPVP), Knoll Ventures, Arthur Ventures and Atlanta Ventures. Investors in the round included Tim Kopp, managing director of HPVP and former chief marketing officer (CMO) of ExactTarget, as well as David Cummings, founder and former CEO of Pardot.

With current customer roster boasting Dun & Bradstreet, Infer, Influitive, SalesLoft, PGi, Vidyard and Yext, Terminus is on pace to grow more than 2,000 percent by the end of 2015. As they plan out the use of the funding for expansion of its headquarters and addition of employee count to over 50, CEO Eric Spett, an University of Georgia alumnus, talks with Southern/alpha about how Terminus plans to grow with the city that inspired the company’s name.  

What keeps you in Atlanta?
For starters, Terminus is the original name for the city of Atlanta! We have a happy home in the Atlanta Tech Village. David Cummings has been an incredible mentor, investor, and advisor for our company. His successful exit with Pardot to ExactTarget and the subsequent acquisition by Salesforce helped to put Atlanta on the map. Outside of that, Atlanta offers great talent, a high quality of life, and an abundance of Chick-fil-A.

Is there an advantage to having a company in the tech sector in Atlanta?
Absolutely. Atlanta has a booming technology community with a large cluster of B2B marketing and sales technology companies such as Pardot, SalesLoft, and Insightpool. There’s a lot of great technical talent coming out of Georgia Tech. While hiring is still competitive, it is nowhere near as difficult as Silicon Valley. We have a huge concentration of Fortune 500 companies which can open big doors for early-stage companies just getting their start.

In your experience, do tech startups in the South get underestimated?
In the past yes, but times are changing quickly. Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen many more successful exits such as Pardot to ExactTarget (Salesforce), AirWatch’s acquisition by VMWare in 2014, and Cloud Sherpas recent acquisition by Accenture. We’ve had many startup unicorns ($1B+) build their businesses in Atlanta. We’re starting to get a lot more attention from top-tier venture capitalists and private equity firms.

What do you want others to know about the tech community in Atlanta?
Atlanta is an incredible place to build a business and will soon be a Top 5 hub for startups and technology companies in the country. We’ve seen some amazing exits and the entrepreneurs are sticking around to invest their money back into the Atlanta community. We’ve got all the components for a great technology ecosystem. Thousands of passionate people are working hard to put Atlanta on the map.

What can Southern cities do to attract more investors and become more known as a hub for innovation?
Build great companies then encourage entrepreneurs to stay and invest their money in their city. This has a halo-effect which is very powerful. This is a large reason why Silicon Valley has so many technology companies today. Also, Venture Atlanta, which recently took place in October, is an excellent event to give both early-stage and late-stage technology companies the opportunity to pitch their business to potential investors. Events like this are a great platform to show off the growth and innovation of a city or region.

Do you have advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
1. Ask for what you want without the fear of being told no. The biggest leaps in my journey have come from reaching out to people who were way out of my league. As an example, Terminus is the result of an email I sent to David Cummings. A few weeks after he sold Pardot for $100M, I emailed him and basically said, “I want to be involved with whatever you are doing next.” I’ve had a couple simple experiences like that which have been absolute game-changers.

2. You will fail and need to be able to pick yourself back up. My first startup lasted three years and was a complete failure. I pretty much destroyed myself in the process. It took over a year for me to recover. Failure is something that I now respect because it shows you tried. I look for this passion when hiring, especially hiring for leadership and executives.

Anything else?
My co-founders Eric Vass (CTO) and Sangram Vajre (CMO) are incredible people. There is nobody else that I’d rather share this experience with. Together, we’re building an incredible team of “Terminators” at our company. Our product is going to change the way B2B companies do business. Terminus will be another big Atlanta success story. The result will be more entrepreneurs and more capital that helps Atlanta become a leading hub for technology in this country.

Your next Uber ride could lead to your new career destination

Have you ever wanted to be on the show, Cash Cab, in hopes that you win big by answering some questions?  What if you could win something bigger in a back of a car, say, a job? Nashville-based company Relode has partnered with Uber to provide exactly this sort of opportunity on Nov. 5 between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“I’m excited about this event, because we’re bringing a creative and out-of-the-box idea to Nashville, our hometown, with one of the most innovative and disruptive companies on the planet—Uber. Through this partnership, we’re bringing to life a new way for companies to find great talent,” says Matt Tant, CEO of Relode, whose group software platform aims to make candidate management easier and more visual.

So how does this work? Their On-Demand Job Fair allows candidates to apply for open positions at participating companies in Nashville—all while riding in the back of an Uber. Anyone with the Uber app on their mobile device can request an interview using the promo code ‘NASHJOBS,’ which will unlock the ‘JOBS’ view within the app. Applicants can then toggle to this view to request an interview. If connected, recruiters will call to verify the rider’s pickup location for mobile interview. Interviews will last 15 minutes and will begin and end at the same place.

The participating companies are Aspire Health, Asurion, Avenue Bank, Dave Ramsey, HealthStream, naviHealth, and SmileCareClub, and according to the event’s site, there is a large variety of positions needing to be filled at each group.

Asurion is particularly excited to be part of the inaugural event, since they have been actively looking for ways to creatively recruit candidates for their tech openings. At recent hiring events Asurion brought in gaming trucks and the latest tech gadgets like Google Glass, Oculus Rift and Amazon Alexa for job candidates to experience while they waited to be interviewed.

“The same way Uber redefined the personal transportation industry, Asurion has redefined the consumer technology support and protection industry,”said Todd Fryling, vice president of talent and organizational development at Asurion. “Asurion is not only constantly innovating our business practices and services we provide consumers, we are also innovating our recruiting practices. Our partnership with Uber on this event is one way we are thinking outside the box to recruit top talent.” 

Since the Summer of 2014, Tant and Relode, with its mission to “Research. Locate. Deliver.” has been working hard to modernize the recruiting process. We are eager to hear the results of this job fair.

First-ever privately funded health care accelerator launches in Arkansas

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, Baptist Health and the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub gathered for a press conference last week to announce the launch of HubX–LifeSciences, a program to support and accelerate the development of new startup companies with innovative solutions to improve health care delivery in Arkansas.

“At Baptist Health, we are constantly looking for innovative solutions to better serve Arkansans and make our health system better,” stated Troy Wells, President and CEO of Baptist Health.  “We are proud to be able to bring the first health care accelerator to Arkansas and to help pave the way for business development, health care innovation, and better care for Arkansans.” The program presented By Baptist Health will be the first-ever privately-funded and industry-specific business accelerator program in the Natural State.

Up to ten startup companies will be invited to participate in the 13-week program starting in April 2016. The accelerator will be hosted at the Innovation Hub and led by Jeff Stinson, who also directs the Silver Mine at the Innovation Hub and is the executive director of the Fund for Arkansas’ Future, the state’s largest angel investment fund. Each company will receive seed investment as well as intense mentorship and assistance as they rapidly proceed from concept to product development and customer acquisition.  Initial seed investments into the companies will range from $25,000 to $50,000, and the companies also will qualify for additional back-end investments.

Iron Yard Ventures will also be a partner in Arkansas’ newest accelerator program.  Though the Iron Yard brand may often be associated with the ever-growing campuses of coding bootcamps, they also run a digital health accelerator that is ranked among the top five health accelerators in the nation.  Iron Yard Ventures will share its expertise, training, mentor network, and other assets during its engagement with HubX–LifeSciences.

Applications from around the world will be accepted through February 15, 2016.

Meet the six teams of CodeWorks, Tennessee’s first accelerator for coders

Earlier this month, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center kicked off its newest accelerator program, CodeWorks.  Six teams, with focus on a variety of markets, were selected for Tennessee’s first accelerator exclusively for software developers.

Jonathan Sexton, entrepreneur-in-residence at the KEC, is already quite impressed with the teams that are just a few weeks into their program, especially when it comes to their problem-solving mindset in that “scaleable, hacker way.” Sexton says that their natural tendency to tackle the technology first in order to come up with all solution has been the one challenge where he hopes CodeWorks can help. “We encourage them to not think about just the technical side of the problem and get them out of the mindset of themselves and into the mindset of the customer,” said Sexton, as he emphasized again how impressed he is with the teams.

Before their demo day in December, the teams have weekly sessions led by Tech 20/20’s Shawn Carson and complete a series of outside work, as well as meet with market-specific mentors. One new big perk for the CodeWorks team is that, in addition to mentor support, each team is asssigned to a full-time business analyst, courtesy of Pershing, Yoakley & Associates.

Because KEC has never organized this type of an accelerator, Sexton said that their team also had to meet its own challenge to make additional connections in the community that were not previously involved with the KEC.  In building their new program, they have brought in several new partners, including Cisco Systems and DeRoyal Industries.  He believes that accelerators should show these emerging startups the importance of hustling and iteration, and their quick thinking and action in creating CodeWorks is evidence of their startup mentality.

So…let’s meet the teams of CodeWorks:

Company: Financial Cents
Team members/daytime occupation: Shahram Zarshenas, CEO (Student at the University of Tennessee, Supply Chain Management and Business Analytics) and Leroy Leese, CTO (Senior Software Engineer at AVG Technologies)
Company’s goal: Our goal is to help small business owners understand the story behind their financial numbers. We want to transform a business’s complex financial statements into something that they can understand and utilize to make smart data driven decisions.
How long have you been working on the project: We have been working on the idea for about eight months, but officially formed the business two months ago.
Why CodeWorks? What do you hope to get out of it so far? We wanted to be a part of CodeWorks because it seemed like a great opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge that could strengthen our business model. We also hope to make some valuable connections that could greatly benefit our startup.
How is it going so far? It has been great so far! We have already been assigned CPAs to our teams and will receive our mentors this week. Also, they already have us communicating with potential customers. I just spoke with 10 businesses around Knoxville this week. I can’t wait to see what else they will have us doing.
What does your company hope to achieve at the end of CodeWorks? By the end of CodeWorks, we hope to be prepared for our public launch on January 2. We only have two and a half months and a lot of work to do, but I am very confident in our abilities!

 

Company: StudyDraft
Team members/daytime occupation: Alex Klibisz (senior in computer science at UT) and Sam Rose (junior in Computer Engineering). We have worked as co-op students together in the past at Cadre5, a software consultancy here in Knoxville, where we worked on separate projects.
Company goal: We are creating a mobile app that will make it easy for college students to find/meet other students to collaborate and study with.
How long have you been working on the project: Since July 2015.
Tech stack/uses: We are full-stack JavaScript with MongoDB and our mobile app is a cross-platform application.
Why CodeWorks? When we learned about it, CodeWorks seemed like a great opportunity to learn business and product development skills that we lack or overlook as engineering students. We hope to learn entrepreneurial skills to help us shape our app to make it a useful and popular.
How’s it going? So far we have learned several valuable lessons in customer discovery and customer interviews which have already had an influence on our product. As programmers we have often found ourselves caught up in the technical details while we should instead be focusing more on the problem we are solving. I think CodeWorks is teaching us to take a step back and make sure that we are building a relevant solution to a relevant problem – regardless the code/tech behind it.
What does your company hope to achieve at the end of CodeWorks? By the end of CodeWorks, we plan to have a working application released on both iOS and Android so that we can run a pilot on UT’s campus during finals and at the beginning of next semester.

 

Company: Sigmatec Analytics
Team Member/daytime occupation: Michael Bertolli (consultant for universities and national labs in data science and astrophysics)
Company’s goal–what are you trying to solve?: Our goal is to provide understandable, easy-to-use and affordable data analytics to small businesses without requiring a technical background from the user.
How long have you been working on the project: The research behind our technology took the nearly 7 years to complete. But the commercialization of it has only been aggressively pursued this year.
Tech stack/interesting tech uses: Most of what we build is on Python, with some C and even FORTRAN thrown in (yes, FORTRAN even in 2015).
Why CodeWorks? What do you hope to get out of it? Getting to know Jim Biggs and the rest at the KEC was the biggest reason I was interested in CodeWorks. I was really stunned by how much interest and support they gave, even when it was hard to really define our goal. It’s hard to find a community like that and not want to be involved as much as possible.
How is it going so far? Anything interesting that you’ve learned that you didn’t know before? CodeWorks is great! Between the regular meetings, instructor interactions and the daily work we put in, not a day goes by I don’t learn something new both about running a business and about our specific product.
What does your company hope to achieve at the end of CodeWorks? The hope is for a business model we can actually have some faith in and an MVP to start really testing it with! But more than that, the change in our product and goals over the course of these weeks is the biggest thing we’re excited about.

 

Company: Duologix
Team Members/daytime occupation: Eric Willingham (software developer) and Kris Hogrefe (senior wholesale account executive)
Company’s Goal: Help companies manage Digital Asset of their clients, service providers, and other applicable parties.
How long have you been working on the project? 2+ years
Tech stack / interesting tech uses: Windows Azure, Visual Studio, MVC
Why CodeWorks?  CodeWorks is what we we’ve been missing to bring our ideas to the market.
What do you hope to get out of it? Knowledge.  We need to learn about creating a startup and preparation for proper growth.
How is it going so far? It’s going great. CodeWorks is really helping us to focus on our core business.
Anything interesting that you’ve learned that you didn’t know before?  We were so focused on the security feature of our product that we missed the part that we think our clients can’t live without, Management of their Digital Assets between them and their clients.
What does your company hope to achieve at the end of CodeWorks? We hope to have a good Minimal Viable Product and a game plan of who and how to start helping companies managing their Digital Assets. We really feel like CodeWorks is the framework that we were missing to make our ideas into a working, marketable product.

 

Company: HelloCars
Team Members/daytime occupation: George Andrejko (iOS developer), Edward Ignatavich (Web and Android developer), Wesley Huskey (Web and Android developer)
Company’s goal — what are you trying to solve? We share in Apple’s belief that apps are the future of television and that developers will be ones that make this happen. As developers, we also realize that developing for a new platform comes with many challenges. We are creating a product that eliminates many of these challenges, allowing developers to focus on making great apps.
How long have you been working on the project? We were working on an app for 3 months and then pivoted into our current venture two weeks ago. We felt that our original app had a solid business model and would likely have some degree of financial success. However, none of us truly passionate about it. CodeWorks gave us the confidence to pursue something bigger and more challenging.
Tech stack/interesting tech uses: The most exciting thing about a new platform is the majority of the use cases are still unknown. By providing developers with the means to discover these use cases, we hope to be a catalyst in driving innovation. Some specific examples of possible applications would be interactive kiosks and televising every local sporting events.
Why CodeWorks? What do you hope to get out of it? Our team has gotten to the point where we were doing a lot of startup research. We were starting to solve problems as we were running into them, but we have found that CodeWorks has taken a lot of time to put together a lot of the information that we were slowly finding. They’ve done a great job at consolidating the material that we needed. There is also a lot we do not know about starting a business, and CodeWorks has fantastic partners such as PYA who seem to be able to help us with our lack of knowledge.
How is it going so far? So far the CodeWorks team has been very supportive and helpful with all of our ideas. They give us honest feedback when it is needed. There is a large focus so far on our business model canvas. This has been very helpful to help identify where we fit in the current market.
Anything interesting that you’ve learned that you didn’t know before? We underestimated the difficulty of doing customer interviews. We struggle with trying to talk to individuals and find what problems they are having.  We often assume what problems users are having and develop a for that problem. We are almost always wrong about the initial assumption.  This leads to a lot of work that is scrapped. During the first week the CodeWorks team assigned the book “the mom test” for us to read. This book has changed our entire perspective on how we should work on our startup.
What does your company hope to achieve at the end of CodeWorks? We are hoping to have an MVP in the App Store that is based on a solid business model.

 

Company: MathLeap (Stealth company: they hope to be able to tell the public about their project after CodeWorks is completed.)

LeanKit ‘home’ tour: Where history meets people making history

[Editor’s note: Our ‘home tour’ story here is just one-half of our entire coverage about LeanKit.  The more in-depth half of the coverage will appear in the Nashville Post on Nov. 2. This subsequent story will center around our interview with CEO Chris Hefley and CMO Denise Grey.]

 

Maybe I just expected a lean process and workflow management software company with global presence to be in a ‘real’ building when I initially drove past the headquarters of LeanKit, located in downtown Franklin. After rechecking the address twice, I realized that one of these historic houses, sandwiched between some antique shops, is actually home to the organization that, just days before my visit, announced the acquisition of Firefly Logic.

IMG_0290
Yes, THIS is LeanKit.

Liz Llewellyn-Maxwell, senior content and PR manager, greets me in the parking lot, which is completely full. She tells me that the full parking lot, which wasn’t much of an issue just months before, is one of the indications of a rapidly growing company.  She also points out that this office, which they moved into over a year ago, was previously a part of the antique mall.  “We still have ladies walk into our office thinking that the shop is still there,” said Llewellyn-Maxwell.

And who can blame those grandmothers for accidentally walking in? The only visible indication of the company, which recently raised $16 million, is their doormat.  And what’s more visible from the sidewalk is the sign for the ‘Eelbeck-Johnson House,’ built in 1820.  The Eelbeck-Johnson House is one of the homes that served as a hospital during the Battle of Franklin in the Civil War.  The house is still standing, and it is also the home of LeanKit.

And perhaps the antiquing ladies simply thought the store had turned a little more quirky as they took their initial steps….and then quickly (so you’d hope) realize that the ‘shop’ is equally filled with large computer monitors and other techie things.  It’s clearly a historic home, but the decor is now geek-chic with a local twang.

Many of the contained rooms are named after country music stars, and the motif inside each of the rooms reflect those singers.  I asked Chris Hefley, CEO and tour guide, if he liked country music, his answer indicated an enthusiasm for naming of the rooms after the singers — but remained more neutral about the genre itself.

 

But enough about the quirk, at least for a moment. The walls are covered with a lot of writing and diagrams about what’s going on in the company.  Near a batch of Nerf guns is a team of developers and other ‘Leankitters’ working away.  “We want smart people to make smart things,” said Hefley when I asked how their culture contributes in shipping out their product. For Hefley, what may seem like distractions in the workplace to some are the very items that help people keep their problem-solving minds flowing back into the products that LeanKit is developing.

 

As we meander through the LeanKit HQ, I notice that most of the employees are wearing one of their company t-shirts.  In the tech community, their LeanKit shirts, with strange yet well-designed message, have become an item of desire.  When they released an image of their shirt that played on the theme of Data from Star Trek this summer, there were more than a handful on social media who publicly proclaimed their love for the shirt.

To CMO Denise Grey, these funny shirts are no joke — and is doing exactly what it was intended to do: getting people to know more about LeanKit. What they observed from the initial runs of their other shirts (from “Praise the Board” to “WIP it!”) is that their core tech audience, who may often choose to identify themselves with a Github sticker on a laptop, not only enjoyed getting a LeanKit shirt — but wear them around often, serving as a walking billboard for LeanKit. “People have found out about LeanKit from seeing our shirts,” said Grey. Since the company’s founding in 2009, the tradition of these shirts live on.  Their latest shirt states: “Kanban is the new bacon.”

 

In over 10,000-sq-ft of space that LeanKit calls home, it’s also obvious that they’re having to make more physical rearrangements to the space. While Hefley does indicate that they have begun to look at spaces ‘along I-65,’ they’ve also made several modifications to their current configuration.  Hefley showed me himself that the writeable walls in most of the office space are also moveable.  With the addition of the team members from Firefly Logic along with other new employees, they’ve also converted meeting areas to more work spaces.

 

Another growing pain spotted while on the tour is their transition to the somewhat-new logo.  The rapid pace of growth and all the hustle that comes with it has been challenging when it comes to replacing all the old logos in the office with their new one.

 

Finally, at the conclusion of this tour, we encounter the Tardis, from Doctor Who. One thing I did know about LeanKit before this tour is this existence of a Tardis. And while I’m not as well acquainted with the long-running and beloved television program, I was very intrigued about why it existed.

Handmade by LeanKit members, the Tardis does everything — but travel in time. (Hefley did say that they once took it apart to take it to a convention.  He also stated that they will not do that again, at least to this model.) Inside, there are buttons to push to make various sounds familiar to any Whovian.

What may be a strange item to have in most offices seems so fitting for a place like LeanKit. The quirk of Doctor Who that’s survived through so many iterations (both in time lord changes to shinier looking daleks) kind of is what LeanKit helps other companies achieve:  iterations to achieve progress through lean management.

And just like Doctor Who, the team at LeanKit continues to chart its own course to stop inefficient work process practices.

Tune in next week on the Nashville Post to learn about LeanKit’s European presence and which markets they’re hoping to enter. (And see below for the special giveaway instructions.)

 

 

**** Southern/alpha + LeanKit ‘Tweet to Win” Giveaway: Just in time for Halloween, we have partnered with LeanKit for five lucky winners to receive this ‘Data-driven’ LeanKit t-shirt!

leankitshirt

To enter: Tweet your desire to win, using the hashtag #halloleankit.  You must also follow our Twitter account.  (We need a way to contact the winner via DM!)

We also encourage you to follow LeanKit on Twitter.  Their Twitter feed gives a further insight into their company culture.  Their blog is also a great place to learn more about the Kanban method.

The contest concludes on Saturday, Oct. 31, 11:59p.m. CST. This should give you enough time to get your Halloween on. The winner will be chosen at random, and we will DM the winner to ask for the destination where this awesome shirt (that also can serve as next year’s costume ideas) should land.

Snapshots & observations from the world’s largest conference for women engineers

If anyone needed some evidence why young women should at least consider a career in any engineering field, setting foot in the career fair at WE15 should be more than enough. The world’s largest gathering of women engineers, organized by the Society of Women Engineers, had over 300 groups sign up to be a part of their career fair, and they brought in more than just a few brochures and a makeshift banner to convince these young engineers about a future with their company.

Groups, including Tesla, Lockheed Martin, NSA, and many more, filled the large portion of the Music City Center with moving objects above, and vehicles on the ground — all ready to hire those who hadn’t even graduated college, though having a job lined up before graduation seems to be more of a norm for an engineering major.

Karissa Horbal, a senior at University of Minnesota majoring in bioproduct/biosystems engineering with an emphasis on food science, said that upon completion of two internships at Cargill, they’ve already made her an offer to be a part of the process management team upon graduation in May 2016. She told me about how possibilities upon entering the engineering field is endless, since people can choose to go into a variety of other positions related to the field.  Michelle Godbold, a mechanical engineering student at UT-Knoxille, has already had several interviews to start her future in petroleum, including DuPont.  She was able to have an interview with another company while she was at the conference, since one of the main features of WE15’s career fair is the on-site interviews.

Beyond the sheer size of a career fair, another noticeable aspect of the conference was the enthusiastic smiles on the attendees.  Sure, there were plenty of visual opportunities and props that entice these engineers to take some photos, but the atmosphere, especially from what was observed at the career fair, is one where every single person pursuing an engineering career, is in high demand.  It’s hard to be upset when one’s aptitude, coupled with the choice to study engineering, clearly will pay off. Several booths had signs clearly marked that stated: “We are hiring today.”

But Godbold also stated something else that may be related to why this conference might be filled with smiling faces.  She said that, in her engineering classes back in Knoxville, there are only a handful of young women studying in her chosen career path.  “It’s a relief to see that there are other people like me in this field,” said Godbold, as she sat for a few minutes to eat lunch.  Maybe the smiles are more of an indication that these three days in Nashville allowed them to just be themselves.

Standing near Ford’s booth, I overheard a conversation in front of me of someone asking her friend about her lipgloss color.  Right behind me, there was a conversation among another group of young people about a recent scholarship offer that she had received.  A sign at the event read: “experience success on your own terms.”

In a way, these 10,000 women found their way to the profession that has led them to success or will allow them to begin achieving that. The career fair at WE15 is the greatest visual indication I’ve ever seen of such demand for any field, ever.  The hope is that the paths to get young women to these jobs (which won’t be going away anytime soon) are at least shown to them early on.  And one can only hope that, in the near future, a yearly conference won’t be the only place where these women engineers can find other women in the profession and feel less out of place in their daily lives.

 

Below are some snapshots from WE15.  Click on any photo for a slideshow of all the photos.

8,000+ women engineers are gathered in Nashville — and ready for more to join the field

Wonder what a woman engineer looks like? Well, there are over 8,000 of them in Nashville right now for WE15, a global conference for the Society of Women Engineers that feature more than 250 educational sessions and 275 career fair exhibitors. “We felt that Nashville, with its rich history and vibrant engineering and technology community, was a perfect location for WE15,” said Karen Horting, executive director and CEO for SWE. “Nashville is a great place for SWE members to take advantage of all that the conference has to offer while enjoying all that Music City has to offer.”

At the three-day event in downtown Nashville, collegiates and professionals can participate in Friday’s career fair with organizations that are seeking qualified, motivated engineers. Many graduate schools will also be in attendance to show potential applicants the opportunities available at their respective institutions. Horting points out that that a lot of really influential women are speaking at this annual conference, including Nicola Palmer, senior vice president and chief network officer for Verizon Wireless, as well as Maria Fernanda Mejia, a recognized global leader who was named one of the 50 most powerful women in Mexico and recognized by Fortune magazine as one of the top 50 Latin women executives. “There will be hundreds of educational sessions and hundreds of career fair exhibitors, and those interested in interviewing will have a chance to do so right on-site during the career fair,” said Horting.

One special event that’s taking place on Saturday is Invent It. Build It, a program for middle school girls, families and teachers where the girls will have a chance to do creative and challenging engineering activities. “They’ll meet some incredible women in engineering and learn what it’s like to be an engineer,” said Randy Freedman, outreach manager at SWE. “ Hundreds of engineers attending WE15 have volunteered to work with the girls, families and teachers who attend the event.”

This educational event for future engineers is a partnership between The Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, WGBH –Design Squad Global, Techbridge and the ExxonMobil Foundation. Sylvia Acevedo, who was named one of the top 100 American Women in STEM by US News and World Report in 2012, will speak at the event, discussing her career path and how rewarding a career in engineering can be for women. (Last-minute tickets may be available on their website.) “Programs like Invent It. Build It are key in changing the perception of STEM and encouraging these young women to reach their fullest potential,” stated Freedman. “Historically, after the event approximately 90 percent of the girls leave with a better understanding of engineering; two out of three girls express an interest in engineering as a career; almost 90 percent tell us that engineers make the world a better place; and two out of three girls feel stronger about their engineering/design thinking skills.”

While recent social media campaign of #ILookLikeAnEngineer may have created some awareness about women in engineering, Horting notes that the reality is that women are severely underrepresented in engineering and technology fields. “Being a resource for women in the field is one way to support and encourage women in STEM, but inspiration early on is key to changing the perception of what an engineer looks like and who can achieve greatness in a STEM career,” said Horting.  “So many girls show an interest in Math and Science, and girls perform as well or in some cases better than boys in these subjects, yet only about 29 percent of bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields are earned by women!”

With this year’s conference theme of “Reach Out to Reach Up” along with the SWE’s 65-year commitment to the engineering field, their focus on celebrating those currently in the industry while educating the future sounds like the right strategy in cultivating a better place for all of engineering.

Torch finds a better route(r) for parenting in the digital age

Shelley Prevost, psychologist and syndicated columnist, wiped away the tears as she recalled to a crowd in Nashville about a problem she faced three years ago. Her oldest of three kids had discovered Minecraft and soon became obsessed with the game. As her child began to look less rested in the morning and declined in schoolwork, she realized that he was block-building well into the night but did not have a clear solution to help him get back to his normal routine.  And as she spoke to Jack Studer, partner at The Lamp Post Group, as well as other parents, Prevost also realized that her family’s struggle is not an isolated one.

This single mission to help her child is the root for Torch, her Chattanooga-based tech startup.  And today, they have officially launched their crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. A sleek-looking wifi router, it offers parents digital peace of mind as their kids explore the internet. The Torch router allows for each child to have his or her own profile that allows for the adults to see the kid’s browsing history and set a time when the router simply shuts off for the specified profile (but allowing for the adults to still have access to the wifi). Their goal is to raise $150,000 in order to build the inventory and shipping logistics to deliver the product that is currently on pre-order.

“I didn’t want to start a company; I wanted a router that works,” said Prevost as she spoke about the initial process of Studer, now COO of Torch, trying (and failing) to configure a store-bought router to perform several functions, as simple as ‘pause.’ (The Torch router does have that function.) When it became clear to Studer and Prevost that no such hardware existed on the market, they formed the company in 2014 to begin formally executing on a solution that could be of benefit to all parents raising digital natives.  

During Torch’s tour of several cities in the South to talk about their product, Prevost is adamant that their events are more of a conversation about digital parenting, rather than a simple pitch about themselves.  And at the Nashville “Where the Tech Things Are” event, the presentation about the product served more as the conversation starter to discuss the pain points of effective digital parenting.  One of the take-home items from the event was ‘The Purposeful Parent Manifesto’ that outlined the mission statement of the company that really could be one for any parent raising children in this generation.  (Note: Their tour is coming to Cincinnati, Atlanta and Birmingham this month.)

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While some cite concerns about censorship with the use of such device in the home, Prevost counters that this product is really about empowering the families.  “When I’m not as scared, I’ll let them explore,” stated Prevost, noting that the main purpose of the router’s analytics tools is not at all about blocking, but about educating the parents on what the children are finding interesting on the internet. “We live in a digital age; the last thing I want to do is hinder that exploration.”

One of the questions Prevost posed to the audience in Nashville was, “Are we trading in conscious and creative uses of technology for convenience and consumption?” As those in the room pondered the question, it looks like Prevost and the Torch team forged ahead with solution that could help route the direction of how this question is answered in the near future.

Nashville’s creatives discuss the intersection of tech & design at Think Tank 2015

Nearly 200 creative professionals gathered on Oct. 17 for Think Tank Nashville conference at Track One, a repurposed ‘feed and seed’ warehouse. “Think Tank is a forum for helping creative professionals sharpen their communication problem-solving skills,” said Kevin Tucker, board member of AIGA Nashville, the professional design organization that has planned the annual conference since 2007.

With the conference theme of “Forward,” the organizers sought to explore advances in the creative industry and experiences that stimulate personal growth. “Creative professionals, particularly those in design professions, have an opportunity to shape perceptions, and to engage people in stories in ways only design can,” said Tucker, who co-owns Collide Creative. “This type of engagement is essential for new business ventures, to achieve a lasting and relevant connection with their customers. There are tremendous opportunities for technology expertise to be paired with design expertise to create cohesive experiences that serve to strengthen these lasting connections.”

In one afternoon session, panelists Nick Sigler (UX/UI designer at Aloompa), Chris Blanz (founder and CXO of BKON), Kenneth White (owner of sprclldr), Floyd DePalma (owner of DePalma Studios), and Rusty Mitchell (VP of design at Mercury Intermedia) were a part of a discussion loosely titled ‘TECH + DESIGN.’ The session was moderated by Nate Hook, UX & Digital Marketing Director at TrakRef.

When Hook asked the panelists for advice they would give to a young creative to future-proof their skill set,  they generally agreed with Sigler’s advice to focus on keeping an open mind about learning new things. Blanz recalled that his initial interest was in designing cd packaging, so he reinforced that things will always change around you. DePalma thought that your early years should be spent of doing what you want to do that you like. “You need to be experience what you like, because you’ll ultimately have to focus on something specific,” said DePalma, and then added, “When you figure out [your passion] and then focus on it, that doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind.”

Mitchell pointed that the willingness to continue learning and experimenting is crucial for a long career in the design industry.  He also cautioned, “Be aware of what you don’t know…don’t come in to your experiences thinking you’ve got it all figured out.”

Hook then asked the question: “To what extent should they be coders? How much do designers need to be code articulate?” All agreed that a general knowledge is helpful, but mastery is not required. “A lot of people will tell you to need to program.  I would say you don’t,” said Blanz, “though you need to understand enough about the technology.”  Sigler stated that having some understanding of code is helpful when you’re working alongside them in order to execute one’s design vision.  “If you’re not coding your work, you’ll have to have a great relationship with the person that is. Keep the dialogue going if you’re not doing it yourself.” White, who is a backend developer, said that there are plenty of online resources to learn at least the very basics of coding.  

DePalma took a different approach to address the question by pointing out the myth of the full-stack developer (“Designers aren’t programmers.”).  He explained his studio’s division of labor, as well as how his company mission for design to drive the development allows his group to come up with solutions that reflect their design-driven approach. Blanz added that future tech products for designers may allow designers to complete a project without a technology partner.

The final discussion involved the challenges for creative tech professionals living in Nashville, as opposed to being in other locations traditionally seen as a town for creatives.  Sigler pointed out being in a “small pond” like Nashville may bring more of an advantage, rather than a challenge because in a city like San Francisco, “You’re one in a million in the place same.  [In Nashville,] you really have an opportunity here to grow with the city rather than just go and join the winning team.” For Sigler, Nashville “enabled me to design a career that I want, rather than falling in line.”

Blanz thought that while there are challenges to living and creating in Nashville, he “loves the challenge we’re giving ourselves…we’re in an exciting place at an exciting time.”  He specifically named the Nashville Entrepreneur Center (the EC) and their people for being the biggest cheerleaders and facilitators in bringing on board some initiatives that are driving the city forward.  White thought that people should take the opportunity to explore Silicon Valley while they’re young, but added that Nashville tech community is amazing and that each weeknight (and some mornings) could be spent at a different meetup.

Mitchell also seconded White’s opinion to go spend some time in San Francisco.  “If you’re willing to stomach the economic challenges, do it while you’re young,” said Mitchell, and then added, “Soak it up, come back here, and help us all out.”

 

Below are some snapshots from Think Tank Nashville. Click on any photo for a slideshow of all photos.

Murdoch, Cuban, will.i.am to hear a pitch by Artiphon

WSJDLive, a global technology conference organized by the Wall Street Journal, starts today in Laguna Beach, Ca., and the audience will get to see a Nashville tech product in action.  

Seven finalists have been chosen for tomorrow’s Global Startup Showcase, and among the finalists chosen from an extensive set of applicants, is Nashville’s own Artiphon. Co-founder Jacob Gordon will be pitching to a well-known panel of judges that includes: Rupert Murdoch, Executive Chairman of News Corp and 21st Century Fox; will.i.am, Founder and CEO, i.am+; Mark Cuban, Owner Dallas Mavericks, Entrepreneur and Investor; and Theresia Gouw, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Aspect Ventures.

Other companies who will be part of the showcase are CleverPet, COSIGN, Mindful Scientific Inc., embr labs, Keecker, and ARTsys360. The organizers of the competition state that 60% of the entries came from outside the United States, and that preference was given to undiscovered startups whose work has a clear global application. Nashville obviously doesn’t consider Artiphon to be undiscovered, but we’re excited that others in the global tech community will get to see their product in action.

At the conclusion of the startup showcase, one entrepreneur, selected by audience vote, will be featured in the WSJ’s special report. We hope to reach the Artiphon team about their experience on the big stage.