April 17, 2024

Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s Made For Knoxville initiative has been a powerful platform for connecting through stories. The storytelling initiative became an avenue for local entrepreneurs to be seen, heard and given an essential tool for personal branding – a headshot – at a time when our lives and communities were adjusting to a primarily digital existence. Through the storytelling platform, our goal has been to celebrate and uplift Knoxville founders, creatives, and entrepreneurial leaders, highlighting their individual stories, voices and businesses. 
We’re all familiar with how COVID-19 stories go. Chances are, you have your own to share. “I was planning to [fill in the blank], and then COVID happened.” The Made For Knoxville initiative capitalizes on climactic turning points like this, collecting the kinetic energy of self-starters post-quarantine, post-recovery, or simply after a period of deep self-reflection with a common question: “What was your ‘big pivot’ moment that led to entrepreneurship?” 
The collective pause of 2020 naturally unleashed “big pivot” moments in many of us. If you give a self-starter a week at home, they’re probably going to start something new … a new hobby, a new process, a new business. As these people leave their corporate jobs to turn their side hustle into their main hustle or finally pursue the recurring dream that wouldn’t leave them alone, we ask them to share their journey to that pivotal moment with us through Made For Knoxville. In or out of a pandemic, it’s the inevitable pivot that pushes founders to bravely consider possibilities that are yet to be explored. 
Our team at KEC has been collecting stories for almost two years from inventors, investors, technologists, and makers alike. We will continue to do so on the Made For Knoxville website (we’re aiming for 500 stories!). However we, like our Made For Knoxville community members, are founders and entrepreneurs ourselves; so true to form, we’re pivoting. The initiative’s foundation of storytelling will remain; and the community’s online dwelling place is expanding from online to real time. 
We’re bringing founders face to face with each other to discuss the joys and challenges of being an entrepreneur. The simple yet powerful act of gathering has already revived the spirits within our community through Made For Knoxville Live events in May and September. We want more of that. At the core of this “big pivot” moment is the desire to restore the warmth of experiencing life in community with others. 
The new and improved format will continue to take shape later this year, as we begin to host Made For Knoxville Meet-Ups, a KEC community gathering, sans the keynote speakers and formal order or events. If you are a founder in Knoxville seeking to connect with other founders, you’ll have the opportunity to come and share your “big pivot” moments in person through our traveling story studio, as well as exchange stories, resources, and inspiration with other founders over a cocktail drink. To be updated with the location, date, and time of the meetup, sign up to receive KEC’s weekly emailed newsletter on our Contact Us page. 
The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s Made For Knoxville initiative identifies the common threads of ingenuity, passion, and determination within Knoxville founders who had an idea and did something with it. While many of these individuals started their entrepreneurial endeavors long before “coronavirus” existed in our vocabulary, there is a strong lineup of founders whose dreams got a kickstart as a direct result of COVID-19. Today, we’re highlighting a small group of them. 
“It is the middle of a pandemic, my two kids are at home e-learning, my other full-time job was cut back dramatically due to COVID, my puppy was peeing all over the floor (haha), and like so many other people, especially single mothers, I was struggling to make ends meet. At first, I was depressed and felt hopeless; but then I switched into problem solving mode. There are a million ways to serve a community. What do I have here at home that would enable me to serve others and make a living. I have a brain to learn new things. I am healthy and able bodied. I have a garage, I have some tools … why not try building some furniture? Now, I have a whole shop set up in my garage, I can work from home, the kids can e-learn, (the puppy is potty trained…mostly) and I always have at least 6 orders in the queue.”
Rachel Thompson – Founder of Saw & Dust
“When the COVID pandemic first hit, I created a clear facemask and patented the design. MTek3D’s newest product is the latest, environmentally friendly, reusable mask that enables facial recognition on digital devices. The clear facemask is also washable and reusable and allows others to see your face – all while filtering COVID-19. I launched it at the beginning of 2021 with the goal to keep all of the manufacturing here in Knoxville.”
William Lewellyn – Founder of MTek3D
“I was selected to Knox.Biz 40 Under 40 in 2019, and then lost my job during COVID. I took my severance package and started Poribar Digital (rebranded to Omega Digital Solutions) to help clients navigate CRM implementations and migrations and do some custom application development on AWS. AWS is also leading us into Smart Home technology; we can use our software development to build custom skills tailored to our client’s particular needs. We’ve been able to work with some of the fastest-growing companies in the Knoxville area. I love entrepreneurial life.” 
Marcus Blair – Founder of Omega Digital Solutions
“What if we had a system in place that paralleled the protection we have from deadly fires? With the “Building Virulent Rating System,” I aim to introduce the world to that very concept. We need laws that mandate germ fighting technologies in our public spaces and business. How will we be ready for the next pandemic? Will we have to shut down our economies all over again or will we be ready with a “germ detector” and germ killing technology in our spaces?”
Temis Guzman – Founder of Massage Design & Innovation
“My entrepreneurial journey started in the Winter/Spring of 2019. As a hobby, I had been arranging a variety of succulent creations and gifting to friends as well as selling them on social media. It was a creative outlet for me, upcycling thrifted coffee mugs, bowls, driftwood, etc. to create something new with succulents, and people loved them! At the time, I simply saw it as a fun way to earn a little extra income in order to save for our upcoming wedding. … It wasn’t until March 2020 that I was forced to pivot. I was laid off from my job as a result of COVID-19 and it felt crushing, yet liberating at the same time. I was given the opportunity to start something new and had nothing to lose!”
Kelly Taylor – Founder of Plant Rambler
“As an entrepreneur, one of my biggest pivot moments was during the height of COVID in 2020. The men of the organization that I oversee were having a difficult time acquiring employment, so I purchased an S-10 pickup and a pressure washer and started what would become Hopewell’s Helping Hands. I was apprehensive about the new venture ‒ but it has proven to be beneficial for the men, our organization and the Knoxville community.”
Reico Hopewell – Founder of Hopewell Helping Hands Inc.
“Our businesses are the product of two women determined to establish financial freedom. … In 2018, we bought a mobile unit and in June of 2020, we were able to sign a contract with Knox County for Yummies to have two brick and mortar locations. Now, we are both studying to sit for their General Contractors License Exam to grow our business, Scott&Wright Construction, LLC.”
Nicolsha Scott & C’erise Wright – Founders of Yummies, Scott&Wright Construction, LLC
Knoxville is made for ALL entrepreneurs: makers, dreamers, leaders, inventors, investors, visionaries. What are YOU made for? Join the community and tell us your Made For Knoxville story at madeforknoxville.com.
Jalynn Baker is the Coordinator of Storytelling Initiatives for Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, the Inclusion & Community Outreach Coordinator for Dogwood Arts, and a founding member of Open Arts Knoxville. She is a photographer and active community member who uses art and storytelling as a tool for advocacy. Through a creative process that starts with listening first, Jalynn seeks to center the voices of the unheard and reveal the dignity within all communities. Her goal is to create work that releases appreciation for life and empathy for people into the world. Reach out to Jalynn at jalynn@knoxec.net


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