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'There's a lot of opportunity on the horizon' | Entrepreneurs take root in Knoxville's booming economy

Start-up Knox has more than a hundred new businesses listed on its site. The business concepts range from food establishments to products, software, and more.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knoxville is well on its way to becoming a hub for start-ups. Start-up Knox has more than a hundred new businesses listed on its site. The business concepts range from food establishments to products, software, and more.

Entrepreneurs in the Knoxville community say these startups are the first major wave of entrepreneurial businesses in the area. They believe it is only going to keep growing.

Inside the walls of the RegScale office, new employees are transforming the sector of security software and compliance programs. However, they are also affecting the Knoxville economy.

The co-founder of the company, Travis Howerton, launched RegScale in early 2021. He believes RegScale will offer a huge convenience to companies.

"Some companies have to write these 400-page documents for security plans that nobody wants to read, and nobody wants to write. Then, they're out of date almost as soon as they're written. So, we wrote some software that just helps automate a lot of that process makes it closer to real-time and is sort of faster and cheaper than the way people do it today," Howerton said.

It wasn't long before the company was servicing customers.

Howerton could have planted this company somewhere else. However, his roots had a different idea.

"I'm a Tennessee boy, born and raised. I went to Central High School, and my wife graduated from the University of Tennessee, so we've got deep family roots here," Howerton said.

Just up the street from the RegScale office, another startup company settled into Knoxville lab space.

Don DeRosa's company, Eonix, is creating new chemistry concepts for lithium-ion batteries. The company says battery chemistries are not "one size fits all." They said the same chemical makeup of the battery that charges your phone shouldn't be the same one that is also used to charge your car.   

DeRosa's chemistry caught the eye of Oak Ridge National Laboratories.

"We were awarded a contract to work with ORNL to collaborate on building out this accelerated research and development platform," DeRosa said. "Our original plan wasn't to stick around in the region, to be honest."

But a few years into their contract, the plan changed.

"We found that this is a fantastic place to grow a business," DeRosa said.

For both Eonix and RegScale, the city of Knoxville offered something unique and enticing.

"One, the labor cost here versus trying to hire in the big cities is substantially cheaper. The quality of life is higher. There's less traffic, less cost of living. It's easier to get talent because you're not competing with all these huge companies," Howerton said.

Economic factors are also a big draw, and so is the emerging entrepreneur community.

"I think you have a sustainable ecosystem that's been built. I'm excited to see where it's going to be over the next few years," DeRosa said.

As the companies grow, so does Knoxville's mark on the business scene.

In addition to the benefit for the start-ups, the city and its citizens benefit, too. Startups create jobs, which leads to more employment, and more money in the local economy.

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