Startups In The Fastlane: Jumpstart Foundry Startup ZingFin


One startup is tackling personal investment by polling the best social media information to help anyone have a better grasp on investing. ZingFin is currently accelerating in Nashville, Tennessee at JumpStart Foundry, and we’ve got them in the Fastlane.

Accelerators are a big part of the startup ecosystem globally. Good accelerators aren’t always rosy. They pick the best of the best in their application phase, and then through mentorship and in-depth insight, they turn the idea upside down to get it to market.

ZingFin is one of the teams that will graduate from Jumpstart Foundry on August 22nd. The JSF demo day is often standing room only with over 400 in attendance, so pressure is on for all of the startups. For ZingFin though, the pressure may be greater.

They’ve put together a product that integrates social media into a dashboard that helps investors make more educated decisions for their personal investment portfolios. Hopefully the room full of investors will be chomping at the bit to try out this new product. Some of the accelerator’s investment backers, like Vic Gatto of the Solidus Company, have already been spreading Zingfin out to their social networks.

Zingfin, Jumpstart Foundry, Nashville Startup, Startups In The FastlaneSo what does ZingFin do exactly?

They stay on top of trending stocks. “Zingfin’s text analytics filter the more relevant conversations that impact stocks on social media channels such as Twitter® and Stockwits®. You’ll make sense of the aggregate market trends before anyone else sees them coming,” the company says on their website. They also tout the fact that Cornell researchers have found that Twitter mood predicts the stock market at an accuracy of 87.6% in predicting the up and down changes in closing values of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

They also use social media to help identify industry and opinion leaders and they also connect the dots with “indepth visualizations”.

To find out more we talked with Balaji Viswanathan, co-founder of ZingFin in our Startups In The Fastlane interview. Check out the interview below.

Where is your startup originally from? 

Boston, MA

Tell us about your current team?  

We are a team of 3 – Balaji, Manju, Anup. Balaji has a MS in Computer Science and worked for Microsoft Redmond as a developer for 4 years. Balaji is the CEO and manages the technology execution. Manju is an electronics engineer and she has a background in operations and database management. She is the COO and manages the operations & administration. Anup has an MBA and has expertise in user experience & product development.

What does your startup do?  

We help investors be in the know of market trends and pick the right stocks based on social sentiments.

What are your goals for the accelerator program?  

To fine-tune product and get the product-market fit.

What’s one thing you’ve learned in the accelerator? 

To perfect on that one thing that will gain us the initial advantage. We can always scale from that point.

What’s the hardest piece of advice you’ve had to stomach so far? 

Really making the product focus.

What is your goal for the day after demo day? 

To hunt for angels who can help us move to the next stage.

Why did you choose this accelerator?      

The mentoring is hands-on and Nashville is a city that is on rise.

If you relocated for the accelerator are you staying in your new city?     

We moved from Boston. We might temporarily move back to Boston and then will keep traveling back and forth. Depending on our funding we will decide on the final location.

 What’s one thing you learned about an accelerator that you didn’t know when you applied? 

The fact that Jumpstart has so many mentors who are so interested in getting us successful.

Where can people find out more?      

Here is our landing page:, Our blog is at

What’s your twitter handle?  


Find out more about JumpStart Foundry here. 


Startup Accelerators: The Hard Advice

GigTank, Mira Designs, Sisasa, TidBit, startups, accelerators

(Lawrence Yu CoFounder of Mira Designs. Photo NMI 2013)

Startup accelerators are great,] because they give young growing startups capital, access to resources, mentors, and hopefully investors. But they aren’t always rosy. In fact, if all your days in an accelerator program are rosy, then you need to run like hell from that accelerator program.

On our sneaker-strapped startup road trip, we’ve had the privilege of meeting several startups in mid session. We’ve seen startup founders cry, scream, cuss, even break things, typically right before they have that “aha moment”.  What we normally find is that the hardest piece of advice, and usually the “ugly baby” moment, is very early on in the accelerator. In fact most accelerators engineer an activity on day one or two where mentors, advisors, or even media members are invited in to tear an idea to shreds.

We got a chance to talk with Lawrence Yu, cofounder of Mira Designs, Alejandro Dinsmore, cofounder of Sisasa, and Sam Bowden, founder and CEO of TidBit. All three startups graduated from the GigTank accelerator in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Tuesday afternoon.

For Yu, the hardest advice came as an eye opening experience that they weren’t the only startup trying to fix offline retail with online components. The team at Mira Designs needed to make sure that they were clearly differentiating themselves from the competition and they needed to do it in a big way.

For both Bowen and Dinsmore, their harshest advice was an ugly baby moment that for both startups meant a pivot. Sisasa totally changed course from the idea they came into the accelerator with.  For Bowen it meant going after a different industry, actually an industry he knew more about first hand.  The end result of both of their “ugly baby” moments was what most would call traction.

The video below features all three founders talking about their harshest or most eye opening advice in the GigTank.

Check out the accelerator panel with accelerator heads from across the country at this national startup conference.


Tidbit, A Cayman Islands Startup, Is Fixing Training [video]

Tidbit, GigTank startup, startup,startup pitch, Cayman Islands startup

When Sam Bowen took the stage at the GigTank demo day on Tuesday afternoon, he talked about everything wrong with corporate training. And he should know. He’s been a trainer throughout most of his career. He has trained professionals in state government, the hospitality industry, and non profit organizations. At one point he even had to train judges, which can be an extremely hard task.

Kicking off his pitch, Bowen said, “I can tell you two things have remained constant, a majority of folks hate training,” which drew a chuckle from the crowd of investors and startup supporters in Chattanooga.The second thing, according to Bowen, is that everyone in the hospitality industry focuses on one number: the annual staff turnover rate. The national average annual staff turnover rate is a whopping 65%.

That’s obviously why everybody hates training. With employee churn that high, business owners, corporate trainers, and HR departments are constantly training new employees to do their regular jobs, making it almost impossible to find the time to teach existing employees new things.

Online training in one form or another has been around for nearly two decades. Text and “module” based training or even “knowledge base” training has fueled big corporations, staffing firms, retailers, and chain restaurants since the 90’s.

The problem with those solutions is, as technology improved, training didn’t. The other key factor is that for more and more busy people, the computer is becoming screen number 2. Screen number one is the phone or tablet.

So Cayman Islands native Bowen, his brother, and their team created Tidbit, a startup that incorporates the smartphone and all its available technology to make training materials easy for the trainer to create and just as easy for the employee to consume.  Bowen gave the example of a bakery owner who would be able to use her smartphone’s video camera and microphone to walk employees through how to make her latest cupcake designs. The employees can then in turn, watch the content created by the owner and make the cupcake at the same time.

Hotels could use Tidbit to quickly show an entire fleet of housekeepers some new way of making the beds or where a new piece of flair goes in a room. The employees become more productive by having those training modules in their hand, in the room while they’re doing the job.

For employers that want to allow their employees to access the content from their own device, training becomes something that an employee can do on the bus or at home in some down time without the worry of finding a computer.

There’s an unwritten rule across most accelerators: to wow the investors in the room, they save the best startup for last. Tidbit went last, here’s the video:



Sisasa Is Bridging The Gap Between Young Adults And Community Banks

Sisasa, GigTank, startups, demo day

Sisasa co-founders Alejandro DInsmore and Deborah Tien (photo: NMI 2013)

Community banks are great. Often times community banks have more 1:1 resources to give to their customers. They can offer education, guidance and products that benefit local businesses, local residents and bolster the local economy.

But what happens when a college student or young adult leaves home for another city?

Well often times they turn to one of the mega banks like Bank of America, Wells Fargo or Chase. There the college student is just another number and they often times have questions that they just can’t get answered by an automated phone system. This is a real problem for college students.

“Students often find themselves incurring fees they don’t understand and can never get a real person to talk with them about it so they pay it and move on” Sisasa co-founder Alejandro Dinsmore told us before GigTank’s demo day on Tuesday. “We hear horror stories from students and their parents on a regular basis”.

What they found though, is that many of these students resort to the mega banks because they have better mobile apps. Bank of America and Wells Fargo have real time banking on their mobile apps. If you deposit $10 into a Bank of America or Wells Fargo branch, you can leave the teller station, check the app and see that $10. Community Banks are often not as up to date, relying on systems implemented years ago trying to sway young people in this digital age.

That’s how Sisasa is solving this problem. By offering a better mobile banking app for community banks they can help the bank attract or retain this important customer. If a young person has a good experience with a community bank they are more likely to stay with that bank as they continue to grow. That community bank could finance their first car or that first house, but in an internet 2.0 (almost 3.0) age, and in the age of mobile, without that technology the community bank is dead in the water.

Sisasa, who’s team hails from Michigan, Boston and everywhere else, developed their current product at the GigTank in Chattanooga. Dinsmore tells us that they blew up their original idea after their first meeting with their lead mentor. After pivoting that mentor’s company is now one of their beta customers.

Sisasa private labels their mobile banking app for community bank, giving those local community banks features comparable and at times even better than their mega bank counterparts.

We got a chance to talk with Dinsmore just minutes before their GigTank pitch. Check out our interview below.

Checkout more GigTank Demo Day startup coverage here


Monitor Your Older Loved Ones With Sensevery, No Smartphone Required [video]

Sensevery, GigTank, Startup Pitch

The GigTank, Chattanooga’s startup accelerator named after their gigabit ethernet, graduated its second class on Tuesday afternoon. Seven startups from across the country and around the world worked through the dog days of summer at improving their companies, iterating, and bringing products to market. When the accelerator announced this year’s application process, co-founder Sheldon Grizzle was looking for startups working on the “the internet of things.”

One of those startups hails from India and is using “the internet of things” to unobtrusively monitor elderly loved ones. As co-founder Bentley Cook said in his presentation, he would call his grandmother on a regular basis, ask how she was, and she always said she was good. But really, what does good actually mean?

Many older folks don’t want to tell their younger family members that something’s wrong. Either they don’t want to be a burden or they don’t want to give up their independence.

Back in the 80’s Life Alert had a system that allowed an elderly person to hit a button and yell out to a speaker box that they’ve had some kind of problem. The token line was “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” We all remember the commercials and how big and gaudy the pendant was for Life Alert.

Sensevery is building an unobtrusive device that allows family members to monitor a loved one without disrupting their lifestyle. Cook went through a bunch of devices, including a 1980’s digital watch-looking device, and acknowledged the fact that nobody wanted to wear something like that.

Cook even went as far as to dis Solidus portfolio company, EverMind, which makes a device that monitors an older person’s power habits to see for disruptions in their daily routines. Cook said in his pitch “If your doctor wants to know how often your coffee maker was on, then you’ve got a problem.” Solidus is one of the investment backers of the GigTank program. Aside from that awkward reference, Sensevery may be onto something big.

Their system uses a small bracelet style monitoring device no more obtrusive than a FitBit or other lifestyle monitor. Now typically these devices are synced to an app and a smartphone, but really how many folks in that older generation have a smartphone or the patience to program one.

For those people Sensevery has developed a syncing device that plugs into the wall, and voila. The wall device sends the data from the bracelet to the cloud where loved ones and family members can access the data in the cloud from any internet connected device.

The data coming from the bracelet can quickly tell the person monitoring if something’s not right. Alerts can also be set up to tell the monitoring person the minute something breaks from the norm. If all of a sudden there was no heart rate picked up, the device would also summon emergency personnel.

Cook, along with co-founder Parth Suthar, are hoping that others quickly see the value in the Sensevery platform.

Check out Cook’s GigTank pitch below.

No really click on this link right now, you won’t regret it.




GigTank Demo Day Kicks Off With Princeton Startup Mira

Chattanooga’s GigTank accelerator kicked off their second annual demo day on Tuesday afternoon. In perusing the startups in the second cohort before they took the stage, we quickly realized that startups from around the world were accepted into the program in the first GigCity in the U.S. (sorry Kansas City).

GigTank attracted startups from Bulgaria (HutGrip), The Cayman Islands ( and of course across this country. One of those startups hailed from Princeton and chose to come to Chattanooga for access to the extremely fast internet and the wide range of mentors, lead mentors, and seed capital that Sheldon Grizzle, Mike Bradshaw, and the team at GigTank have provided.

Mira is the latest startup to tackle the offline retail experience with data points and information typically only found online. Now we’ve talked with a few startups in the space, but what they lacked was an actual hardware/software platform in the store that would allow the customer to get an online experience within the walls of the retail store.

During the presentation they talked about a woman, Michelle, who is looking for running shoes specifically for a 10k. She forgot to do research so rather than postponing the purchase or going “window shopping,” she was able to use the Mira Pod, an in-store interactive sign to choose the shoes that she needed. After she went through her personal experience, she was able to try the shoes on, pay, and get on with her day.

There is definitely value in bringing that kind of web experience into a retail outlet. Check out the pitch below to better understand Mira.

You can find out more about Mira here at

Here’s our interview with Mira Designs:

And here’s their pitch video:


Twelve Cities Founder And Thiel Fellowship Liason Nick Arnett On Three Themes For Building Great Cities

Nick Arnett, Twelve Cities, Indiana startups, Thiel Fellowship

While Brad Feld’s book on Startup Communities has become a bible to many people trying to jumpstart startup ecosystems across the country, one entrepreneur has been looking at not just the startup community but the city as a whole, and he’s been doing it since he was 15.

At an age when many high school students are considering the football team, the wrestling team, or a homecoming date, Nick Arnett was sitting in on economic development meetings in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was there that he started working on an idea to visit 12 great cities and see what they had in common.

The project officially began in 2011 when a team of individuals, spearheaded by Arnett, went on a series of twelve trips throughout the continental United States. Arnett pointed out to a standing room only crowd at the Fireside Talks event on Monday night that Chattanooga was the first city they visited.

The group working on twelve cities started noticing three big themes that existed across all twelve cities. Arnett said it doesn’t matter if they were talking to the Mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan or a resident in Tucson, Arizona. these three themes always come up.

  1. The importance of openness and embracing the weird. Arnett explains in the video that being open and embracing everyone in the city is crucial for entrepreneurship. A city needs to embrace those who are working on startups, their own ideas, or freelance. Long gone are the days of everyone going to work at the plant.
  2. The ability to make a difference no matter who you are. A lot of cities have a gap between their older leadership and younger leadership that makes it hard for one group to make a difference. Cities that don’t have that gap are more successful.
  3. The importance of social connectivity, connecting the connectors. Having your local city connectors connect with another city’s connectors. Cities need to leverage these kinds of people that have both strong internal and external connectors.

Arnett really goes deep into all three of these themes in the video below. If you’re working on a startup community, do you have the city component as well? I’ve seen a lot of startup communities that are struggling because the city is still stuck in old ways. Make your city great, and your startup community will be greater.


14 Year Old Social Entrepreneur Jack Skowronnek Has Been At It 4 Years Already

Jack's Chattanoggins, Jack Skowronnek, Chattanooga startup, Thiel Fellows, GigTank

Accelerator week in Tennessee kicked off on Monday evening with a VIP reception for the GigTank accelerator and then an event called Fireside Talks, which featured members of the Thiel Fellows Program and local Chattanoogans under the age of 20 who are doing great things.

The Fireside Talk event was kicked off by serial entrepreneur, angel investor, advisor, mentor, and “Mr. Chattanooga” Stephen Culp. Culp, who speaks on entrepreneurship and is passionate about startups. wanted to be brief and insisted that the focus be on the young entrepreneurs who he said “had me questioning what I was doing at age 20”.

Before he left the stage though Culp drove home three major points:

  • everyone has entrepreneurism in them
  • entrepreneurism isn’t just for profit
  • entrepreneurs need support

The second point was manifest Monday evening when Jack Skowronnek took the stage.  This unique 14-year-old didn’t start some social mobile game, nor did he develop some kind of note taking app for school students. Rather, Skowronnek is a social entrepreneur. The best part: he’s been doing it since he was ten years old.

It was when Jack was 10 and going into the sixth grade that his elementary school teacher in Chicago recommended he read the book “Drums Girls and Dangerous Pie” by Jordan Sonnenblick. He told the standing room-only audience at the Chattanooga Theater Center that “you’d never guess what the book was about,” and of course who knew that a book with a title like that would be about a boy who shaved his head in solidarity with his brother who has cancer.

Shaving one’s head to support someone with cancer isn’t anything new. Former President George HW Bush just recently shaved his head when he found out that members of his secret service detail had shaved theirs in solidarity with one of their agents whose son Patrick has leukemia.

What’s unique about Jack is that upon completing the book he immediately told his parents that he needed (not wanted) to shave his head. After stating his case his parents allowed him to do just that. Along with shaving his head he started raising money for St.Baldrick’s, a national non profit organization that encourages people to shave their head and donate to help cancer patients. In two years Jack had raised over $5,000 for the charity.

When he moved to Chattanooga, he continued to shave his head and raise money. His story got picked up by local radio stations and Paul Smith, General Manager at the Chattanooga Market, heard about Jack and immediately contacted his mother Dawn Skowronnek. Smith wanted to host Jack’s head shaving event at the market,  a very popular destination in Chattanooga.

As the event evolved, Jack was convinced to start his own charity to help the Children’s Hospital Foundation, which would keep the proceeds at a local level and help more than 50 Chattanooga area children with cancer. Jack’s foundation was christened Jack’s Chattanoggins, incorporating Chattanooga and noggin.

Young Jack moved the audience near tears when he told the story about a girl named Kennedy who he had befriended at the hospital. Kennedy had suffered through losing a lung and a leg to cancer but remained positive and upbeat. At one point she donated $20 to Jack’s campaign, even though he found out from the girl’s mother she never parts with her money. Jack also realized the significance of his efforts when the people he was trying to help were turning around and donating as well.

Last year Kennedy passed away, which made Jack start doubting his efforts. He explained that he attended the young gir’ls wake but couldn’t bring himself to come to the funeral. Jack dedicated the most recent Jack’s Chattanoggins event to Kennedy’s honor. It was also the most successful to date.

Jack obviously has hair in the picture above. In between events he grows his hair out so it can be shaved again. At the last event even the Mayor cut a lock of Jack’s blonde hair for the cause.

Jack plans on continuing this kind of work for the rest of his life. His entire family and the city of Chattanooga back him 100%. Jack’s looking forward to starting the 9th grade on Thursday and continuing to change the world one hair at a time.


Tennessee Prepares For Accelerator Week

Tennessee startups, Gigtank, Zeroto510,autoXLR8R, demo day, startups, accleratorsLast year August was Demo Day month in Tennessee. During the month of August (on consecutive Thursdays no less), Chattanooga’s GigTank, Memphis’ Zeroto510, and Nashville’s Jumpstart Foundry all held their demo days. The month of August was a true testament to the strong commitment to startups and entrepreneurship that exists across Tennessee.

We were fortunate enough to attend all 3 accelerator demo days and a variety of startup events that went along with those programs.

This year, Tennessee has condensed it all into one week, sans the Jumpstart Foundry demo day which is on August 22nd.

The week kicks off in Chattanooga, Tennessee today with some pre-events surrounding GigTank’s demo day on Tuesday. On Demo Day, the current class of startups who spent their summer in the GigTank will show off their work. The startup accelerator, now in it’s second year, gets it’s name from being the first accelerator on citywide gigabit ethernet.

The gigabit ethernet, and big entrepreneurial ideas, are why Bob Metcalfe, the creator of ethernet, is the keynote speaker for the GigTank’s big day.

Wednesday the festivities move about 150 miles northwest to tiny Spring Hill, TN. Spring Hill is home to a major GM plant and, this year, the Southern Middle Tennessee Entrepreneur Center’s autoXLR8R. autoXLR8R focused on technologies applicable to the automotive industry, and as per usual the companies will graduate with a demo day.

Finally we head to Memphis where ZeroTo510 will hold their second demo day on Thursday. ZeroTo510 is the first cohort-based medical device accelerator.

Stay tuned to Nibletz all week long for coverage of demo day week in Tennessee and then again August 22 for Jumpstart Foundry’s demo day.

Don’t forget The Startup Conference is also in Tennessee, in February!


Startups In The Fastlane: Jumpstart Foundry Startup, Fastlane startup, startup interview, accelerator, Jumpstart Foundry, like “gun yo, think hired guns,” Teja Yenamandra told us about the name of his startup. is currently going through the Jumpstart Foundry accelerator in Nashville’s brand spankin new Entrepreneur Center.  They’re the latest startup we’re featuring in our new Startups In The Fastlane series.

Jumpstart Foundry is in the midst of its fourth class, which will graduate on August 22nd. is connecting clients with hackers. If a company is looking for a rockstar ninja developer, they will find him or her on The team at realizes there are plenty of startups already in the space. Even venture backed startups that have expanded nationally have succumbed to failure, like the popular path.t0.

That doesn’t have the team worried one bit. In our interview below Yenamandra tells us “Other sites let you hire adequate software developers; we try to cater to the best. Software development is a subtle art, and the difference between a shitty developer and a great one is pretty significant. There are a few sites that are working on the same problem, and many of them are quite good. Others are not. It would be rude to mention any by name, but we think we’ve got the problem identified better than they do, and we think we’re able to keep building a solution both sides (hirers, hackers) want more.”

Check out the rest of our interview with Yenamandra below:

What is the name of your startup? (gun-yo). Think hired guns.

What accelerator are you in?

We’re a part of Jumpstart Foundry in Nashville, TN, one of the oldest accelerators in the country. It’s backed by Solidus Company, one of the best, most progressive VCs in the game right now. And we say that as entrepreneurs. In fact, we were pretty reluctant to accept money, even a nominal amount, since we were already making it. But Solidus is awesome. They get it. The South’s technology ecosystem owes them a tremendous amount. Shout out to Vic Gatto, Townes Duncan, and all of the LPs who made it possible.

Where is your startup originally from?

We’re a distributed team out of CA, TN, and PA. It’s cheap, there’s less distractions with management process, and much more freedom to produce. Plus, our community of made up of freelancers and clients who work often in a remote fashion, so it’s fitting that it’s exactly how we built our own company.We get it how we live. And we encourage others to do so as well. That said, it’s nice to mostly be in the same place for now. We’re not entirely what the future holds for us, however. You can build a massive technology company anywhere these days — and that’s the exciting part.

Tell us about your current team?

Hackers and hustlers, baby. Rich Jones is a technology beast, and was named by Intel as one of the “30 under 30 to watch.” JohnPaul’s worked in business development for an Asian master franchising firm and as a portfolio analyst for Merrill Lynch. Teja Yenamandra’s worked for a consulting firm as well as an early employee for a startup in Shanghai that sold for $65M in under two years. They all know each other from university, and from working together in Shanghai, China.

What does your startup do? helps clients hire hackers. Other sites let you hire adequate software developers, we try to cater to the best. Software development is a subtle art, and the difference between a shitty developer and a great one can produce is pretty significant. There are a few sites that are working on the same problem, and many of them are quite good. Others are not. It would be rude to mention any by name, but we think we’ve got the problem identified better than they do, and we think we’re able to keep building a solution both sides (hirers, hackers) want more.

What are your goals for the accelerator program?

Build more awesome stuff, sell said awesome stuff. The only two goals any startup should have.

What’s one thing you’ve learned in the accelerator?

We knew agile software development. We now practice agile business development.

What’s the hardest piece of advice you’ve had to stomach so far?


What is your goal for the day after demo day?

Build more awesome stuff, sell said awesome stuff.

Why did you choose this accelerator?

Vic Gatto, David Ledgerwood, Julia Polk and Shawn Glinter. They’re awesome, all are major players within the startup ecosystem here in Nashville, and were the four people who convinced us us to join Jumpstart Foundry.

What’s one thing you learned about an accelerator that you didn’t know when you applied?

Speed is the only advantage a startup has.

Where can people find out more?


Knoxville Startup Puts Celebrities, Sports Stars, Musicians In The iSpotlight

iSpotlight, Knoxville startup, startup interview

With all of the information available on the internet, and so many different ways  to access it, getting what you really need and want when you really need and want it can be challenging. There are several news and social aggregators out there now. These web based platforms can find a broad range of information or a concentrated range of information by category. Now, a Knoxville startup wants to be the place you go to find everything available online about your favorite stars and athletes.

iSpotlight is a mobile app that’s like Hootsuite, Google Alerts, ESPN, and even Ticketmaster rolled into one. In one sharp, and appealing interface you can tell iSpotlight who your favorite musicians, celebrities, athletes and sports teams are, and it will in turn serve up everything it can find across the web and social. iSpotlight can even tell the user when a team’s next game is or a musicians next concert is, and then point you to the tickets.

The Eastern Tennessee startup has already completed a seed round and is looking forward to launching and then closing their Series A round to bring the ultimate in fandom apps to millions of users worldwide.

bounceit-sponsorWe got a chance to talk with Ryan Kelly, the CEO and co-founder of iSpotlight. Check out the interview below.

What is your startup called?

iSpotlight   (

What does your company do?

We are developing a mobile app that consolidates all of the news, social media, event schedules, and merchandise/tickets/music for your favorite athletes, music artists, and entertainers, all in one convenient location.

Who are the founders, and what are their backgrounds

Ryan Kelly, CEO, has been a financial advisor with Morgan Stanley Wealth Management in Knoxville, TN. As founding member of the Venable Pruitt & Kelly Group, Ryan has contributed to the merging of 3 additional successful practices all into one of the largest high net worth wealth management teams in the region.

Patrick Kelly, COO, a graduate of the University of Tennessee’s MBA program, and recipient of 1st Place in the program’s Business Plan Presentations for a project including building a Wakeboard Cable Park in East Tennessee. Patrick is currently the Consumer Products Manager for HGTV.

Where are you based?

Based in Knoxville, TN

What’s the startup scene like where you are based?

East TN has an emerging startup atmosphere, with many Angel Groups and Startup Incubators promoting the ongoing growth and success of local entrepreneurs.

What problem do you solve?

With the vast amount of information available on so many different platforms, people spend a great deal of time searching the Internet for news and bouncing from social media app to social media app. Looking into the numbers, individuals are sought after in much higher rates than general news. So with the existence of general news aggregators, iSpotlight found an opportunity to give the users what they want, everything they search for regarding their favorite stars and celebrities, all in one convenient location.

Why now?

The marketplace has seen the recent emergence of general news aggregation, and has even begun to see the startup of some category-specific (sports-only, music-only, etc) social media aggregators. So while the last several years has been so instrumental in bringing so many forms of communication to the user, now is the opportunity to consolidate them together. And since news publications and social media like Facebook and Twitter already have such a loyal audience, why compete with them? Rather, bring them all around the table together.

What are some of the milestones your startup has already reached?

We have completed our Seed Round of funding. Also, we have been using the Agile methodology during development, and have received Sprint 3 of 5, and expect to see Sprint 4 released on July 8th.

What are your next milestones?

Our next milestones include our Series A funding round for operational purposes, as well our milestone to complete development on July 29th, and hopefully a smooth and efficient beta testing period and Apple App Store approval, so that we can launch the app to the public very soon. Once this is successful, we plan to begin working on our development of iSpotlight for Android.

Where can people find out more? Any social media links you want to share?

People can follow our updates at They can also follow us on Twitter (@iSpotlightApp), “Like” us on Facebook (, and connect with us on LinkedIn (


Memphis Woman Led Startup MentorMe Headed West for A NewMe

MentorMe, Brittany Fitzpatrick, NewMe Accelerator, Memphis startup

Last year, just before Christmas we got a chance to help with the Upstart 48 Hour Launch event in Memphis, Tennessee. This event, like Startup Weekend events, was a weekend-long startup building hackathon with a twist. The twist? It was for women-led startup projects only.

We saw several great startups. Some are still going strong, and we even met our employee #1 at that event.  Danielle Inez’ Pink Robin Avenue ended up winning the weekend competition and a free booth at The Startup Conference. Another great startup we saw was Mentor.Me, or just MentorMe now.

While the startup, led by Memphis woman Brittany Fitzpatrick, didn’t win the competition, Fitzpatrick immediately turned on her entrepreneurial prowess and before the end of the evening she had crowdfunded, in person, her own booth for the conference.  That showed what kind of passionate, hardworking entrepreneur Fitzpatrick really is.

MentorMe is a matching service for mentors and mentee’s, kind of like “ for mentors.” Fitzpatrick has a strong background in mentorship and quickly discovered that mentor/mentee mismatch was a huge problem nationwide.

Fitzpatrick ended up quitting her job at Ronald McDonald House Children’s Charities and going all in with her startup. She went through the spring session at the Memphis-based Seed Hatchery accelerator and continued to grind.

Marston-1Last month Fitzpatrick participated in the NewMe Pop-Up accelerator in Memphis, where her startup MentorMe came in 3rd place.   That win also got her a spot in the NewMe accelerator program in Silicon Valley, which starts next week.

NewMe is an invite-only 12-week accelerator for technology startups led by underrepresented minorities. Private investment firm CB Insights reported in 2010 that African Americans represented just 1 percent of Internet company founders nationally. Furthermore, although women represent more than 50% of the U.S. population, they represent only 35 percent of those launching their own ventures.

“As an African-American woman and a tech startup founder, I am always happy to align myself with efforts to change the ratio so that we can create a startup community that is more reflective of the diversity we see in the community-at-large,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement.

“From upstart 48 hour launch last winter, through Seed Hatchery I’ve had the privilege of seeing both and Brittany grow from idea to full fledged startup. Brittany quit her day job, dug in, and made this opportunity happen for her. We’ll miss her for the few months while she’s out west for the NewMe Accelerator, but we’re looking forward to her coming back home to Memphis and being another success story for the Memphis startup ecosystem,” Seed Hatchery Managing Director Eric Mathews told Nibletz.

Find out more about MentorMe here at


Startup Culture: Offering Your Courageous, Daring Employees Something Intangible

ProdigiArts, Startup Culture, Startup Tips, Memphis startup

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Who would choose to work for some entrepreneur they met at a coffee shop, for little pay, unconventional hours, and without promise of Google-like fortunes? They may have a fantastic idea that will solve some great problem in modern society, but right now their eyes are bleary from too much caffeine and a scalding Macbook. It’s hard to believe in them.

Startups not only face difficulty in convincing prospective investors and clients, but also potential employees whose talents would make a valuable contribution to the ever-growing company. Capital might not be the greatest resource at your disposal, but your people are.

As entrepreneurs, it’s easy to fantasize about the kind of company culture you’d like to foster in the future: throngs of employees working diligently and creatively, in between collective games of Call of Duty. In reality, culture building happens the moment one other person says ‘yes’ to joining your crazy idea for a company.

The famed animation studio Pixar faced the same struggle to build culture. The production house that totes 27 Academy Awards on its mantle started out with sleep-deprived, passionate people who took a chance on an idea they believed in. Since its inception in 1979, Pixar has taken many directions, from producing special effects for Star Trek to working on a commercial for Listerine. Despite the change in vision, structure, or ownership, the individuals who were so passionate about their craft and creating a company notable for what it offered the world made Pixar great. By no means did this happen without investment and capital, but it started with the right people.

In James Collins’ celebrated book Good to Great, he emphasizes recruiting the right people, who are flexible and put in their time and energy day after day, even when the vision or direction of a company might take a detour. He says that while vision is essential when starting a business and gaining employees, “If you begin with ‘who’ rather than ‘what,’ you can more easily adapt to a changing world.”


One of the really important features of our company culture is a strong emphasis on trust and validation. In our industry most young, ambitious animators want to go work for the larger, more legendary studios in New York or Los Angeles, where they will probably be made to work longer hours and receive little credit.

While this is the reality of many recent graduates and young professionals in their career development journey, we try to value and recognize each accomplishment made, whether that’s with bonuses for especially noteworthy projects or getting taken out to lunch because someone forgot to bring theirs for the day. Every person, no matter how old or how young, desires a place in a community and to feel like their work is valued and contributes to something greater than themselves. We may not have the notoriety of a large studio, but what defines our culture is how satisfied and ambitious those brave souls are who have joined our growing studio.

Investing in human capital proves to be just as important as your real capital. Find those select few who invest their time, talents, and future in your company, because those are the ones who will be there at the end of the day, even when financial backers may not be.

Joshua Colfer is with ProdigiArts a Memphis animation, design and development firm. See what they can do for your startup visit them on the web at


The Hottest Thing In Tech Startups Is Getting Hotter


When you ask about the hottest thing in startups, you may get a lot of answers:

  • Data
  • Crowdfunding
  • New media

All of these things are popular, and lots of people are building and innovating in these areas. But, the actual hottest thing in tech startups isn’t an industry. It’s women.

Every conference you go to, you’ll hear the same question: “Where are the women?” Where are they on the VC panels? Why don’t more women-led startups receive funding? Why aren’t more women on the technical side?

There are no easy answers to these questions, because everything is so nuanced. But, the growing emphasis on women in the tech world is undeniable. There’s evidence that the gender gap is closing. Lots of accelerators actively seek women-founded companies. There are more and more initiatives to teach young girls coding and engineering. At our own Everywhere Else Conference, we host a “Kick-Ass Female Founders” panel, where women sound off about starting companies.

And, now, with a new women-only accelerator, women are just getting hotter.

Last week was the opening week of the inaugural cohort of Upstart, a women’s accelerator in Memphis, TN. Four teams survived the application process, and it all kicked off with a swanky reception.

Some people may disagree with a women’s-only accelerator. I admit, I was one of them at first. The thinking is that we don’t want to accidentally build a “separate but equal” ecosystem, with a women’s accelerator becoming a good place for the also-ran’s.

The team at Upstart isn’t going to let that happen, though.

At the opening reception, Start Co co-president Andre Fowlkes addressed this very issue. “Of course we want there to be equal distribution, but there isn’t. This is a first step.”

Mara Lewis is the entrepreneur-in-residence for the accelerator. Though she’s launching her own company in California, she will fly in for about a week each month to meet with the teams and help guide them. She’s always available through phone and email throughout the program. During her absences, the companies will work with the Start Co team to build their businesses and hone their pitches.

I asked Lewis what the difference is a women’s accelerator and a general one would be. Her answer shed a lot of light on the approach Upstart will take to get women ready to launch.

I think the primary difference is more in terms of our tactics. We’re still covering the same points and doing a lot of the same exercises, but we’re going about our critique in a different way…we’re being more aware of what some of the challenges for women are in terms of delivery of the pitch…One of the slides we’re spending a lot of time on right now is the the traction slide. Even though that’s important for all companies, statistically investors will invest in a man based on their potential, whereas for women you have to show past accomplishments, what has been achieved…We really need to show strides. By the end of 90 days, these girls need to have customers, they need to have revenue.

Upstart is the first women’s accelerator of its kind, that focuses on any company led by a woman. But, there is another accelerator in New York that focuses on women.

Women Innovate Mobile is an accelerator that invests in and mentors mobile-first, female-led companies. They see that fewer women receive investment funding, and they see that as a huge opportunity for them. While their teams are always mixed-gender, it is a requirement that a woman be a major stakeholder in the company. Other than that, their program has the same standards as any other accelerator.

Kelly Hoey is the Co-founder and Managing Director of WIM. As one of 5 women listed in Forbes for changing the world of VC/entrepreneurship, she’s a great mentor for the companies WIM accepts. And she expects big things from those companies. She told me over email, “We look for female founders who want to be household names, like Zukerberg, Jobs, or Gates.”

With programs like Upstart and WIM, it shouldn’t be long before we stop asking, “Where are the women?” And as more women choose to start companies and get the first-class mentorship available through these programs, the hottest thing in startups will just keep getting hotter.

Stay tuned for more coverage of the current Upstart and WIM cohorts.