Bridging Research and Practice for Tennessee Entrepreneurs

February 20, 2024

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI), housed in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Haslam College of Business, recently held its ACEI Bridging Research and Practice event with the theme “Taking Smart Risks.” This was the second event in the ACEI Bridging Research and Practice series, and it focused on how entrepreneurs should assess short-term risk for long-term success.

The Bridging Research and Practice event brought together two community members, John Bruck and Misty Mayes (UT, ‘88), with two UT faculty members, Brian Krumm and Myra Loveday. In a fireside chat format, Melissa Cardon, Haslam Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Clark Family Faculty Research Fellow and research director of the ACEI, asked the four panelists about risks taken in their early-stage startups, risks during growth of the startup and about guardrails and support systems that can be put in place to mitigate risk for entrepreneurs. After the fireside chat, each panelist hosted a round-table discussion for audience members to network and ask more questions.

Cardon believes the ACEI-hosted event is a benefit to UT and the broader community. “By bringing together the deep experiences of prominent entrepreneurs in their companies with the broad knowledge faculty members have from conducting rigorous academic research across hundreds of companies, the Bridging Research and Practice event allows practitioners in our community and faculty members from UT to exchange knowledge and learn from one another, which benefits everyone in attendance,” she says. “This spring’s event added small group discussions with the panelists, allowing for even deeper connections and insights.”

Insights on Early-Stage Risks

Misty Mayes, CEO of Management Solutions, founded her company in 2002 and chose to stay relatively small for some time. In 2022, however, Mayes decided to expand and won the largest government contract ever awarded to a small company, causing her team of 45 to grow to 150 employees in 2023 and likely to 250 this year. As the CEO of a service-based company, Mayes shared with the audience that some of the biggest risks she took in the early days of her startup were in hiring people and trusting them to help further her good reputation. She emphasized the importance of ensuring the top talent she hired would be a good fit for her company, as well as the importance of helping her employees grow and flourish along with the firm. Mayes believes having a company where each employee believes in the vision is crucial to obtaining top talent. 

Myra Loveday, director of the Rocky Top Institute of Retail and UT Creamery Retail Strategies and assistant professor of practice in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, spoke about her experience in starting the UT Creamery. The project is an ice cream shop that brings together students and faculty members from the Herbert College of Agriculture Department of Food Science and the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences Rocky Top Institute of Retail Program. The partnership provides students with experiential learning opportunities in retail and ice cream production, as well as entrepreneurship exposure.

Through the complex cross-campus collaboration of the UT Creamery, Loveday shared her experiences in making collaborations effective in early-stage startups, which depends on selecting stakeholders, identifying risk patterns that will influence early-stage startups and predicting and mitigating risk. 

Risk During a Startup’s Growth

John Bruck, founder of BHE Environmental Inc., member of Queen City Angels and co-founder of Market Square Ventures, has a varied background that includes establishing and selling a successful business after 25 years, serving as an angel investor and starting a brand-new venture capital fund to support startups in Knoxville. Bruck shared his experience with deciding not to grow BHE Environmental when the potential upside was not worth the risk of expanding from a regional to a national firm. Across decisions he’s made involving when to expand a venture he’s working with, Bruck emphasized the importance of having the right people to advise you in order to mitigate the risks involving growth. 

Brian Krumm is an associate professor of law at UT. He previously served as an assistant commissioner of employment security, deputy commissioner of labor, and policy advisor to the governor of Tennessee. Krumm’s vast experience in representing businesses on corporate governance issues shed light on the importance of having legal agreements in place at the beginning of any startup. He also discussed how to spend early investments received and the need to be aware of the monetary burn rate of your startup.

Referring to a founder’s team, Krumm said, “You need someone who is going to push back, make you slow down and deeply think about your decisions. You need someone on your board or in your counsel to ask you about why you are making the decisions you are making.”

About the Bridging Research and Practice Event Series

The Bridging Research and Practice series supports the ACEI’s research mission of forging connections between academics and practitioners, particularly by connecting UT researchers with Knoxville’s entrepreneurship community. The series aims to foster dialogue between academics and practitioners about the challenges entrepreneurs face and the related findings from ACEI research that may help entrepreneurs prepare for and address those challenges. This event series creates an opportunity for both researchers and practitioners in the Knoxville community to bring value to one another.

The next Bridging Research and Practice event is planned for fall 2024.

About the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation 

The ACEI is a university-based resource for entrepreneurship across the region and the state of Tennessee. Its mission is to foster an entrepreneurial culture at UT and across the state by developing student skills, providing experiential learning opportunities, conducting meaningful entrepreneurial research and connecting students with mentors and resources that enable them to successfully start and grow new businesses.

(Photo, L-R: Myra Loveday, Misty Mayes, John Bruck, Brian Krumm, Melissa Cardon)


Brennan Hullett,