Travis Howerton, of UTRP Park Tenant RegScale, talks entrepreneurship, innovation in Knoxville during Innov865 Week event

Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Travis Howerton spoke on RegScale’s growth and his journey into entrepreneurship at a virtual “Ask Me Anything” event on to kick off the Innovation Track of Innov865 Week.

How do you go from starting an unknown company to raising $20 million in a Series A round in less than a year?

It’s not common, but it’s not impossible, because it’s the story of Knoxville-based compliance software company RegScale. Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Travis Howerton spoke on RegScale’s growth and his journey into entrepreneurship at a virtual “Ask Me Anything” event on Monday. This event was part of the Innovation Track of Innov865 Week, sponsored and hosted by PYA.

PYA Chief Alliance Officer and Editor of Tom Ballard asked Howerton both prepared and audience questions, ranging from the success of his business to what Knoxville can do better to foster more entrepreneurs.

Howerton worked for notable area companies like Y-12 Security Complex and Oak Ridge National Laboratory where he saw how slow and bogged down compliance programs were, and how they held people back instead of helping them. He and RegScale co-founder Anil Karmel used their expertise to jump into the world of entrepreneurship, something Howerton said he wished wouldn’t have taken him 20 years to find.

Tom Ballard, PYA, and Travis Howerton, RegScale, during the virtual Q&A.

Now that they had an idea – to make compliance easier – and a product – compliance software – RegScale needed funding.

“We didn’t know what investors were looking for,” said Howerton, learning he needed to narrow down who the best investors would be instead of pitching to anyone who would listen.

“You need to have some sales and references and prove you have the right team,” he said. “Your product has to be different and you have to prove there is a market for it.”

One attendee asked Howerton what the hardest part of starting a start-up was.

“I think knowing what to focus on is the hardest part,” he said. “It’s obvious in retrospect most of the time, but it’s not obvious when you’re in the middle of it, when you’ve got 10 fires burning or multiple opportunities that are in front of you that you could go pursue. It’s not always intuitively obvious where you should focus your resources.”

Another attendee asked what the Knoxville community can do to become a more appealing destination for venture capitalists and investors.

“If you go to Silicon Valley or you go to Boston, you can find ten meetups of people just like you who are entrepreneurs working on this problem that you can bounce ideas off,” said Howerton. “There’s just less volume here. But you’ve got to start somewhere and I think it’s getting a couple of successful blueprints, and then figuring out where our differentiation is. I think it can be clean energy, nuclear, a whole variety of things. Then get an ecosystem, and you can build on that. But I think it’s putting all those things together in a strategic way where they’re all working together and complementing one another is how you get there.”

Innov865 Week continues this week with the anchor event Startup Day on Tuesday at 2 p.m.