Three Roots Staff Spotlight: Dr. Melissa (Missy) Muendel

Photo of Grady and Missy at Missy's retirement paty

Dr. Melissa (Missy) Muendel has been a trailblazer her entire life.

She is an anthropologist, archaeologist and historian who recently retired from Three Roots Capital as its Director of Research and Reporting. With over 36 years of experience in research and development in the social sciences and humanities, she has made a lasting impact on her community and loved ones.

“I want people to think I did a good job, was a good coworker, was a faithful employee and knew how to have fun,” said Missy.

Growing up in New Jersey, she always wanted to become an archeologist or an anthropologist. After receiving her Master of Arts degree in Near Eastern Archaeology, she spent several years on archaeological research projects. Since the late 1970s, she has participated in 16 research and archaeological projects in the eastern United States, the Middle East and Germany.

“My parents had an extensive library when I was growing up, so I used to read all kinds of historical books about mummies, the Pharaohs and Egypt. I was fascinated by archeology and anthropology from an early age,” said Missy. “I still love being overseas – digging and participating in excavations. I love learning about how people used to live.”

In the late 1980s, she moved to Tennessee to pursue her doctorate in anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she studied under Dr. William Bass, widely viewed as the foremost expert in forensic anthropology.

Before she began her studies, she took a research position at the Greater Knoxville Chamber of Commerce, where she launched and managed a research department for 11 years – while simultaneously completing her Ph.D.

In 1999, Tom Rogers, current president and CEO of UT Research Park, asked her to join Technology 2020, where he was CEO at the time.  Missy became involved in all of Technology 2020’s initiatives related to access to capital.  She remained there until she helped obtain CDFI certification for what would eventually become Three Roots Capital in 2016.

“Helping people is the best way to happiness and prosperity,” reflected Muendel. “I hope my work helped improve the lives of others.”

Over the last two decades, Missy wrote more than 84 grant and certification applications. Her work and insight supported the formation of Meritus Ventures, Southern Appalachian Fund, TennesSeed Fund, Southeast Community Capital (now Pathway Lending), and Three Roots Capital, as well as the receipt of New Markets Tax Credits, multiple CDFI certifications, and millions of grant dollars.

“It would not be an overstatement to say Missy has participated in projects and programs that have created and are continuing to create half a billion dollars of economic impact in Tennessee and the Appalachian region,” said Grady Vanderhoofven, president, founder and CEO of Three Roots.

In retirement, Missy is looking forward to traveling, continuing to teach at the National Forensic Academy and participating in archeological digs around the world. She already has several trips lined up over the next few months.

Freshly enjoying retirement life, she doesn’t miss working quite yet, but she does miss being alongside her coworkers – most of whom she has known and been close to for many years, including Grady. Missy and Grady first became friends over drinks at a conference at the Omni Grove Park Inn in the early 2000s.

“He was always someone I could be completely honest with,” said Missy. “I’m very proud of Grady and the rest of the team. They’ve done remarkable things the past seven years.”

When they met, Grady immediately knew Missy was uncommon and special. The office will not be the same without her, and she is welcome to stop by for a visit any time.

“The words I would use to describe Missy are teammate, loyal, tenacious, impactful and fun,” said Grady. “No matter the situation, I’ve always been able to rely on her to say, ‘We can do this.’ I wish her all the best in her next adventure.”

Three Roots Provides $25.5M for Real Estate Development Projects at the University of Tennessee Research Park

Close up of UT Research Park development

Collaboration between developers, banks, research institutions and innovative financing companies like Three Roots Capital on forward-thinking projects is critical for creating more economic development opportunities and access to capital in the greater East Tennessee region.

Over the past few years, Three Roots Capital has worked with the University of Tennessee Research Park (UTRP) on numerous real estate projects and efforts to support the region’s entrepreneurs. Three Roots has provided more than $25.5 million in financing for real estate development projects at UTRP, including the construction of the Innovation South building and the renovation of the Innovation North building.

“Three Roots has collaborated with UTRP since our founding in 2016. In 2020, we formalized the relationship by partnering to apply for a $645,600 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to fund our joint effort to encourage and support development at the site,” said Grady Vanderhoofven, president, founder and CEO. “Through our work at UTRP, we want to attract additional private developers and capital to the location to continue making Knoxville a great place to start and grow a business.”

Successful projects at UTRP require participation by experienced real estate developers like Partners Development and community-focused banks like SouthEast Bank and CBBC Bank, as well as the full backing of UT Knoxville.

“The science and collaboration happening at Cherokee Farm is shaping the future of Tennessee’s economy,” said UTK Chancellor Donde Plowman. “We are at a time of incredible momentum and productivity at the UT Research Park, and none of it would be possible without partners like Three Roots, who share our mission to make life and lives better for all Tennesseans.”

Due to the complex nature of real estate projects at UTRP, Randy Jenkins, Chief Financial Officer and Financial Strategist at Partners Development, invited Three Roots to collaborate in creatively structuring the projects’ unique financing.

“Developing projects at UTRP benefits the university, collaborations between public and private institutions and the entire community,” said Jenkins. “We love having a partner like Three Roots to dive into complicated projects for creative financing strategies. They are always willing to jump into a conversation to build project financing solutions which support the vibrancy of our community.”

Aerial view of development at the University of Tennessee Research Park.

Innovation South, a project developed and owned by Partners Development, will enable UT and industry partners to educate a next-generation workforce, conduct cutting-edge use-inspired research, and scale up technology development for many critical sectors including automotive, biotechnology, forestry and manufacturing.

On the Innovation South project, Three Roots collaborated with multiple banks, including SouthEast Bank. As a local bank, SouthEast is committed to working with Three Roots and other regional partners to positively impact the community. Three Roots has worked closely with Jimmy Dalton, Chief Credit Officer at SouthEast Bank, on multiple projects over the course of the last seven years.

“We’re proud to work on a project that helps the university and UTRP offer tremendous opportunities for researchers, professors, students and private partners to do work that drives impact in their industries,” said Dalton. “Between rising interest rates and other challenges, without Three Roots, this project wouldn’t have been economically feasible. Grady is somewhat of an innovator in this space. We’re proud to work with Three Roots on this project.”

Three Roots recently teamed with CBBC Bank to finance the buildout of space in the Innovation North building to house the new Nursing Scholars Program at UT, established through a partnership between University Health Systems and the UT College of Nursing. The space will accommodate specialized training for hundreds of nursing students beginning in the Fall of 2023. Because of the critical need for registered nurses in the community, the project had an ambitious and aggressive schedule, so it was essential to have the support of financial partners that could be creative and move quickly.

“We’ve teamed with Three Roots Capital to finance multiple projects at UTRP,” said CBBC Executive Vice President and Chief Lending Officer John Harris. “We share their commitment to supporting projects that benefit our community, and we value our relationship with them.”

In addition to real estate projects, Three Roots has financed four innovation-based companies affiliated with the university and UTRP, including a $150,000 participation in a $1 million seed funding round for Shift Thermal (formally Active Energy Systems) and a $300,000 loan to Eonix in the fourth quarter of 2022.

For Tom Rogers, president and CEO of the Research Park and a valued Three Roots partner, Three Roots has been critical in helping further the mission of UTRP, which is to serve as a gateway for collaboration between the University and public and private partners.

“Three Roots has provided value in two primary ways: Helping finance building projects and providing important seed capital for some of our most promising Spark Innovation Center clients,” said Rogers. “We’ve established some significant momentum, and Three Roots has been a great strategic partner in making this happen.”