President & Chief Executive Officer and Board Member
Grady Vanderhoofven has 25 years of experience in company creation and financing. He has co-founded and invested multiple private investment funds, including Meritus Ventures, the first Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC) in the United States, and Southern Appalachian Fund (SAF), a New Markets Venture Capital Company (NMVCC). Together, these funds have approximately $53 million under management and have invested equity and debt in 16 companies, which have attracted almost $300 million of investment. The companies are located in rural and/or low-income areas throughout central and southern Appalachia and have created more than 400 jobs to date. In addition to the capital directly invested by Meritus and SAF, the funds have provided more than $4 million of technical and operational assistance to portfolio companies.
Since 2015, Mr. Vanderhoofven has led an effort to create the TennesSeed Fund as an evergreen, seed-stage, investment fund focused on proof of concept investments in Tennessee-based companies. In 2016, he founded Three Roots Capital, which is a 501(c)(3), certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) established to make debt and equity investments in companies in predominantly low-income areas of East Tennessee and the broader Appalachian region. Three Roots Capital has raised almost $50 million to date and has deployed and committed more than $12 million to companies in Tennessee and Kentucky.
Prior to becoming an investor, Grady participated in the creation of 12 start-up companies based on technology developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He previously served on the Advisory Council of the Yale University School of Engineering and Applied Science. He received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Yale University and has completed an Executive Education Program in private equity and corporate governance at Harvard Business School.
Chief Financial Officer
Chris’ areas of responsibility include financial and administrative management of Three Roots and its access to capital programs. Chris also provides client companies with operational assistance in the areas of financial management, transaction and cash flow modeling, and preparation to raise capital.
Chris has 15 years of experience with operating and providing access to capital for small businesses. Prior to joining Three Roots Capital, Chris worked as a portfolio manager for a $150 million commercial loan portfolio with small business and middle market exposure. Prior to working in commercial banking, Chris was an associate for approximately $50 million of equity funds focused on early-stage and growth-stage investing in southern and central Appalachia. In this role, Chris was responsible for deal origination, due diligence, and portfolio administration.
Chris has an MBA with a concentration in entrepreneurship and financial management from the University of Tennessee, and a BS from the University of North Alabama. Chris has also completed additional graduate course work in private capital markets and private equity transactions.
Melissa G. Muendel, Ph. D.
Director of Research and Reporting
Melissa writes grants for funding and proposals for specific certifications. She is responsible for grant management and reporting, and she performs research in support of client companies and corporate initiatives at Three Roots. In addition, she assists in developing long-range strategies and helps to establish and maintain communication with Federal agencies and other institutions. She supports fund formation, including all funds managed directly by Three Roots. In the past 18 years, she has written more than 72 grant applications and proposals for funding and certifications, including applications and proposals that ultimately led to the formation of Meritus Ventures, Southern Appalachian Fund, TennesSeed Fund, and receipt of New Markets Tax Credits, CDFI certification, and many others.
Melissa has more than 33 years of experience in research and development in the social sciences and humanities. She has had her own consulting firm and has done work for the International Economic Development Council, Department of Economic and Community Development for the state of Mississippi, East Tennessee State University, and more. Past positions also include Director of Research for the Greater Knoxville Chamber of Commerce, staff and fundraising manager for more than 16 research and archaeological projects in the eastern United States and the Middle East, and Registered Representative with a private investment-banking firm in New York City.
Melissa has a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee; a Masters in Near Eastern Archaeology from Drew University, Madison, New Jersey; and a BA in History from, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Dennis has a passion for helping qualified companies leverage local resources including peers, advisors, strategic partners, and capital providers. His role at Three Roots is to find these businesses and projects, and to serve as the gateway for those seeking funding. Dennis is also a provider of business technical assistance to these clients, and serves as the chair for the Three Roots Capital mentor team.
An experienced technology executive with more than 15 years of experience, Dennis ran a business located in an empowerment zone that received funding from a CDFI. He was the founder and CEO of Digital Crossing Networks, a 16,000 square foot commercial data center services company located in Knoxville, Tennessee. Prior to Digital Crossings Network, Dennis served as the Chief Technology Officer of Technology 2020, a public-private partnership whose mission was to develop and support technology companies in the Tennessee Valley Corridor. Dennis has more than 30 years of experience in the Information Technology industry. The first half of those years were spent with IBM Corporation and SAIC, where he worked in software development, client/server performance engineering, network application tuning, and as a consultant to the financial industry.
Dennis received his BS in computer science, with a minor in physics/electronics from Louisiana State University in 1985.
Shawn A. Carson
Shawn works one on one with small business owners and operators in East Tennessee and southern Appalachia on technical and operational assistance matters including strategic planning, business model development, and access to capital strategies. He also works with the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) to identify technologies approaching readiness for commercialization and helps to build market cases for companies interested in licensing these technologies.
Shawn began his career in the textile business as a Process Improvement Engineer with Milliken & Co. in Spartanburg, SC. Four years later, he joined Computational Systems, Incorporated (CSI), in Knoxville, Tennessee. During his 16-year tenure at CSI, he held management positions in customer support and engineering test before his promotion to Director of Customer Services. Under his direction, the Customer Services division grew to $10 million in annual revenue. While with CSI, he was on the management team that brought CSI through a successful initial public offering on NASDAQ, where they were acquired by Emerson Electric. In 2005, he joined Technology 2020 as Director for the Center for Entrepreneurial Growth (CEG).
Shawn has a B.S. in Industrial Technology from East Carolina University and an MBA from the University of Tennessee. He is a candidate for Doctorate in Education with an emphasis on entrepreneurial studies and risk management from East Tennessee State University.