ORNL unveils five entrepreneurs, four companies in inaugural “Innovation Crossroads” cohort

(NOTE: This article was originally published on Teknovation.biz)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) set a goal of finding up to five of the nation’s top young energy innovators and, by all accounts, it appears the recruiting team has achieved its goal with the inaugural cohort for the “Innovation Crossroads.”

ORNL leaders publicly unveiled the four start-ups at an event yesterday in Oak Ridge attended by the innovators, researchers with whom they will be working, and two top administrators from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

“If you look five, 10, 15 or 20 years ahead, where is the innovation going to come from to continue our nation’s economic growth,” Mark Johnson, Director of DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, asked. His answer was “programs like this.” Joining Johnson from DOE headquarters was Johanna Wolfson, Director of the Technology-to-Market Program.

In a conversation ahead of the event, Johnson described “Innovation Crossroads” and two similar programs at other DOE labs as a post-doc program. After all, the five innovators have either earned their Ph.Ds. or are in the process of completing them.

For ORNL, yesterday’s announcement was the culmination of a process that began more than six months ago with a solicitation of applications. Day-to-day responsibility for “Innovation Crossroads” is being handled by Tom Rogers, ORNL’s Director of Industrial Partnerships and Economic Development, and Beth Conerty, Program Lead for Entrepreneurial Support and Development.

As described in this September 20 article from teknovation.biz, the program is part of a DOE effort to help accelerate clean energy technologies in an era of substantially limited venture capital. The ORNL initiative is the third in DOE’s Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program (LEEP). The pilot, named “Cyclotron Road,” was tested at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and a second program, named “Chain Reaction Innovations,” started last year at Argonne National Laboratory.

A quick review of the resumes of the five entrepreneurs shows impressive pedigrees. Two either have or will soon earn their doctorates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where one was Co-Director of the prestigious “MIT Clean Energy Prize,” the largest such student-led competition in the country. Another student is working on her Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University while also serving as a National Science Foundation Graduate Student Fellow. Yet another, ironically from Knoxville, just finished his doctorate at Cornell University. The final selectee is a local entrepreneur – Ming Qi – who has his own start-up named Peroxygen Systems and has already achieved significant recognition, winning a seed grant under DOE’s ARPA-E program and being selected to work with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the Departments’ “Small Business Vouchers” program.

Those credentials remind me of a frequent ad on the Golf Channel with a tagline of “These guys are really good.”

ORNL began accepting applications in mid-November and culled the initial round of more than 50 applicants to 16 semi-finalists who were brought to Oak Ridge for interviews. Nine finalists were selected for more interviews before yesterday’s announcement of the four start-ups that were eventually chosen.

The five Entrepreneurs – one team has two Co-Founders – arrived a few weeks ago to start the two-year experience. It includes a stipend that will help cover living expenses and healthcare, collaboration space at ORNL, up to $350,000 in R&D support from ORNL through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), business model development assistance, help with marketing strategies, mentorship, and introductions to other successful energy entrepreneurs as well as potential industry partners.

Local organizations are supporting the effort including PYA, the power behind teknovation.biz. In PYA’s case, the firm will be helping these bright engineers with business structure and accounting advice. Also, through the relatively new Launch Tennessee Networks initiative, “Innovation Crossroads” participants will be able to access the Energy Mentor Network operated by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council.

Click here to read the official ORNL news release.

Share your expertise with East Tennessee’s startup community by sponsoring an Innov865 Week micro-event

You now have the opportunity to host an Innov865 Week micro-event.

Visit the Innov865Week website where you can learn more about how to get involved. Want to host a breakfast, lunch or happy hour during the week-long celebration of East Tennessee’s entrepreneurial community to share your expertise and network? Now you can!

You can make your micro-event a sponsored Innov865 Week event for $500, just fill out this application to get started. We do include “non-sponsored” micro-events in the Innov865 Week calendar but they are not promoted by the Innov865 Alliance. The $500 micro-event sponsorship includes:

  • Event listing in Innov865 Week event calendar
  • Micro-event webpage with logo, photos and social media handles
  • Event description included in Innov865 email communications to more than 2,600 contacts
  • Promotion of your micro-event on Innov865 social media
  • Micro-event poster with your logo to post at your event location
  • Plug and play social media content to promote your involvement with Innov865 Week

Whether you choose to host a sponsored or non-sponsored micro-event, fill out the application and Allie Rapkowicz will be in touch to confirm the event details. If you have any questions, feel free to contact her at Allison@piper-communications.com or 865-329-0553.

Local Motors’ Olli to make its debut in September during Innov865 Week

April’s Innov865 Happy Hour sponsored by Three Roots Capital welcomed a special announcement from Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, telling a hefty crowd at Scruffy City Hall that Local Motors’ self-driving electric vehicle Olli will soon be making its debut this September during Innov865 Week.

Olli was created at Local Motors’s micro factory in Hardin Valley using 3D printing technology.

Add that to the many reasons you should attend the Innov865 Alliance’s Signature Week celebrating entrepreneurship and the Knoxville startup community.

This comes after a series of technology announcements in East Tennessee. In Market Square earlier Thursday, Olli was unveiled for the public to get an up-close look at the innovation happening in Knoxville.

Knoxville Mayor Rogero announcing self-driving vehicle Olli will soon be taking over City streets.

It’s important to mention, Visit Knoxville is going to roll an Olli out on a test basis this fall at some events in places like World’s Fair Park and Chilhowee Park and Exposition Center.

The longer-term goal is to have Olli running on city streets, by the end of next year, for Visit Knoxville events and giving tours of the city following pre-programmed maps.

There was also a separate announcement on Tuesday from Knoxville entrepreneur Bill Malkes, founder of GRIDSMART.

The company has donated some of its new STREETSMART Wi-Fi data cameras for the City of Knoxville to pilot at some of the busiest intersections along Kingston Pike, specifically the intersection of Kingston Pike and Northshore Drive.

These cameras collect real-time traffic information on traffic flow and congestion, which City engineers can use to get better information about how and when traffic backs up on that corridor.

This will help the City make better adjustments to signal timing and eventually to respond immediately to changing conditions so that they can reduce congestion, reduce vehicle emissions, and get everybody where they’re going faster.

These two technologies combined could eventually become a fully connected smart transportation system, where you have vehicles like Local Motors’ Olli sending and receiving information to infrastructure like GRIDSMART’s cameras, allowing everything to move much more efficiently.

With both of these announcements and the work going on at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and across the Innovation Valley, Knoxville is well positioned to be on the forefront of smart transportation technology.

(L to R) Grady Vanderhoofven of Three Roots Capital, Bill Malkes of GRIDSMART, and Tom Ballard of PYA & Teknovation.biz

During the April Innov865 Happy Hour sponsored by Three Roots Capital, there was also a featured fireside chat with GRIDSMART Founder Bill Malkes and Three Roots Capital CEO & Meritus Capital Management Managing Partner Grady Vanderhoofven. The two, along with moderator Tom Ballard of PYA and Teknovation.biz, discussed the founding and growth of GRIDSMART and the role the company is playing in the intelligent transportation industry.

Bill and Grady talked about how the company was founded, raised capital, staffed the business, developed its product, established and expanded production in East Tennessee, and what the future holds for GRIDSMART.

April Innov865 Happy Hour hosted by Three Roots Capital

Special announcement from Knoxville mayor, featured fireside chat

The Innov865 Alliance invites you to join the entrepreneur and startup community in another engaging Innov865 Happy Hour, hosted by Three Roots Capital.

An evening of networking awaits you, Thursday, April 20, 2017 at Scruffy City Hall in Market Square from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

During this time, there will be a special announcement from Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero followed by a featured fireside chat with Bill Malkes, founder and CEO of GRIDSMART and Grady Vanderhoofven, Managing Partner of Meritus Capital Management and CEO of Three Roots Capital.

The fireside chat will be moderated by Tom Ballard of PYA and Teknovation.biz, where discussions will range from the founding and growth of GRIDSMART and the role the company is playing in the intelligent transportation industry.

GRIDSMART has evolved from a concept to the fastest growing company in its industry.

GRIDSMART, a company founded in Oak Ridge and based in Knoxville, provides technology that monitors and controls traffic at intersections and on roadways in 22 countries on five continents around the world.

Their products reduce congestion, increase efficiency, and reduce environmental impact. As the dawn of a new world of autonomous vehicles brightens, cars and traffic management systems will share information. Companies like GRIDSMART are leading the way.

Meritus was one of GRIDSMART’s early investors and has held a position on the company’s Board of Directors for years.  Bill and Grady will talk about how the company raised capital, staffed the business, developed its product (software and hardware), established and expanded production in East Tennessee, and what the future holds for GRIDSMART and intelligent transportation.

Save the Date: SBIR Informational Session

Happening Tuesday April 4, 2017

4:00 – 5:30 p.m.

West Wing, Haslam College of Business, UTK

Register here.

Have you ever thought about commercializing your research?

The University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) supports researchers by protecting the intellectual property of promising technologies and making them available for corporation and startups to license. One avenue available to researchers is to participate in an entrepreneurial startup that develops the technology into products and services that benefit society.

But where does the money come from to do this development?

Did you know the Federal Government supports technology commercialization?

Federal research agencies like NSF, DoD, DOE and NIH together set aside over $2.5 billion annually for Small Business Innovation Research grants (SBIR’s). SBIR’s are available to small businesses to prove feasibility, develop prototypes and commercialize technologies. The program is a peer reviewed, competitive grant program that can provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to a startup to help prepare the technology for market entry. In addition, most agencies provide programs for grantees to develop their business models in parallel with their development to ensure they are ready to compete in their chosen marketplace.

Some startups have raised several million dollars through the SBIR program.

Come learn about how you can participate in the SBIR Grant Program.

This program will provide a brief overview of the SBIR program, some incentives provided by the State of Tennessee and best of all, you will hear from a panel of 3 local SBIR veterans, who together have raised several million dollars of R&D funding for their companies.

The informational session will cover:

  • Where to find information about the SBIR Program
  • Strategies for successfully competing, and winning SBIR funding awards
  • Connections to successful award winners
  • The good, the bad and the ugly of SBIR’s as a funding strategy

Innov865 Week 2017 promises more opportunities for local startups, businesses

The Innov865 Alliance announced the return of Innov865 Week today and new activities to bolster entrepreneurship in the region. Innov865 Week 2017 will take place September 18-22, 2017. Now in its second year and an expansion of successful “Startup Days,” the week-long series of events celebrate and showcase Knoxville as a great place for entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses.

Educational panels, pitch competitions, investor roundtables, startup speed dating with investors and social events will be included in event programming throughout the week leading up to the signature event, Startup Day, Thursday, September 21, 2017.

“After the incredible response to this year’s celebration, the Innov865 Alliance is excited about enhancing 2017 programming and events to provide even more support to our entrepreneurial community,” said Jim Biggs, Executive Director, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC). KEC is a founding member of the Innov865 Alliance along with the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, PYA and Launch Tennessee.

More than 1,400 attendees participated in 25 events during the inaugural Innov865 Week 2016. Next year’s events will include expanding the number of startup speed dating sessions to match startups with sector and stage specific investors.

The announcement was made at the first Innov865 Week Happy Hour featuring Andrew Goldner, managing partner at venture capital firm GrowthX. Innov865 Alliance members will host happy hours every other month throughout the year for startups, entrepreneurs and makers to socialize, network and learn from VIP guests.

Launch Tennessee will host the next Innov865 Happy Hour the week of February 6, 2017. For more information and to stay updated on events, visit: www.innov865.com


About Innov865 Alliance 

The Innov865 Alliance develops, supports, and promotes the Knoxville region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. It is a collaborative effort to celebrate and showcase Knoxville as a great place for entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses and increase access to capital. Innov865 Week is its signature event; however, the Alliance coordinates other activities throughout the year, including pitch competitions, educational opportunities, and social events.

Founding members of the Innov865 Alliance include the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, PYA, Launch Tennessee and Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. Learn more at http://innov865.com/

Startup Day 2016 video brings hype, celebrations to Knoxville

Before the power pitches, before the Traction Award announcement, and before nationally-recognized serial entrepreneur Paul Singh took the stage for Startup Day 2016, there was a video that brought cheers and excitement for Knoxville’s startups.

The near 2 minute long piece bragged about the accomplishments local entrepreneurs have made not only to the city but throughout the state, the nation, and the world. The video listed off the achievements with an uplifting chorus that at the end made its viewers feel empowered.

Knoxville has been busy for sure, and its citizens have known it all along. Since last Startup Day in November 2015, Bonnaroo was acquired by Live Nation, Sparetime Entertainment hit 260 million views, Fiveworx was acquired by Northshore Management, Local Motors launched its first self-driving vehicle, and Perfect Serve raised $21 million.

That’s not counting how Proton Power is also currently constructing a new $50 million hydrogen power plant, the University of Tennessee launched Cherokee Farm’s “Innovation Campus,” and Cirrus Insight broke into the top 50 of Inc. 500’s List.

Let’s not forget also how ORNL and Boeing broke the world record earlier this year for the largest 3D printed item ever. So while we take time to reflect on these triumphs let’s also welcome the next generation of dreamers and startups.

If you missed the video, that’s ok. Click here to find out just some of what Knoxville’s entrepreneurial community has been up to since last year.

Three Roots Capital roundtable reviews challenges, opportunities for region

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The final event of the first day of Knoxville’s “Innov865 Week” was a Monday evening roundtable hosted by Three Roots Capital, the newest player in the region’s access to capital sector. It was held in the Mill Room at Cherokee Mills.

About three dozen people participated in the discussion that featured a diverse panel of individuals, all involved in some aspect of entrepreneurship in East Tennessee. They ranged from the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of one of the portfolio companies in the region’s oldest venture fund to a State Senator who was the prime sponsor of the TNInvestco legislation.

“A lot is going on now, and it seems well-coordinated,” Stephen Culp of Chattanooga’s Smart Furniture said. “It’s different from 10 years ago.” That was a reference to starting the company in Chattanooga, but securing his initial venture capital from the Southern Appalachian Fund (SAF) based in Oak Ridge.

The situation is much different these days in his hometown, and Culp said the “Create Here” initiative launched 10 years ago with funding from the Lyndhurst Foundation was the catalyst. Two of the results are the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, now investing across the region with its second fund, and CO.LAB.

Culp’s points struck a chord with the event’s host.

“Capital is a tool,” Grady Vanderhoofven, President and CEO of Three Roots, said. “Entrepreneurs are the critical ingredient.”

As noted in this teknovation.biz post from earlier this week, Vanderhoofven has been a senior executive in two other regionally-based funds – SAF, which invested in Smart Furniture, and Meritus Ventures.

Over the course of about 45 minutes, Vanderhoofven, Culp and their fellow panelists discussed a variety of challenges and opportunities for entrepreneurs in the region. Others participating were State Senator Doug Overbey; Terrence (TC) Carter, Director of Economic and Business Development for the Knoxville Area Urban League (see this recent teknovation.biz post); and Herc Ligdis, Senior Vice President of SouthEast Bank.

Overbey reminded attendees that “government doesn’t create jobs and wealth. It needs to get out of the way most times.” Yet, he added that “from time to time, we can do what we did in 2009.” This was a reference to a severe economic downturn when the TNInvestco program was launched, and it did bring much needed capital to the start-up sector.

Attendees were reminded of the continuum of capital and the importance of matching entrepreneurs at whatever stage their start-up is to the appropriate source of funding. One of those tools is the Urban League’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund and another one operated by Pathway Lending based in Nashville.

“CDFIs try to make it (an opportunity) work when it does not seem it can work,” Carter said of the program designed for higher risk investments.

Ligdis offered two important points.

“If you create the environment, the entrepreneurs will come,” he said. “If we are willing to invest in ourselves, others will take note.”

 (Note: This article appeared previously on teknovation.biz, a web-based service that was launched to spotlight and celebrate “all things” related to technology, innovation and entrepreneurship in East Tennessee.)

Alicia Caputo, Dimitriy Petrov preview pitches for “Startup Day”

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

WATE-TV is the broadcast media partner for “Innov865 Week.” As part of that relationship, the station has produced a series of “Elevator Sessions” featuring the six start-ups pitching on tomorrow (September 22) at “Startup Day.”

Today, we feature pitches from two of the six start-ups vying for the $5,000 prize.

First up is Alicia Caputo of Avrio Analytics. The start-up, previously profiled on teknovation.biz, leverages proprietary technology to offer data analytics services at a fraction of the cost, as well as providing predictive capabilities not available from visualizations alone. Its services put the power of a data scientist at the fingertips of anyone.

Next is by Dimitriy Petrov of RushBrush LLC. The company creates innovative personal hygiene products. Its latest innovation is the RushBrush, a hybridized toothbrush that makes oral health on the go both more effective and convenient. Unlike ordinary toothbrushes, the RushBrush’s nylon bristles are coated with dehydrated toothpaste and the brush can be used right out of the package, no water required. The brush is produced using biodegradable materials, making it an environmentally-friendly option for consumers.

For more information and to register for “Startup Day” at the Bijou Theater, click here.

(Note: This article appeared previously on teknovation.biz, a web-based service that was launched to spotlight and celebrate “all things” related to technology, innovation and entrepreneurship in East Tennessee.)

Day 2 of “Innov865 Week” focused on many micro-events

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The busiest day in Knoxville’s “Innov865 Week” was yesterday with six events including one private one. Reports indicate that attendance was about 150 at the five public events, bringing the total participation after two days to about 675 with the two biggest events still to come.

Obviously, the big news of the day was the announcement of the new “Innovation Crossroads” initiative at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. About 30 people attended the announcement at the National Transportation Research Center.

Earlier in the day, more than 40 people turned out for the “Big Data: Big Impact Lunch and Learn” co-hosted by PYA Analytics and NewsBreak Media Networks. Bob Bradley, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of NewsBreak Media, moderated a lively panel discussion featuring four individuals intimately involved in developing analytics tools and utilizing them for decision-making. They were: Brian Nelson, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer (CEO) of NewsBreak Media; Mik Bertolli, Co-Founder of Avrio Analytics; Blair Christian, PYA Analytics Lead Data Scientist; and Jian Huang, CEO of Survature.

Another three dozen people showed-up at the Casual Pint in Hardin Valley for Life Science Tennessee’s “Beer and Biotech” meet-up that featured a give-and-take discussion about entrepreneurship. Jeff Hubrig Jr. of Innovasan and Dan Close of 490 BioTech led the exchange of ideas and lessons learned.

While we were not able to attend two other events due to conflicts in schedules, we heard about 15 people participated in the “Growth Hackathon” arranged by Brandon Bruce of Cirruspath, and two dozen were pre-registered for Launch Tennessee’s “Angel Tax Credit Road Show.”

Today’s “The Works Demo Day” is expected to draw about 275 attendees, and more than 500 have pre-registered through yesterday for Thursday’s “Start-up Day.”

(Note: This article appeared previously on teknovation.biz, a web-based service that was launched to spotlight and celebrate “all things” related to technology, innovation and entrepreneurship in East Tennessee.)