Knoxville’s annual entrepreneurship week returns in-person, celebrates new accelerator programs

Innov865 Week brings together entrepreneurs, investors, local business and government leaders and the public to celebrate Knoxville’s startup community
KNOXVILLE, Tenn., July 15, 2021 – The Innov865 Alliance announced today Innov865 Week 2021 will return with an in-person annual pitch competition and other special events. Innov865 Week 2021 will take place Monday, October 4 – Friday, October 8.

Innov865 Week boasts a range of events for everyone in the area to support local economic development, from investors and regional entrepreneurs to community leaders and students. Throughout the week, the Innov865 Alliance will celebrate two new startup accelerators coming to town in 2022– Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator and the Spark Cleantech Accelerator.

Innov865 Week 2021’s premier event is Startup Day 2021, held Tuesday, October 5 at the Mill and Mine. Startup Day is an annual “Shark-Tank”-style pitch competition, where participants compete for a chance to win up to $10,000 in cash prizes. Six of Knoxville’s most investable startups will pitch their businesses in front of a panel of investor judges. In addition to the opportunity to spotlight their startup for investors, entrepreneurs will compete for a “crowd favorite” cash prize, presented by Truist. Included in this year’s programming is the Impact Award, presented by Verizon, given to an entrepreneur or startup that has had a lasting, positive impact on the community.

Earlier this summer, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Tennessee Valley Authority and The University of Tennessee announced the launch of the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator. The “Industries of the Future” accelerator will work with 30 startups over the next three years that use clean energy, AI, big data, cybersecurity, digital currency, 5G and other innovations to transform society. Less than a week after the announcement of the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator,  the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Spark Innovation Center announced the formation of the Spark Cleantech accelerator.  The accelerator is a regional partnership supported through a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and includes the Clean Energy Trust, Centrepolis Accelerator at Lawrence Technological University and mHUB.
To learn more about Innov865 Week 2021, visit https://innov865week.com/. The website and event calendar will be updated regularly as more events are added to Innov865 Week.
ABOUT INNOV865 WEEK AND THE INNOV865 ALLIANCE
Innov865 Week is a weeklong celebration of Knoxville’s entrepreneurial spirit that brings together startups, entrepreneurs, makers, investors, business leaders, students, and community leaders from across East Tennessee for a week of educational panels, pitch competitions, investor roundtables, and social events. It is presented by the Innov865 Alliance, a coalition that develops, supports, and promotes the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Founding members of the Innov865 Alliance include the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, PYA, UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Three Roots Capital, Tennessee Valley Authority, Launch Tennessee, Knoxville Chamber, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm, the City of Knoxville and Bunker Labs Knoxville. To learn more, visit www.innov865.com/.

A world-class startup community is growing in the Oak Ridge Corridor with the help of Techstars, the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and TVA

The Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator will attract high-quality startups focused on solving the world’s most pressing environmental and economic challenges

June 3, 2021, KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the University of Tennessee System announced the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator today in partnership with Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. The accelerator will work with 30 startups over the next three years that use clean energy, AI, big data, cybersecurity, digital currency, 5G and other innovations to transform society.

This will be the first Techstars-operated accelerator in Tennessee, the first affiliated with a national laboratory, and the first focused on “Industries of the Future.”

The effort will combine forces of the country’s largest science and energy lab in ORNL, the nation’s biggest public power utility in TVA, and UT research and education resources that have won international awards for bringing technology to the marketplace.

“Working with ORNL, TVA and UT to foster an environment where startups building advancements in the Industries of the Future can come together and thrive is a unique and galvanizing opportunity,” said Techstars General Manager Nancy Wolff. “The heart of the Oak Ridge Corridor and the abundant scientific research and quantum computing facilities available to entrepreneurs is game changing for startups tackling the most critical problems of our future.”

The accelerator is expected to create an environment where startups focused on Industries of the Future can come to the Oak Ridge-Knoxville area and thrive. The program will begin accepting applications for its inaugural class in July. Members of that group will refine their technologies, receive mentorship, find and develop talent, and connect to organizations who could become customers while gaining access to Techstars’ global network.

“Research and technology from ORNL and from companies that have grown up here have made a difference in lives around the world,” said Thomas Zacharia, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “In the next three years, the Techstars accelerator will attract high-potential companies in fields that will define the economy in the generations to come. This is a unique opportunity to share our region’s great strengths with rising entrepreneurs.”

Jeff Lyash, president and CEO of TVA, said he sees how work they do in the Southeast can impact the accelerator in Oak Ridge-Knoxville, and then the world.

“Today, innovative startup companies have the opportunity to deliver impactful benefits, similar to those of nearly 90 years ago when TVA first brought electricity that transformed the lives of the people in this region we are privileged to serve,” Lyash said. “We look forward to supporting the companies that participate in the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator to drive advanced solutions with enormous energy, economic and environmental benefits for the people of the Valley, the country and the world.”

University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd likewise highlighted the broad impact of the accelerator and the partners’ support.

“The University of Tennessee is committed to being an economic driver for Tennessee,” Boyd said. “The resources available with our partners and through the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator will establish the Oak Ridge Corridor as a world-class location for breakthrough technology startups to benefit people and provide jobs. Working together, this initiative will catalyze tremendous entrepreneurial growth for our region’s future.”

Startups are expected to participate in the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator from fields such as clean energy, smart cities, robotization and autonomy, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, edge computing, sharing economy, cybersecurity and cryptography, IoT, 5G and advanced communication, grid scale energy storage, digital currency, industry 4.0 and battery technology.

Startups interested in the accelerator can learn more by visiting Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator page. Corporations interested in learning more about Techstars’ dedication to corporate innovation can learn more at techstars.com/corporate.

About Techstars

The Techstars worldwide network helps entrepreneurs succeed. Founded in 2006, Techstars began with three simple ideas—entrepreneurs create a better future for everyone, collaboration drives innovation, and great ideas can come from anywhere. Now we are on a mission to enable every person on the planet to contribute to, and benefit from, the success of entrepreneurs. In addition to operating accelerator programs and venture capital funds, we do this by connecting startups, investors, corporations, and cities to help build thriving startup communities. Techstars has invested in more than 2,500 companies with a combined market cap of more than $209B. www.techstars.com

About the University of Tennessee

Founded in 1794, UT is big on tradition, and is proud of its beginnings as the first public university chartered west of the Appalachian Divide. The UT System enrolls about 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students statewide, and more than 11,000 students graduate from UT campuses each year. The UT System’s delivery of education, discovery, outreach and public service contributes to the economic, social and environmental well-being of all Tennesseans.

About the Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the largest US Department of Energy science and energy laboratory, conducting basic and applied research to deliver transformative solutions to compelling problems in energy and security. ORNL’s diverse capabilities span a broad range of scientific and engineering disciplines, enabling the Laboratory to explore fundamental science challenges and to carry out the research needed to accelerate the delivery of marketplace solutions.

About TVA

The Tennessee Valley Authority provides electricity for 153 local power companies serving 10 million people in Tennessee and parts of six surrounding states, as well as directly to 57 large industrial customers and federal installations. We don’t get taxpayer funding; rather our revenues come from sales of electricity. TVA also provides flood control, navigation and land management for the Tennessee River system, and assists local power companies and regional governments with their economic development efforts.

Media Contacts

Ali Whitman
Techstars
ali.whitman@techstars.com

Tiffany Carpenter
University of Tennessee
tcarpenter@tennessee.edu

Morgan McCorkle
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
mccorkleml@ornl.gov

Malinda Hunter
Tennessee Valley Authority
mhunter@tva.gov

Now is our time to celebrate Knoxville’s entrepreneurial community

(Originally posted on Made for Knoxville)

By Jim Biggs, Executive Director, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and Cortney Piper, Innov865 Alliance

It is an exciting time to be part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Knoxville. 

In this city, we’re more than willing to get excited about the latest Vols win or claim Dolly Parton as our region’s patron saint, but we have not always been as proactive about telling the world about what makes our city such a great place to live, work and play.

Our community has been so busy rolling up its sleeves, testing technology in the lab, strategizing in the boardroom and mentoring the next generation of innovators that we have forgotten to let people in on our best-kept secret: Knoxville’s entrepreneurial scene is thriving. We think it’s about time the rest of the country knows that too. From a nationally recognized business accelerator coming to town to concentrated efforts to promote our city’s entrepreneurs, we have some fantastic developments to share.

“Put simply: Knoxville is made for entrepreneurs. We know what we’re doing and want more people and businesses to recognize that too.”

The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center serves as our city’s “front door for entrepreneurs.” Our mission is to build a community where entrepreneurs have access to the capital, customers and talent they need to be successful. We are a member of the Innov865 Alliance, a group of companies and stakeholders dedicated to advocating for Knoxville’s startups and entrepreneurs, ensuring our ecosystem is strong, vibrant and coordinated. The Alliance’s vision is to be a “nationally recognized” hub of innovation and entrepreneurship by leveraging our region’s world-class research, creative and technological capabilities to build the most connected and diverse startup community in Tennessee.

Our work is in line with the City of Knoxville’s latest commitments to bolster its entrepreneurial community. Mayor Indya Kincannon’s proposed 2021-22 city budget emphasizes investments in five priority areas, one of which is “thriving businesses and good jobs.” In this category, the proposed budget would provide over $1 million to support the City’s economic development partners, $90,000 in new funding to support business development in the Latino community, and $150,000 in new funding for KEC, including support for the 100Knoxville project to grow Black-owned businesses.

KEC and the Alliance’s efforts to grow and support our entrepreneurial community also wouldn’t be possible without the brilliant minds and extensive resources of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the University of Tennessee. These three entities recently came together to support the launch of a Knoxville Techstars accelerator in 2022. Over the next three years, the Techstars accelerator will engage 10 startups a year, attracting new entrepreneurs from around the world to start and grow their businesses right here.

Before launching the accelerator, Techstars released an assessment of Knoxville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, highlighting both what makes our community so great and areas where we can continue to grow. Techstars identified five primary benefits of our region: large research institutions, excellent quality of life, relatively low cost of living, deep pool of technical talent and exciting support organizations for startups. We couldn’t agree more.

The report also identified six “gaps” where our community can continue to grow. Those gaps include funding, support for growth-stage companies, participation, access, measurement and perception.

Perception, or the fact that many people in our state and city don’t know how well our companies are performing, was number one. Even though we’ve had many successful ventures over the years — Arkis Biosciences, Genera, EDP Biotech, Cirrus Insight, and Gridsmart, to name a few — this report made us realize how we need to do a better job sharing our triumphs within the community and on a larger scale.

We believe Knoxville is a wonderful place to start and grow a business. Our nationally recognized institutions, organizations, and resources are incredible assets for anyone looking to make it as an entrepreneur. Yet, simply having access to TVA or business support from KEC isn’t enough to make Knoxville great. The secret to Knoxville’s thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem is connection. Our organizations, groups, and experts continually collaborate and connect to ensure that we’re offering the best resources, opportunities, and expertise. Unlike larger cities, Knoxville entrepreneurs have ready access to this interconnected network of change-makers and leaders in their respective fields.

Put simply: Knoxville is made for entrepreneurs. We know what we’re doing and want more people and businesses to recognize that too. We have the talent, labs, resources and know-how to transform our community and the world around us. This city is made for makers, dreamers, leaders, inventors, investors and visionaries. Now is our time to highlight the great work innovators in our city are doing every single day, which is why we’re launching the Made for Knoxville campaign.

Made for Knoxville will elevate awareness of Knoxville’s diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem, and inspire action. The goal is to connect and empower the diverse entrepreneurial community in the Knoxville region — ranging from “solo-preneurs,” makers, growth-stage tech companies, investors and established institutions.

Over the next few months , KEC will release dozens of inspiring, incredible stories about the hardworking men and women who make our entrepreneurial scene so vibrant. From hard-tech researchers to artisans, we are letting the world know that Knoxville is truly “made” for entrepreneurs. Come join us.

Techstars findings about Knoxville innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem revealed in town hall event

(Originally posted on Teknovation.biz)

By Tom Ballard

The final report, including gaps and recommendations that were identified in the recently completed Techstars assessment of the Knoxville area innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem, is now pubic, and the hard work is just beginning to ensure the region capitalizes on the effort.

As TVA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jeff Lyash told the slightly more than 100 attendees at yesterday morning’s virtual town hall, “It’s our job to take this Techstars assessment and operationalize it.” The full report can be downloaded at this link. If you were not able to view the town hall, you can watch it here (page down to “Report Out” section).

In a rapid-fire overview of the report, Rhett Morris, a Consultant who talked with many in the community on one or more occasions, outlined the regional strengths that the Techstars assessment identified and the gaps that need to be addressed.

“I heard that this was a unique moment for the Knoxville community,” Morris said, adding that he concluded the community was performing “far below its actual potential.” Those comments echoed opening remarks by Jeff Smith, Deputy Director for Operations at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who said it this way: “The region punches below its weight in innovation.”

For those who are intimately involved in the local innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem, none of the findings that Morris outlined should be surprising nor should the proposed recommendations. They are as follows:

  • Strengths – the vibrant research community, regional quality of life, low cost of living, deep technology talent, and existing support organizations for start-ups.
  • Gaps – perception of the region, locally and more broadly; funding for start-ups, frequently referred to as access to capital; insufficient support in ways such as mentoring; easier access to the bigger public and private enterprises; lower levels of participation by minorities; and absence of defined goals with appropriate metrics and regular reporting.

After Morris’ presentation, representatives of the Innov865 Alliance discussed how the Alliance, as a group, and also as individual members will take leadership responsibility for addressing the gaps and specific ways in which that will occur.

  • Grady Vanderhoofven, President and CEO of Three Roots Capital, said his firm will lead “a shared initiative to address capital” that includes: (1) expanding on efforts such as the TennesSeed Fund launched in 2019; and (2) working closely with the Knoxville Chamber on the latter’s access to capital initiative that is a component of its broader “Path to Prosperity” plan.
  • Jim Biggs, Executive Director of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC), spotlighted activities that cover several of the gaps through: (1) its “Made for Knoxville” initiative; (2) a collaboration with the City of Knoxville to launch a Mayor’s Entrepreneurship Council patterned after the well-established Mayor’s Maker Council; (3) the recently revamped and renamed “Inflection Point” initiative; and (4) new efforts focused on underrepresented populations like the upcoming “100Knoxville Launch Event.”
  • I had the privilege of addressing three topics – perception, access and measurement. The points that I made included: (1) the Alliance will create and coordinate an ongoing, integrated public relations and marketing campaign to showcase our regional successes, both historical and current, as well as assets that will focus locally, regionally and nationally; (2) PYA, the power behind teknovation.biz, has added an additional writer with part of her role being to help expand on what we are already doing to tell the community story; (3) Alliance members will continue their individual regional promotional efforts in various ways such as KEC’s “Made for Knoxville” initiative and the “Startup Knox” podcast series that will feature Randy Boyd as of today; (4) the Alliance will take leadership for developing a set of metrics to show our progress and produce a report card that will be routinely updated and spotlighted in teknovation.biz; and (5) the Alliance will work to identify and/or recruit “Navigators” to help facilitate access to and connectivity between entrepreneurs and the region’s assets – from big enterprises like ORNL, TVA and University of Tennessee (UT) to private companies like PYA and others that can and should help local entrepreneurs.

The 90-minute session also featured the leaders of the three sponsoring organizations – UT President Randy Boyd; Thomas Zacharia, Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL); and Lyash – along with their key representatives on the Techstars Steering Committee – Joe Hoagland, TVA’s Vice President of Enterprise Relations and Innovation; Stacey Patterson, UT’s Vice President for Research, Economic Development and Outreach; and ORNL’s Smith.

Boyd, Lyash and Zacharia separately noted the significance of the region’s largest employers coming together to collaborate on the Techstars effort and the potential benefits that will derive from it.

Zacharia talked about likely new federal initiatives in the R&D/innovation space and said that East Tennessee is “positioned perfectly” for significant investment. In the case of Boyd, one of the region’s most recognized and very successful entrepreneurs, the emphasis was on what he called “an historic partnership” and an important message for those who are starting or those who are supporting entrepreneurs who are starting new businesses.

“Entrepreneurship is not a zero-sum game,” he said. “There is a catalytic or compounding effect” that comes from working collaboratively.

490 BioTech wins Innov865 Alliance’s Startup Day; Dr. Peter Tsai is Recognized for Global Pandemic Support

Innov865 Week Ends with a Virtual Celebration of Trailblazing Entrepreneurs and Life-changing Impact

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The startup 490 BioTech, which developed bioluminescent human cells to show changes in cellular health, won the Innov865 Judges’ Choice Award at Startup Day 2020 with a pitch that explained how its technology can improve development of pharmaceuticals.

“Healthy happy cells are bright, sick cells go dim, and dead cells go dark,” 490 BioTech co-founder and CEO Dan Close said. “Our product provides continuous information about a drug’s effect on human health so pharmaceutical companies can operate more efficiently.”

As winner, his company will receive a $7,000 cash prize that they will use to develop its business further. 490 BioTech was named among several winners during Innov865 Week, which celebrates entrepreneurship and innovation in Knoxville and the region. He and others pitched their businesses on Startup Day, Tuesday, Sept. 29.

Winners were named in an awards ceremony on Friday, Oct. 2 that included the judges’ choice, 490 BioTech; the Innov865 Crowd Favorite prize, presented by BB&T and SunTrust Bank, now Truist, was given to Quantum Lock; and the first recipient of the Innov865 Impact Award, presented by Verizon, was named – N95 mask developer Dr. Peter Tsai.

The look and feel of Innov865 Week may have been a little different, but the excitement of the eighth annual Startup Day was woven throughout the a week of virtual events designed to introduce investors to burgeoning startups in the process of gaining traction in the market.

The festivities started with a discussion from University of Tennessee President and entrepreneur Randy Boyd during a Facebook Live segment on Monday morning, followed by the Spark Innovation Center Showcase on Monday afternoon. On Tuesday nearly 200 attendees heard from Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and then were introduced to six investable pitchers in what was deemed by judges as the closest Startup Day to date. The virtual “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition included previously taped pitches and virtual question and answer sessions hosted on the local startup virtual platform Lunchpool.

Quantum Lock, co-founded by Erica Grant, won the $3,000 Innov865 Crowd Favorite prize as voted on by viewers of the competition on Startup Day.

Quantum Lock creates random, untraceable combinations for locks that prevent hackers from doing things such as creating a master key for hotel rooms, among other safeguards. Later plans for Quantum Lock’s technology include securing the energy grid, hospitals, homes, smartphones and personal security.

“Encouraging entrepreneurs to creatively solve problems and build businesses is one way Truist delivers on its purpose of inspiring and building better lives and communities, said Christian Corts, regional president for BB&T | SunTrust now Truist, East Tennessee. “We appreciate the hard work and ingenuity of all of Startup Day’s participants, and congratulate Quantum Lock and Erica Grant as the crowd favorite award winner for Startup Day 2020.”

The inaugural Innov865 Impact Award, presented by Verizon, was given to Peter Tsai, University of Tennessee researcher who developed the N95 mask material.

“Verizon is proud to present the inaugural Innov865 Impact Award, and pleased to announce the winner, Peter Tsai,” said Thomas Green, Managing Partner for Government and Public Safety at Verizon. “As the architect behind the essential technology in N95 masks, his work is essential to the global response for fighting the pandemic. This is the kind of life-changing technology that the Innov865 Impact Award presented by Verizon is meant to highlight.

The Innov865 Impact Award recognizes an inventor who has made a positive impact in the fight against COVID-19. Tsai, a research faculty member at the University of Tennessee Department of Material Science and Engineering, used a method called electrostatic charging to develop the N95 mask material, which filters out 95 percent of particles from air that wearers breathe through the mask. Front-line healthcare workers and others use the N95 mask as part of the essential personal protective equipment they need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tsai then participated in a fireside chat with Lonnie Love of ORNL, moderated by Jon Sheiber with TechCrunch, in which he explained his work.

“I did not expect this. It’s just happened by chance,” Tsai said. “My invention is an ordinary invention.” However, Tsai’s invention has had an extraordinary impact. Dr. Tsai retired two years ago, but the global pandemic caused a shortage of N95 masks. Earlier this year, he worked with labs and manufacturers to teach others how to make the materials and safely reuse N95 masks.

About the Startup Day winners

Innov865 Judges Choice: 490 BioTech – The Knoxville-based 490 BioTech makes bioluminescent human cells capable of continuously producing a visual light signal that adjusts in real-time to represent changes in cellular health. The company’s glowing cells can be used by pharmaceutical companies in their efforts to develop safer, more effective, and less expensive medicines. 490 BioTech serves the academic, commercial, industrial, and government research community by providing high quality bioluminescent cell lines that don’t require external luciferin treatments to function.

Their patented genetic architecture allows their cell lines to produce their own luciferin internally, allowing for continuous light production throughout the life of a culture.

Cofounder and CSO: Dan Close

Innov865 Crowd Favorite prize, presented by BB&T and SunTrust Bank, now Truist: Quantum Lock Quantum Lock is developing a smart lock system that is more secure than many current smartphone-based key systems. Quantum Lock’s technology uses quantum physics to generate keys that are random and untraceable. Quantum Lock’s premier product, Gamma Lock, is a smart phone or key fob based smart lock which is built to secure guests at Bed and Breakfasts and hotels.

Cofounder: Erica Grant

About the Innov865 Alliance and Innov865 Week’s Startup Day

Innov865 Week is a weeklong series of events that celebrates Knoxville’s entrepreneurial spirit by bringing together startups, entrepreneurs, makers, investors, business leaders, students, and community leaders from across East Tennessee for a week of educational panels, pitch competitions, investor roundtables, and social events. It is presented by the Innov865 Alliance, a coalition that develops, supports, and promotes the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Founding members of the Innov865 Alliance include the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, PYA, UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Three Roots Capital, Tennessee Valley Authority, Launch Tennessee, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, the University of Tennessee Research Park at Cherokee Farm, and Bunker Labs Knoxville. To learn more, visit https://innov865.com/.

Part 2: Q&A with Lia Winters of Winter Innovation

Startup Day 2019 winner reflects on the pitch competition experience, offers advice to 2020 competitors

Lia Winter has come a long way since she first developed the idea for a novel surgical stitching solution during her undergraduate days. Her East Tennessee-based startup is making waves at pitch competitions across the country, including right here in her backyard. Last year, Winter Innovations took home the Judge’s Choice and Crowd Favorite awards at the 2019 Startup Day pitch competition.

In this last-part of a two-part Q&A series with the Startup Day 2019 winner, Lia revisits last year’s win and offers some advice to the entrepreneurs vying for this year’s awards.

It’s been one year since you won the Judge’s Choice and Crowd Favorite awards at Startup Day 2019. What was the pitch competition experience like?

Lia: I attended Startup Day for the first time in 2018 and remember being impressed with the pitch competition finalists. It was a pleasant surprise when, just a year later, I received notification that Winter Innovations had been selected as a finalist for the 2019 Startup Day pitch competition. I started preparing my pitch deck immediately. WATE-TV news hosted the finalists for Elevator Pitch sessions, where the crew filmed us getting on an elevator with the news anchor and answering rapid fire questions about our companies. These segments were fun to shoot and they aired on the evening news a few weeks before Startup Day. 

After the Elevator Pitches, it was full speed ahead with pitch practice. I practiced a lot before my pitches and enlisted the help of my mentors at the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to get feedback on my pitch. On the big day, we arrived early and did a practice run before it was show time. I was the first presenter and I actually felt very comfortable on stage, partly because the charismatic Brandon Bruce was the host, and partly because when I looked out into the crowd, I saw many familiar faces.

After we delivered our pitches and the judges deliberated, the Crowd Favorite prize was announced. I was so happy when they revealed the giant check and announced that we had won! We had done a lot to promote the event within our network. When the judges announced that we had also won the Judge’s Choice prize, I felt a mixture of elation and surprise because the other companies had delivered impressive presentations. The award money was put toward our first manufactured production batch of EasyWhip™ needles.

What advice can you give to the entrepreneurs competing this year? 

Lia: Part of the reason we were successful was because we told a story with our pitch. We shared our personal connection and passion for our company and the Knoxville area and its entrepreneurship support system. My advice to entrepreneurs competing this year would be to tell a story with your pitch and reflect on how the Knoxville ecosystem has helped your company grow.

Part 1: Q&A with Lia Winters of Winter Innovation

Winter Innovations continues to make strides one year after winning the Startup Day 2019 pitch competition

Lia Winter’s passion to revolutionize orthopedic surgery comes from firsthand experience. She suffered her own orthopedic injury in high school and witnessed her mother’s long road to recovery following complications from ACL surgery. Winter knew there had to be a way to improve the surgery process and she made it her goal to find it. The result? EasyWhipTM, a two-step surgical needle that improves the stability, speed, and efficiency of graft stitching. This device is the focus of Winter Innovations, founded in 2018.

Lia has successfully pitched her company in competitions around the country, including in East Tennessee. Winter Innovations took home the Judge’s Choice and Crowd Favorite awards at the 2019 Startup Day pitch competition

In this first-part of a two-part Q&A series with the Startup Day 2019 winner, Lia shares some exciting developments that have occurred over the last year.

A lot has happened for you and Winter Innovations this year. What are some notable highlights? 

Lia: The past year has been very exciting for Winter Innovations. Since competing in Startup Day, we’ve been featured in six other pitch competitions. In January, we closed our pre-seed funding round and are proud that our lead investor was an angel group from East Tennessee. We leveraged the capital to develop the EasyWhip™ packaging system and completed our first live production run of EasyWhip™ needles at our contract manufacturer last month. We also received a response from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office concerning our primary patent application. We have a set of allowed claims that will protect EasyWhip™ in the marketplace and expect our first patent to issue soon. 

The pandemic has impacted people and companies around the world. How is Winter Innovations pivoting and/or adapting to this new world we live in? 

Lia: We’ve stayed focused on launching EasyWhip™. Elective surgeries for ligament and tendon repair have slowed in many areas of the country, but a surge is expected after the virus is under control. We are working diligently to complete the necessary testing to submit our 510(k) to the FDA so EasyWhip™ is ready for launch and can be available to help surgeons and patients when we do see an uptick in elective surgeries again. 

Our way of doing business has definitely changed, too. Things slowed down when the pandemic first hit, as many of our suppliers and manufacturers were faced with implementing social distancing measures and transitioning to shift work schedules. As a startup, we are used to adapting. We are busier than ever preparing for our FDA submission and have leveraged remote team members to support us in these efforts.

Looking ahead to the next year or two, what do you and Winter Innovations have on the horizon?

Lia: Our next significant milestone is to submit our 510(k) to the FDA, which we are on track to complete by the end of this year. We expect to obtain clearance and launch EasyWhip™ by the end of 2021. We are currently raising our seed funding round.

Competitors for Innov865 Week’s 2020 Startup Day Pitch Competition Announced

Six local startups will vie for $10,000 in cash prizes

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Some of the pitches shooting for $10,000 at Innov865’s Startup Day this year include predictive software for heart attacks, an untraceable password generator and glowing human cells to deliver medicine, among other ideas.

Those are among six rising stars from Knoxville’s startup scene that the Innov865 Alliance chose for its 2020 Startup Day pitch competition. The annual “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition is the premier event of Innov865 Week, which will be held virtually Sept. 28 – Oct. 2. Startup Day is at 2 p.m. Sept. 29. The event is free and open to the public.

Other pitches judges will hear include converting food into renewable electricity, a way to improve workplace safety through song, and a community-based certification system to champion youth fitness and education.

“Now, more than ever, it’s important to celebrate Knoxville’s vibrant entrepreneurial community,” said Jim Biggs, founding member of the Innov865 Alliance and Executive Director at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. “Innov865 Week shines a light on some of the incredible innovations that are happening in our own backyard. Any of these technologies could have an important impact on how we live.”

Hosted by the Innov865 Alliance, Innov865 Week spotlights Knoxville as a great place to start and grow businesses and connects the entrepreneurs planting roots here with support systems to succeed. The week’s events bring together local leaders, investors, entrepreneurs, and the public to support local economic development and celebrate Knoxville’s entrepreneurial spirit. 

The event will be presented virtually using the Knoxville-based technology platform, Lunchpool. Startup Day’s pitch competition will feature six of Knoxville’s most investable startups pitching their businesses in front of a panel of expert judges for a chance to win up to $10,000 in cash prizes. Two prizes are up for grabs: the Innov865 Judges’ Choice prize and the Innov865 Crowd Favorite prize, presented by BB&T and SunTrust Bank, now Truist.

A new addition to the 2020 Startup Day program is the Innov865 Impact Award, presented by Verizon. The Innov865 Impact Award recognizes an inventor who has made a positive impact in the fight against COVID-19. The inaugural Innov865 Impact Award recipient, along with the winners of the Innov865 Judges’ Choice and Innov865 Crowd Favorite prizes, will be announced at an awards ceremony that will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 2. The awards ceremony will also be presented virtually via Lunchpool.

The six startups that will compete in Startup Day’s pitch competition were selected by the Innov865 Alliance for their extraordinary potential and investability. They include:

Electro-Active Technologies Inc. – Electro-Active Technologies Inc. is developing a modular system to convert food waste and renewable electricity into low-cost hydrogen. Their system keeps food waste out of landfills and provides a zero-emission fuel to offset gasoline and diesel use.

Cofounder and CEO: Alex Lewis

490 BioTech – 490 BioTech makes bioluminescent human cells capable of continuously producing a visual light signal that adjusts in real-time to represent changes in cellular health. The company’s glowing cells can be used by pharmaceutical companies in their efforts to develop safer, more effective, and less expensive medicines.

Cofounder and CSO: Dan Close

Quantum Lock – Quantum Lock is developing a smart lock system that is more secure than many current smartphone-based key systems. Quantum Lock’s technology uses quantum physics to generate keys that are random and untraceable.

Cofounder: Erica Grant

Qardian Labs – Qardian Labs develops innovative artificial intelligence-based software solutions for evaluating heart disease risk. The company is dedicated to reducing the occurrence of Sudden Cardiac Arrest by improving screening for people in high stress environments.

Founder: Sofia Tomov

PowerUp Fitness – PowerUp Fitness certifies wellness champions as youth fitness instructors and provides them with the training and support needed to empower youth through fitness, education, and fun in their communities.

Founder and CEO: Stacy Baugues

Songboarding – Songboarding is a subscription-based platform that combines music with safety training, providing employers with a fun and memorable alternative to traditional training methods.

Cofounder: Mike Benn

Learn more about Innov865 Week by visiting https://innov865week.com/. The events calendar will be updated as events are added throughout the week.

ABOUT INNOV865 WEEK AND THE INNOV865 ALLIANCE

Innov865 Week is a weeklong celebration of Knoxville’s entrepreneurial spirit that brings together startups, entrepreneurs, makers, investors, business leaders, students, and community leaders from across East Tennessee for a week of educational panels, pitch competitions, investor roundtables, and social events. It is presented by the Innov865 Alliance, a coalition that develops, supports, and promotes the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The Innov865 Alliance’s mission is to make Knoxville a “nationally recognized” hub of innovation and entrepreneurship by leveraging the region’s world-class research, creative, and technological capabilities to build the most connected and diverse startup community in Tennessee. Founding members of the Innov865 Alliance include the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, PYA, UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Three Roots Capital, Tennessee Valley Authority, Launch Tennessee, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm, and Bunker Labs Knoxville. To learn more, visit www.innov865.com/.

Guest Blog: Meet the Knoxville Technology Council, how they support entrepreneurship

Authored by: Brandon Bruce, Co-founder of the Knoxville Technology Council

The Knoxville Technology Council (KTech) connects, develops, promotes, and advocates for the technology industry in the Greater Knoxville region. We believe the technology industry is essential for our community to thrive. KTech unites the region’s technology leaders and empowers businesses and entrepreneurs through networks, events, and resources.

KTech is an industry-led and membership-driven organization. Our members are companies and organizations across all industry sectors that have technology professionals located in the Greater Knoxville region or that do business here.

John McNeely and myself co-founded KTech with the support of its founding board of directors and its founding members. We officially launched at Jewelry TV on August 15, 2019. The launch event featured presentations by a dozen technology companies, swag bags that included Discovery Shark Week sharks and cans of Bush Beans, and a rooftop happy hour for 300+ attendees.

What are KTech’s priorities right now as it relates to entrepreneurship, and how have those shifted in light of COVID-19?

Entrepreneurship is the driving force of our local, regional, and national economy. KTech is focused on supporting technology companies – including innovative startups – that make the Greater Knoxville region a great place to work and live.

We decided in March that we didn’t want to cancel any of our scheduled Lunch & Learn or Happy Hour events. KTech was an early adopter of the Lunchpool platform, a startup led by local entrepreneur Alex Abell that produces virtual events that feel like the real thing. We’ve had a series of successful virtual Lunch & Learn events on Lunchpool on topics including DevOps, Intellectual Property, Healthcare Technology during COVID-19, Tech for Good, and ManagedIT. All have been very well attended by our members and the community. 

We’ve also hosted a series of monthly Networking Happy Hours including an entrepreneurial presentation by Sugarlands Distillery about producing sanitizer for frontline workers. For that happy hour, we had a popular social media giveaway. Winners received a delivery of moonshine and sanitizer in time for the event.

What are KTech’s goals this year?

Events will continue to be key for connecting our members and the community. We have a great schedule of events through 2020, and we’re in the process of planning a big virtual event in the fall to celebrate KTech’s one-year anniversary. 

We will continue to build out our technology jobs board and our volunteer opportunities board in partnership with Volunteer East Tennessee. 

We’ve also published a list of business resources during COVID-19 and a list of online educational resources for students, parents, and teachers

What does KTech’s future look like?

We will stay focused on our four pillars:

  • Connect members and the community via live and virtual events.
  • Develop talent via education, training, and professional development.
  • Promote members and our technology industry.
  • Advocate for ideas and policies that advance technology in our region.

The vision of KTech is to build an influential community of technology leaders united and committed to helping the Greater Knoxville region grow and thrive. We are advancing Knoxville as a technology hub and center of innovation.

How can people get in touch with KTech?

For more information about membership, sponsorship, and partnership, please visit our website or email me at brandon@knoxtech.org

Mayor Kincannon shares priorities, goals supporting Knoxville’s entrepreneurial community

City of Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon participated in an Innov865 Webinar, where she presented her priorities and vision for supporting Knoxville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Mayor Kincannon was out on a family vacation as she joined us remotely to share her goals under her administration. During the webinar, the mayor gave a shoutout to our entrepreneurs pivoting in these uncertain times to meet the needs of our community and beyond.

  • EDP Biotech, a Startup Day 2019 alum, was focusing its lab work on cancer screenings but has since become one of a few entities on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website now recognized as a commercial testing lab and manufacturer of COVID-19 serology (antibody) tests.
  • Integrity Labs gained a nod from the mayor as they are also assisting in COVID-19 testing, as well as the many distilleries that began producing hand sanitizer in light of the shortages and donated a lot of it to our public safety and first responders.
  • Songboarding, a recent winner of Innov865 Alliance member Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s What’s the Big Idea? competition was also mentioned by our mayor. The startup produces workplace safety training songs, and as public health is top of mind in light of COVID-19, co-founder Mike Benn created a song to encourage people to wash their hands and follow CDC guidelines.

Mayor Kincannon also stressed the importance of working with community partners and the Chamber of Commerce to make sure opportunities and resources are equitable to all.

“One of my goals as Mayor is to support the entrepreneurial community and make sure that those opportunities to invest and to grow your business and to plant your idea and turn your idea into a workable strategy is something that is available to everybody,” said Mayor Kincannon.

The mayor highlighted that in order to solidify Knoxville’s innovation ecosystem, there needs to be better connectivity. On top of having the infrastructure that supports collaboration, entrepreneurs need to be in close proximity with each other to catalyze more innovation. That’s certainly a challenge right now, in light of COVID-19, but the mayor said she wants the city and the mayor’s office to be a part of that strategic planning moving forward. The mayor reiterated one of her goals during her term is to launch and move forward on an innovation district or an opportunity district.

Mayor Kincannon shared how she’s had several conversations with Knoxville’s entrepreneurs to help understand what their needs are and how the City can help. Anna Douglas of SkyNano, a 2017 Startup Day winner, explained to the mayor the technology needs for wet labs and access to resources that new businesses need for facilitating and incubating.

Douglas is a familiar name in Knoxville as she’s a graduate of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Innovation Crossroads program, and just won two U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grants that total $2.7 million, including cost share for one, and has two other smaller projects lined-up for the start-up founded in January 2017 and focused on manufacturing of low-cost, high-value carbon materials from carbon dioxide.

Mayor Kincannon also expressed interest in Knoxville mimicking Memphis’ 800 Initiative, which is dedicated to helping grow minority business through the deliberate investment of assistance, capital, corporate engagement, and other resources.

“Memphis is a much bigger city but ours might be the Knoxville 100. The idea is to not reinvent the wheel but to give access to minority owned businesses to the resources that already exist to support small and growing businesses,” said Mayor Kincannon. “The goal is very attainable and measurable, and it’s to give people access to services, remove the barriers for mentoring, and access to capital.”