Six finalists to compete for $10,000 at Startup Day 2018, Traction Award nominees announced

The Innov865 Alliance has selected six East Tennessee startups as pitch competition finalists and three Traction Award nominees for Startup Day 2018. The winners of the pitch competition and Traction Award will be announced on Sept. 25 during the signature event of Innov865 Week, an annual celebration of Knoxville’s thriving entrepreneurial community held this year Sept. 23-28, 2018.

The six startups were selected from a large pool of applicants for the chance to pitch their businesses before a panel of judges at Startup Day’s pitch competition. The finalists will compete in two prize categories, judges’ choice and crowd favorite, for the chance to win a total of $10,000 in cash prizes to invest in their startup. The crowd favorite prize is sponsored by SunTrust Bank.

The Traction Award, sponsored by UT Federal Credit Union, is presented annually to the  Startup Day alum who has made the most progress – or gained the most “traction” – since pitching their company at Startup Day in years past.

The 2017 Innov865 Traction Award winner was RDI Technologies, which offers video camera-based technology to find faults in machinery, infrastructure and human performance not visible to the human eye. Its clients include Fortune100 companies such as Honda, Nissan, Dow Chemical and Shell Oil.

Startup Day 2018 is Sept. 25 from 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. at The Mill & Mine in downtown Knoxville. Doors will open at 1:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, and registration is now open online. In addition to the pitch competition and Traction Award announcement, Venture For America’s Amy Nelson will give the keynote address on her experience supporting startups and entrepreneurs.

The Innov865 Alliance has selected the following six finalists to compete in the pitch competition:

David Nelson, BrewFund, Inc.

BrewFund, Inc. creates a new revenue stream for craft beer taprooms through an innovative engagement platform that enables digital gifting, manages loyalty clubs, and provides sales and marketing data.

Alex Adams, GeoAir

GeoAir is a proactive agricultural analysis company that seeks to make farmers more efficient and profitable, utilizing a custom-developed drone to pinpoint and identify mold in fields. GeoAir allows farmers the opportunity to spot treat and manage the mold before damage occurs to the crop.

Shane McMahon, Lux Semiconductors

Lux Semiconductors is an advanced-tech startup developing high-quality and low-cost semiconductor substrates for the rapidly evolving electronics industry. Lux aims to deliver a new class of flexible semiconductor substrates to serve as the next generation platform and replace the thick, fragile, expensive class currently in use.

Megan O’Connor, Nth Cycle

Nth Cycle has developed an electrochemical recycling device to recover rare earth and specialty elements from end-of-life electronics waste streams for reuse in advanced manufacturing.

Bailey Foster, Real Good Kitchen

Real Good Kitchen is a community kitchen and culinary incubator planned to open in Knoxville in 2019. It provides high quality, shared commercial kitchen and storage space, as well as industry-specific technical assistance and business development resources, to established and emerging food entrepreneurs.

Tommy Nguyen, StoragePug

StoragePug is a modern marketing company for self storage. Powered by scalable cloud and serverless computing, StoragePug creates intelligent marketing websites that connect customers to self storage through online rentals, bill pay, and lease eSign.

The Innov865 Alliance has selected the following nominees for the 2018 Traction Award:

Courtney Jones, MomSource Network

Courtney  Jones  is  the  CEO  of  MomSource  Network,  an  organization  dedicated  to  creating  diverse  and  inclusive  workplaces  through  targeted  diversity  recruiting  efforts  enterprise  Returnship  and  Trailing  Spouse  programs.  A  passionate  advocate  for  gender  diversity  and  a  recognized  thought  leader  on  topics  related  to  women  in  business,  D&I  and  work-life  blend;  she’s  been  featured  in  Bloomberg,  CNN,  and  Working  Mother  and  has  worked  alongside  hundreds  of  companies  to  create  meaningful  opportunities  for  women.

Mac Bartine, Smart RIA

Mac  Bartine  is  the  CEO  of  Smart  RIA,  a  software  platform  that  simplifies  compliance  for  the  Registered  Investment  Advisor  (RIA)  industry,  which  is  regulated  by  the  Securities  and  Exchange  Commission.  Under  Mac’s  leadership,  Smart  RIA  has  grown  more  than  13 percent  month  over  month  since  January  of  2017,  which  was  its  second  full  year  of  revenue,  and  is  on  track  to  expand  internationally  and  exceed  $1 million  in  leading  annual  sales  in  2019.

Graham Taylor, T&T Scientific

Graham Taylor is president and CTO of T&T Scientific, a company that produces low-cost, single use liposome extrusion devices that simplify the process of preparing liposomes for research laboratories, manufacturing facilities, and clinical settings. Compared to other commercially available extrusion platforms, T&T Scientific’s NanoSizerTM technology is ready to use out of the package and does not require any assembly or cleaning, enabling a more efficient process and lowering the risk of contamination.

Carson to share interesting insights into VCs, angels at Innov865 Investor Series forum

Originally published on Teknovation.biz

By: Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

“The numbers have to be there, and they also have to like you,” Shawn Carson says in succinctly capturing the results of the research undertaken on investment strategies for his recently completed dissertation at the University of Tennessee (UT).

The long-time player in the Knoxville region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem will share the results of his research at tonight’s “Innov865 Investor Series” forum, then moderate a panel discussion about the topic. The panel will feature Tony Lettich of The Angel Roundtable, John Morris of The Lighthouse Fund, Grady Vanderhoofven of Three Roots Capital, and Ken Woody of Innova Memphis.

Carson is well-known across East Tennessee for his skills as a workshop leader and effective communicator. As such, it was only natural that the soft-spoken Lecturer in UT Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business would decide to pursue his doctorate. And, it should come as no surprise that his previous ties to the now defunct Technology 2020 and current additional role at Three Roots Capital would lead him to a dissertation topic based on the decision-making process used by angel and venture investors.

“I’ve been studying entrepreneurial risk for a while,” Carson told us in an interview ahead of the forum. We wanted to better understand the methodology that he used and the results that he uncovered.

“Entrepreneurs take risks, investors avoid risks,” Carson explained. “I wanted to know if there was a way to quantify risks beyond the ‘Big 4’ – execution, market, technology, and funding.”

The short answer is “yes,” but it took some work. Carson described his challenge as “developing a process that would get people to explain their individual risk factors in a way I could quantify.” To do it, he selected the Delphi Method developed in the 1950’s to achieve consensus while avoiding biases of those surveyed.

Read more here.

Local company Smart RIA on the brink of international expansion

(Credit: Knoxville.Biz)

Almost a year after winning the Innov865 Week’s Startup Day 2018 pitch competition, Smart RIA is on the brink of international expansion, thanks to partnerships forged through that program.

While CEO Mac Bartine stood on stage accepting a $10,000 check for Smart RIA at the Sept. 2017 event, he noticed a man in the audience trying to get his attention.

That man was Paul Folta, a semi-retired business development executive with a specialty in international business. He told Bartine Smart RIA was a good candidate for international expansion.

Smart RIA’s software streamlines the regulatory process for registered investment advisors. Most of their clients are independent business owners.

“Even though they’re independent business owners who have no more capability of moving the financial markets than I have of picking up a semi(trailer) and throwing it, they are still regulated as though they can do that,” Bartine said. “It’s a serious burden, it’s in many cases the scariest part of their business for them.”

Doubled RIA customers in last year

Bartine said the company worked with 2 consulting firms and had 400 RIA client firms in Sept. 2017.

As of late July, Smart RIA has strategic partnerships with 14 consulting firms and more than 950 RIA firms as clients.

“We have more than doubled (customers) in the last year,” Bartine said. They’ve tripled revenue in the last year.

Building partnerships with consultants is a quick way to scale the company, as the software trickles down through their clients. The software doesn’t eliminate the need for consultants, Folta said, rather it adds value to what the consultant offers client RIAs.

In the next year, Bartine estimated they will triple business and then double business again the year after.

The team will hire more developers, customer service reps and sales people.

The company plans to stay headquartered in Knoxville, Bartine said.

“People know us,” he said. “Locally, people are interested in coming to work with us.”

Click here for more information.

Venture For America CEO Amy Nelson to headline Startup Day 2018

Venture For America CEO Amy Nelson will be the featured speaker for Innov865 Week’s Startup Day 2018. Venture For America is a nonprofit fellowship program that connects recent college graduates with jobs at startups, forging a community of entrepreneurs committed to building companies that matter and creating economic opportunity in American cities.

“Knoxville has a growing reputation for innovation and entrepreneurship that I’m excited to witness firsthand,” Nelson said. “Venture For America exists to help lower the barriers to building a company for aspiring entrepreneurs. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Knoxville community is building a supportive, high-growth ecosystem for budding entrepreneurs.”

Innov865 Week offers a prime opportunity to showcase Knoxville and its growing entrepreneurial community for Nelson and Venture For America, which is scouting new cities in which to expand and invest. Venture For America trains and connects its Fellows with full-time jobs at early stage companies in cities with emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems. This influx of talent bolsters local entrepreneurship and contributes to lasting economic growth as Fellows become part of a new community.

As CEO of Venture For America, Nelson focuses on supporting aspiring young entrepreneurs and creating a pathway to entrepreneurship for all. Prior to joining VFA, Nelson was an integral part of the team at B Lab, where she helped launch B Analytics, the leading data platform for impact investors. She earned her MBA at NYU’s Stern School of Business and holds degrees in philosophy and government from Claremont McKenna College. After college, she helped grow highly-innovative international development organizations in Cameroon and Cambodia. Nelson currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

Startup Day 2018 will take place Tuesday, September 25 at The Mill & Mine in downtown Knoxville. Startup Day will feature a pitch competition, where six East Tennessee startups will be selected to pitch their businesses and compete to win up to $10,000 in cash prizes. The Startup Day pitch competition is the signature event of Innov865 Week, an annual celebration of Knoxville’s entrepreneurial community, held this year September 23-28, 2018.

Nelson will speak before the hundreds of entrepreneurs, startups, business leaders, investors, community leaders and students who attend Innov865 Week each year. This year’s event features a packed week of investor roundtables, educational panels, demo days, and networking.

Startup Day 2018 is free and open to the public. Register today, click here.

2018 Startup Day Pitch Competition Now Open for Applications

KNOXVILLE, TENN. – Applications are now being accepted for Innov865 Week’s Startup Day 2018 pitch competition. Six East Tennessee startups will be selected to pitch their businesses and compete to win up to $10,000 in cash prizes. The Startup Day pitch competition is the signature event of Innov865 Week, an annual celebration of Knoxville’s thriving entrepreneurial community, held this year September 23-28, 2018.

Startup Day 2018 will take place Tuesday, September 25 at The Mill & Mine in downtown Knoxville. Applications for the pitch competition will be accepted June 29, 2018 through July 13, 2018. Startups must be located in East Tennessee to be eligible. Applications are available on the Innov865 Week website: http://innov865week.com/pitch-competition. The Innov865 Alliance will review submissions and select six startups to compete. Startups selected as finalists will be notified no later than July 23, 2018.

“Innov865 Week showcases the growing pool of talent and groundbreaking innovation thriving in the Knoxville region,” said Tom Rogers, Director of Industrial Partnerships and Economic Development at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. ORNL is a founding member of the Innov865 Alliance.“Startup Day’s pitch competition gives these East Tennessee entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their business in front of real investor judges and compete for a cash prize to help turn their vision into a reality.”

The pitch competition will feature two prize categories: judges’ choice and crowd favorite. The crowd favorite prize, presented by SunTrust, allows the audience to cast their vote for their favorite startup with interactive voting throughout the program. Cash prizes will be awarded in both categories, equaling $10,000. In addition, one Startup Day alum will be honored with the Innov865 Traction Award, presented by UT Federal Credit Union, in recognition of the startup’s business successes.

At last year’s 2017 Startup Day pitch competition, Smart RIA won the Innov865 judge’s choice award, earning a cash prize, and SkyNano Technologies claimed the crowd favorite cash prize, presented by SunTrust.

More than 1,000 entrepreneurs, startups, business leaders, investors, community leaders and students attend Innov865 Week each year. This year’s event features a packed week of investor roundtables, educational panels, demo days, and networking.

What’s it like to move to Knoxville?

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(Originally published on Knoxville Business Journal)

Dave Miller, his wife Sarah and their nine-month-old son Roman spent their first month and a half in Knoxville living in the basement of their new house.

The family moved here in 2017 after Miller accepted his position as East Tennessee region president of First Tennessee.

“(Roman) learned to walk while we were living in our basement,” he said. “It was pretty cool.”

While relocating doesn’t always involve living beneath ground level, it “turns the family’s life upside down” in one way or another, clinical social worker Barbara Stephens said.

Thousands of people are moving to Knoxville each year. The number of people who moved to Knox County from another Tennessee county increased from nearly 12,000 in 2013 to approximately 17,000 in 2016. Nearly 11,000 people moved to Knoxville from out of state in 2013, which increased to 12,633 in 2016. Those that moved from abroad increased from 877 in 2013 to more than 2,200 in 2016.

For a couple’s or a family’s life to flip right side up as quickly as possible, human interaction is key, Stephens said.

Meeting the neighbors

Dave Miller had visited Knoxville a few times before the family moved from Memphis. But a visit doesn’t give any indication of what rebuilding a support network will be like.

Establishing initial connections can be the toughest part of a move, Stephens said.

“It was concerning for me,” Sarah Miller said. “How am I going to find a Mother’s Day Out and this and that and events for the kids? And it has been a lot easier than I ever imagined.”

The Millers had a network of folks at First Tennessee, with the added bonus of welcoming neighbors.

“There’s great data available online, but by far, most of what we found was via other references,” Dave Miller said. “If you meet one or two key people who are good at connecting you with others, it’s off to the races.”

The couple estimated that they met more neighbors within the first 30 days in their West Knoxville neighborhood than the two years they spent in their previous neighborhood.

But what if the neighbors aren’t eager to meet? For Stephens, who moved to Knoxville from Cincinnati eight years ago, that was the case.

“We lived there for two weeks and hadn’t said hello to one neighbor,” she said.

So she made the first move. It’s not enough to wait around for others to knock on the door, she said. She baked all her neighbors muffins and made connections, some of which turned into lasting friendships.

Utilizing existing hobbies

After connecting with the neighbors, Stephens dipped into her own hobbies. She took piano lessons, joined a gym and found a church to build her network.

Tricia and Brandon Bruce moved to Maryville in 2007 from Washington D.C. when Tricia accepted a position as a professor of sociology at Maryville College. The couple made the move from Maryville to Knoxville in 2015.

Tricia connected with her colleagues, while Brandon became part of Maryville and Knoxville cycling communities.

“If you want to get involved, you can get involved pretty fast,” Brandon Bruce said. “You can meet a lot of people by expressing interest in certain things.”

Brandon worked as a consultant for a year and worked at Maryville College in fundraising for three years before he decided he was in the right place to start a company.

Finding business support

Brandon started Cirrus Insight software technology company in 2011 with co-founder Ryan Huff. The company was ranked No. 41 on the Inc. 500 list in 2016 and has grown from zero to $12 million in annual revenue.

“Knoxville has benefited enormously from our partnership in the sense that they recruited me to come here, and now he has built all of this,” Tricia said.

Cirrus started around the same time the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center began. Brandon worked with KEC’s team, Tech 2020 in Oak Ridge (now shut down), Innov865 Alliance, E-tech in Oak Ridge to gain support for his venture.

Read the full story here.

Local start-up Yellowstone Energy secures nearly $2.6 million DOE grant

Originally published on Teknovation.biz

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

One of the inaugural start-ups in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) “Innovation Crossroads” program just had a big win.

Yellowstone Energy, spotlighted in this recent teknovation.biz article, was one of 10 recipients sharing up to $24 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that was announced this week. In Yellowstone’s case, it will receive almost $2.6 million from DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program to further advance its nuclear reactor technology.

Yellowstone was co-founded by Matt Ellis and Sam Shaner who met as doctoral classmates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT. Their goal is to develop an advanced nuclear reactor with the potential for faster and lower-cost deployment, at the same time, optimizing safety in order to provide a clean source of baseload electricity.

”We are excited to be chosen for an award under the ARPA-E MEITNER program,” the Co-Founders told us. “This ARPA-E award will allow us to focus on a key enabling component that has the potential to make advanced nuclear reactor designs safer and more efficient.”

Those words were reiterated in many respects in the DOE announcement.

Read the full story here.

Area Students Break Coding World Record

Students from Knox County Schools, Oak Ridge City Schools and area private schools joined together on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, breaking the world record for number of students learning how to code at the same time.

The idea to attempt a Guinness World Record was the brainchild of Brandon Bruce, co-founder and chief operating officer of Cirrus Insight, and Caleb Fristoe, project manager of CodeTN—a Great Schools Partnership initiative that organizes coding clubs, camps and competitions at area schools. The effort is heavily supported by Knox County Schools and its Educational Technology and Information Technology departments.

Approximately 67 percent of new jobs in STEM are in computing, which is the largest and fastest growing source of new wages in the U.S., with 500,000 jobs currently available.

“Computer Science will provide the blue-collar work of the future, and by starting today, we can equip our students with the necessary skills to compete for those jobs,” Fristoe said.

During the world record attempt, all students learned how to code using Scratch, a web application developed by MIT.

Innov865 Happy Hour discusses customer development, customer acquisition

Brandon Bruce, Co-founder of Cirrus Insight led an engaging discussion with Jenna Johns, COO of RDI Technologies and Dr. Graham Taylor, President of T&T Scientific talking about customer development and customer acquisition during a recent Innov865 Happy Hour hosted by UTRF.

Both Johns and Taylor are established entrepreneurs in Knoxville. Each of them are Startup Day veterans having pitched before a panel of investor judges and the greater Knoxville entrepreneurial community in years past.

They were nominated for the 2017 Innov865 Traction Award, presented by UT Federal Credit Union. The award is given to a Startup Day alum who has gained the most momentum over the past few years, and Johns won the award back in September.

RDI Technologies has patented a noncontact video camera-based technology platform that allows users to measure motion, vibration, deflection, and displacement not visible to the human eye. Unlike traditional contact monitoring systems, RDI’s technology measures data in real time, turning virtually every pixel in the camera’s view into a sensor capable of measuring vibration or motion with sub pixel accuracy.

Meanwhile T&T Scientific is a company that produces low-cost, single use liposome extrusion devices that simplify the process of preparing liposomes for research laboratories, manufacturing facilities, and clinical settings. Compared to other commercially available extrusion platforms, T&T Scientific’s NanoSizer (formerly LipX) technology is ready to use out of the package and does not require any assembly or cleaning.

During the Innov865 Happy Hour, Bruce asked Johns and Taylor when they received their first customers, how many customers they have to date, and if they experienced any pivots in the customer discovery process.

Johns elaborated that RDI Technologies first clients started coming in in August 2016, and they’ve since grown to 120 customers to date. But during the process, they did have to pivot.

“We started as a service company. We were taking out what we had invented and we were testing it and figuring out how the customer and end-user would want to use it. We got paid for that service, and we did it for about a year,” said Johns. “But every customer we had we heard ‘Well this looks so easy, why can’t I do it myself?’ So, we decided to take some time to work on our patenting strategy and made sure we had everything locked up in development, and we created the product and launched it for our customers and now we don’t do service at all,” said Johns.

Johns said that their product is sent to plants all across the U.S. and internationally, and 120 customers may not seem like a lot but since RDI Technologies’ systems run in the range of $30,000 each, it stands out. Dr. Taylor went next.

“T&T Scientific technically was founded September 1, 2015, so we just hit our two year mark,” said Dr. Taylor. “We consider April 2016 our first launch, and we started with manual, handheld extruders marketing to researchers in government labs, academic labs, and universities,” said Dr. Taylor.

Dr. Taylor elaborated that a perk with his product was that they didn’t have to go through the FDA to begin selling it, and they were able to complete a few preliminary trials and get some feedback to make them better.

“Just this past summer we officially launched our extrusion equipment, they’re automated devices,” said Dr. Taylor. “It’s nice to start with a manual, handheld extruder and when customers are ready we can take it to the next level with an automated machine,” said Dr. Taylor.

Dr. Taylor has already acquired 150 customers for T&T Scientific’s manual extruders and a few customers for the company’s automated devices as well.

ORNL Innovation Crossroads program opens second round of energy entrepreneurial fellowships

Entrepreneurs are invited to apply for the second round of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Innovation Crossroads program.

Up to five innovators will receive a two-year post-doctoral entrepreneurial fellowship that includes vouchers worth up to $350,000 for collaborative research and development at ORNL, startup business guidance and mentoring, and health and travel benefits. Entrepreneurs selected during the merit-based process are expected to begin the program by May 2018.

Innovation Crossroads is one of three U.S. Department of Energy Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Programs designed to embed top technical post-doctoral talent within national labs as research fellows with goal of subsequently launching businesses. The program focuses on early-stage research and development along with entrepreneurial guidance to enable innovators to inject new ideas into the national labs and transform their novel ideas into U.S.-based companies.

“We are very excited to be recruiting our second cohort. We believe that as knowledge of the program spreads, we’re going to see an increasing number of relevant startup companies working in the energy and advanced manufacturing space,” said Beth Conerty, Project Manager for Entrepreneurship in ORNL’s Office of Industrial Partnerships and Economic Development. “Even though we’ll only be selecting five, it’s great to get connected with these companies and see all the progress that is being made. Our first cohort has been so enjoyable to work with, and we’re looking forward to adding to that group and getting to meet more innovative scientists.”

Innovation Crossroads fellows have access to world-class research facilities and scientific expertise at ORNL, including the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, the National Transportation Research Center, the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, and the Spallation Neutron Source.

Through regional partnerships with entrepreneurial and business accelerator organizations, fellows also receive assistance with developing business strategies, conducting market research, introductions to potential commercial partners, and finding additional sources of funding.

The first cohort of Innovation Crossroads fellows began their terms this summer. These first-time entrepreneurs include Anna Douglas (SkyNano), who is developing a process that uses carbon dioxide as a feedstock to produce low-cost carbon nanotubes; Matthew Ellis and Samuel Shaner (Yellowstone Energy), who are jointly developing an advanced nuclear reactor design; and Mitchell Ishmael (Active Energy Systems), who is developing a system for low level heat recovery and energy storage.

Click here for the original ORNL announcement.