ORNL, TVA welcome seven new research fellows to Innovation Crossroads

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has invited seven new technology innovators to join the third cohort of Innovation Crossroads. Launched in May 2017 with its first cohort, Innovation Crossroads is uniquely designed to support science-based startups by helping them transition their technology from the lab into the free market.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) signed up as a sponsor for the third cohort. This partnership encouraged a high number of innovators focused on energy-related and grid reliability topics.

For their two-year fellowship, the seven chosen engineers and scientists will be able to advance their technologies, work alongside world-class experts, leverage innovative capabilities at ORNL, develop their business strategies and foster valuable partnerships with a network of mentoring organizations. Additionally, the fellowship provides a cost-of-living stipend and up to $200,000 to use on collaborative research and development at ORNL.

The Innovation Crossroads fellows and their projects titles include:

  • Jesse Thornburg, “Learning-Based Monitoring and Control for Optimizing Commercial Refrigeration Operations”
  • Alex Lewis, “Microbial Electrolysis for Production of Renewable Hydrogen from Organic Waste”
  • Leila Safavi-Tehrani, “Advanced Production of High Purity Radioisotopes for Nuclear Medicine”
  • Hicham Ghossein, “Innovative Processing of Advanced Fiber Nonwoven Mats Through a Hydroentanglement System”
  • Trevor McQueen, “Next-Generation Sample Preparation Device for Cryo-TEM Studies”
  • William Fitzhugh, “Industrial Scale Production of Semiconducting Carbon-Nanotubes via Resonant-Dielectrophoresis”
  • Jesse Claypoole, “Advanced Multi-Spectral Light Field Imaging Sensors”

Both ORNL and TVA are founding members of the Innov865 Alliance. To learn more about the third cohort fellows, watch this video.

Bunker Labs Knoxville joins Innov865 Alliance

Get to know the latest member of the Innov865 Alliance, Bunker Labs Knoxville, at an upcoming Bunker Brews event on Thursday, May 16.

We invite you to this monthly meet-up with veterans and military spouses to come together to network in an environment focused on growth and development!

You can RSVP here!

This event is for you if:

  • You’re interested in meeting more like-minded, action-oriented entrepreneurs in a fun, casual setting.
  • You’re interested in getting involved in the local entrepreneur community.
  • You’d like to learn more about companies being created by veterans in our community.

Bunker Labs – a 501(c)(3) non-profit – is a national network of veteran entrepreneurs dedicated to helping new veteran entrepreneurs start their own business. They are committed to seeing that every entrepreneur in the veteran community has the network, tools, and resources they need to start their own business.

25% of transitioning service members want to start a business and they need places inside their community where they can connect with the people, resources, and support they need to start and grow their businesses. Bunker Labs is here for them!

Packed house at Knoxville mayoral forum on entrepreneurship and economic development

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Innov865 Alliance brought the candidates vying to become Knoxville’s next mayor together for the first time tonight at the public mayoral forum on economic development and entrepreneurship.

More than 100 members of the public attended the forum at a jam-packed Relix in downtown North Knoxville. For the first time this election season, four of the six announced mayoral hopefuls shared the stage: Fletcher Burkhardt, Indya Kincannon, Eddie Mannis, and Marshall Stair.

“Knoxville is primed to become an economic and innovative powerhouse in the region, and strategic support of the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem from our next mayor is vital to that success,” said forum moderator Brandon Bruce, cofounder of Cirrus Insight and member of the Innov865 Alliance, the local collaborative advancing the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem which hosted the event. “The packed house at this mayoral forum shows just how invested Knoxvillians are in this community and its economic opportunity and development.”

The candidates answered questions about their business, innovation and entrepreneurial policy ideas and credentials, with discussion led by WATE 6 On Your Side anchor Kristin Farley, entrepreneur Tanika Harper, and Bruce. Topics ranged from business recruitment and the future of Knoxville’s makers community to ideas for leveraging new technology coming out of the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Lab. The candidates discussed what they see as the biggest challenge currently facing Knoxville and the city’s role in addressing that challenge.

Knoxville will cast votes to select the next city mayor on August 27, 2019, Primary Election day. The final day to register to vote in the primary is July 29, 2019. If one mayoral candidate does not receive a majority of all primary ballots cast, the top two candidates will be on the ballot in the General Election, November 5, 2019. The last day to register to vote in the General Election is October 7, 2019.


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. Its signature event is the annual Innov865 Week; the Alliance also coordinates other activities throughout the year, including pitch competitions, educational opportunities, and social events. Founding members include the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, PYA, UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Three Roots Capital, Launch Tennessee, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, and TVA.


Mayoral candidates come together to discuss economic opportunity and entrepreneurship in Knoxville

Candidates vying to become Knoxville’s next mayor will share ideas and perspectives on entrepreneurship and innovation at an upcoming mayoral forum presented by the Innov865 Alliance, the local collaborative of organizations advancing the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The public is invited to attend the forum, scheduled for March 5, 2019, at Relix in downtown North Knoxville.

RSVP here!

Moderated by anchor Kristin Farley from WATE 6 On Your Side, the Alliance’s media partner, the forum will explore candidates’ positions on critical aspects of Knoxville’s economy, specifically entrepreneurship, innovation and access to capital. The candidates will be joined by a panel of local entrepreneurs, supplying questions for lively discussion and debate. The six mayoral hopefuls who have filed necessary paperwork to appoint a treasurer for the 2019 mayoral election have been invited to attend. As of this release, contenders Mike Chase, Indya Kincannon, Eddie Mannis, and Marshall Stair have each confirmed their attendance.

“This evening presents a rare opportunity to gather each mayoral candidate, local entrepreneurs and stakeholders, and the East Tennessee community together under one roof to examine our region’s economic climate and the role that startups play in our future,” said Tom Ballard, an Innov865 Alliance founding member and Chief Alliance Officer at PYA. “These conversations and the resulting knowledge and connections are invaluable tools to position Knoxville as more fertile ground for local entrepreneurship and growth.”

All interested persons are invited to attend the mayoral forum. Ticketing information and additional details are available here. Doors will open promptly at 5:00 p.m. for the 5:30 p.m. forum.

StoragePug wins pitch competition at Startup Day 2018, 4th annual Traction Award goes to T&T Scientific

Knoxville’s sixth annual Startup Day celebrated East Tennessee’s thriving entrepreneurial community at The Mill & The Mine on Tuesday, September 25. Regional innovators, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and investors joined the East Tennessee community for competition and fellowship at the signature event of Innov865 Week, the city’s annual showcase of Knoxville as a great place to start and grow businesses.

An East Tennessee startup won both cash prizes at the Startup Day pitch competition, which featured six startups pitching their businesses before a panel of judges for the change to win up to $10,000. StoragePug earned the $7,000 Startup Day 2018 Judge’s Choice prize presented by the Innov865 Alliance, as well as the $3,000 Startup Day 2018 Crowd Favorite prize presented by SunTrust Bank.

Tommy Nguyen is co-founder and COO of StoragePug, 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. Self storage exists to help people transition into new phases of their lives, and to help self storage owners be the best stewards to people in need and meet them where they are – online and on their smartphones. Combined with marketing intelligence, StoragePug has built a proprietary online rental station which empowers storage owners to rent more units with the convenience of eSign and autopay.

“SunTrust Bank is proud to play a role in East Tennessee’s advancement as a prime destination city for startups and entrepreneurs in the Southeast,” said Harry Gross, Knoxville President of SunTrust Bank. “We join the Knoxville community in supporting these startups and celebrate these entrepreneurs who are putting our city on the map as a hub of innovation.”

Amy Nelson, CEO of Venture for America presented an inspiring keynote presentation about her passion for training more entrepreneurs and retaining talented young people in middle-America cities like Knoxville. “Entrepreneurs are the backbone of our economy. When cities invest in innovation and come together to lower barriers for new businesses, it injects critical new life and economic growth throughout the entire community. It has been truly impressive experiencing firsthand Knoxville’s thriving ecosystem of budding entrepreneurs and innovation.”

Graham Taylor and Nima Tamaddoni of T&T Scientific received the fourth annual Innov865 Traction Award, presented by UT Federal Credit Union. The Innov865 Traction Award is given to a Startup Day alum whose businesses has gained the most momentum since pitching at Startup Day.

T&T Scientific has gained considerable traction since winning the 2016 Startup Day pitch competition. Just this year, the company setup a global distribution network with on the ground sales forces in more than 25 countries. Knoxville’s Halls community will be the beneficiary of T&T Scientific’s growth later this year, as the company plans a move to a 15,000 square foot facility which will expand its manufacturing capabilities. T&T Scientific produces low-cost, single use liposome extrusion devices that simplify the process of preparing liposomes for research laboratories, manufacturing facilities, and clinical settings.

“UT Federal Credit Union is delighted to continue its sponsorship of the Traction Award and celebrate the success of East Tennessee entrepreneurs,” said Myra Hamilton, Assistant Vice President of Business Lending at UT Federal Credit Union. “T&T Scientific joins a prestigious community of previous winners helping to driving innovation and growth in our region.”

What is the ‘great entrepreneurial lie?’ That it’s all about the money

(Originally published: The Tennessean)

By: Charlie Brock, CEO & President of Launch Tennessee

Over the last five years as the CEO of Launch Tennessee, too often I’ve seen founders raise angel or seed funding, develop a product line and a small customer-base, but not gain any real traction.

First, they’re discouraged, and soon they’re out of cash. The worst part? They’ve convinced themselves, and often their board, that if they just raise that next round of funding, life will be good, and the company will be on track for success.

Here’s the reality, entrepreneurs: It’s not all about the money. In fact, that is the great entrepreneurial lie. Building a lasting business and brand is all about the hustle, and if you don’t have what it takes to give it your all, you’re not going to make it.

I began my own entrepreneurial journey at Foxmark Media in 1998, and I’ll be the first to admit that thanks to some personal capital from the sale of a family business along with four generations of family connections with prospective angel investors in the community, I had a leg up. For several years, I was able to bootstrap and take minimal to no salary.

Recognizing the limitations on my personal funding capacity, I got out there and hustled every single day to build a viable business worthy of funding from other people’s pockets.

When I didn’t have enough capital to hire a sales team, I spent nearly all my time making calls and driving to small markets across the region to get my product through the door.

Read more here.

Judges for 2018 Startup Day Pitch Competition revealed

The Innov865 Alliance has selected three judges to take the stage on Startup Day 2018 to listen and decide which of the six startups competing will win the Startup Day 2018 Judge’s Choice Prize, presented by the Innov865 Alliance.

The winners of the pitch competition 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.

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.

The judges include:

Eric Meyerson, Head of Marketing at Sensai

Eric Meyerson is head of marketing for Sensai, a new startup that gives businesses, creators, and artists the power to transform their online influence with the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Eric is also former marketing executive at Facebook, YouTube, and Eventbrite, and he earned his MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC-Berkeley. Click here for more information.

Sue Malone, President of Strategies for Small Business

Sue is the number one provider, SBA Export Express and SBA SLA v.2 and director of marketing for Superior Financial Group.  Sue’s involvement began with the program’s inception in 2002. Since then, Sue has helped fund over 41,000 SBA loans, which include Patriot Express loans, Export Express, Community Express and now Small Lender Advantage v.2 and became the largest SBA lender by volume.  Her goal is to fund 100,000 small businesses. Sue is a serial entrepreneur and has started over seven businesses. She holds an MBA from St. Mary’s College. Click here for more information.

Mike Stephens, Chief Integrations Officer at Ministry Brands

Mike has been operating in healthcare finance since 2001, with 10 years of experience as a CFO in hospitals across the country, both in the for-profit and not-for-profit space. Mike has led turnarounds with teams in 5 different hospitals that have cumulatively achieved over $200 million in EBITDA improvements under his guidance; with the majority of this performance occurring thru revenue growth. His most recent opportunity as CFO of NCH Healthcare System in Naples, FL, went from a negative operating margin of $ (5.6 Million) in 2013 to projecting a $45 Million margin in 2015. Click here for more information.

Applications open for third cohort of ORNL’s “Innovation Crossroads” program

(Originally published on Teknovation.biz)

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) initiative that is attracting top young entrepreneurs to the region to grow their energy-focused start-ups is launching recruitment for its third cohort while also adding an additional key sponsor.

The application process for the next cohort of up to six participants in the “Innovation Crossroads” (IC) program opens today and closes on October 29. The application can be found here.

IC is one of three U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Programs designed to place top technical post-doctoral talent within national labs as Research Fellows with the goal of subsequently launching businesses. Recipients of the two-year fellowship receive an award valued at nearly $500,000 that includes stipends, vouchers for collaborative research and development at ORNL, start-up business guidance and mentoring, and health and travel benefits.

For the third cohort that will arrive in the region in May 2019, ORNL has signed-up the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as a sponsor. The agency’s funding will provide support for IC Fellows focused on energy-related topics such as grid reliability and emerging technologies.

“TVA pursues research and development that best serves the people of the Valley,” said Joe Hoagland, TVA’s Vice President for Enterprise Relations. “We are leveraging our partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and others to take advantage of this unique entrepreneurial fellowship program.”

Read more here.

Cohort 3 – Apply Today – $500,000 Package

Haslams have engaging fireside chat during “36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival”

(Originally published on Teknovation.biz)

Those who attended last year’s “36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival” in Nashville were impressed with the way in which Governor Bill Haslam moderated a fireside chat with FedEx Founder Fred Smith.

On Wednesday afternoon, Tennessee’s outgoing Chief Executive Officer (CEO) was up for an even greater challenge . . . moderating a fireside chat with another legend, in this case his father who founded Pilot Flying J Corporation 60 years ago. “Big Jim” Haslam, as he is affectionately known by many, and his youngest son had a humorous, insightful conversation that drew laughs and applause from an appreciative crowd at the Wild Horse Saloon.

The discussion over about a 45-minute period covered everything from the history of Pilot, founded as a single gas station, through the more recent acquisition of a minority stake by noted investor Warren Buffet and ended with  the senior Haslam’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.

The first station was opened the year the Governor was born. As “Big Jim” explained that period, he needed a job and was offered one as a high school coach but the salary would not begin for several months. He needed income then. As he looked around, the elder Haslam was offered a job selling ads for a local television station.

“I was not sure TV was going to make it,” he said laughingly.

By 1964-65, Pilot had grown to 12 stations, and Haslam sold one-half of the company to Marathon Oil Corporation, a transaction that provided expansion capital. In 1988, Pilot repurchased the stake held by Marathon, only to bring the corporation back as a partial owner in 2001 and again repurchase that interest in 2008.

Read more here.

Carson’s research shows relationship factors very important in VC, angel decisions

(Originally published on Teknovation.biz)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Shawn Carson says the research conducted for his recently completed dissertation on the critical risk factors considered by angel and venture capitalists confirmed some things he expected, but also held a big surprise.

“What I expected was the importance of the ‘Big 4,’ what surprised me were the relationship factors,” the Lecturer in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee Knoxville and Consultant with Three Roots Capital says.

The ‘Big 4,” as he describes them, are execution – can the management team execute the business plan, market – is there a viable market for the product or service, technology – does it work, and funding – can the start-up secure the necessary capital.

“Those are fairly objective measures that are commonly accepted,” Carson says. Yet, when he asked nine venture capitalists and nine angel investors for their list of all critical factors considered in making investment decisions, they collectively identified 82 unique ones.

Carson lumped those into seven categories like founders and management team, relationship, intellectual property, competitive factors, value proposition, scalability, and exit.

“By far, the number one category of factors was around relationships,” Carson said. “Six of the top 10 were about relationships.”

You might ask, “What are those six?” Survey says, in order, trustworthiness, ethics and honesty, integrity, coachability, character, and passion. Two others were in the top 20 – management ‘skin in the game’ and transparency.

Read more here.

Click below to view a summary of Carson’s research in this PDF document.

Carson Dissertation Summary – Executive Summary – For Distribution