DO YOU KNOW … how some of our Innov865 Alliance members support entrepreneurship in Knoxville?

For the past few weeks, we have been featuring our valued Innov865 Alliance members as part of our DID YOU KNOW social media series. One of the main questions we asked each of our members was: “How does your organization promote entrepreneurship in Knoxville?” Here are some of their responses: 

Maha Krishnamurthy, Vice President

University of Tennessee Research Foundation 

“UTRF promotes the growth and success of entrepreneurs via various business support resources and services including: educational workshops, networking events, pitch competitions, mentorship, grant funding opportunities, and physical space in the UTRF Business Incubator.”

Dan Miller, Program Lead

Oak Ridge National Lab

“ORNL has a number of programs that startups can use to access lab resources at little or no cost. Many startups in East Tennessee have taken advantage of these programs.  Also, ORNL’s Innovation Crossroads program has recruited 16 high-tech entrepreneurs to-date to move to East Tennessee for two years to do collaborative work with ORNL R&D staff to commercialize energy and advanced manufacturing technologies.”

Jill Van Beke, Chief Program Officer

Launch Tennessee

“LaunchTN provides support and resources for other local entrepreneurial organizations, including the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and the Innovation Crossroads program. We bring resources in five areas: capital, market access, commercialization, talent, and environment, complementing the work of Alliance members. Plus, we share the Tennessee entrepreneurial story nationwide, and we let innovators, investors, and ecosystem builders across the state — and beyond — know about the resources each of our partners offers.”

Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer

PYA is the most visible way we support the entrepreneurial community by publishing articles about local entrepreneurs, initiatives, and programs. It was launched January 23, 2012 and publishes almost daily other than holidays and around the end of each calendar year. Less known is the accounting work we do at PYA to help participants in ORNL’s Innovation Crossroads program and UT’s Vol Court program.”

Jim Biggs, Executive Director

Knoxville Entrepreneur Center

“KEC serves as the front door for entrepreneurs in our region, and a resource for anyone looking to start or grow a business here. Through programming, networking events and mentorship, we work to ensure that entrepreneurs have access to the talent, capital, and customers they need to succeed.” 

Lynn Youngs, Executive Director

UT Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

“Through our work on campus and beyond, we supply entrepreneurial talent to the ecosystem. We play a key role in supplying vetted startup companies to the region, and those student-created companies come with teams that help support the region at points beyond their initial startup.”

Thank you to all of our wonderful members! Come see us during Innov865 Week 2019 from September 23-27 — and don’t forget to register for Startup Day on September 24th at The Mill and Mine, starting at 2:00 p.m. ET!

Guest Blog: Genera to Host Fireside Chat at Startup Day 2019

By Genera 

Genera is excited to be celebrating entrepreneurial success with fellow East Tennesseans during the upcoming Innov865 Week, hosted by the Innov865 Alliance. Kelly Tiller, founder, president and CEO of Genera, will join a Fireside Chat as part of the Startup Day 2019 lineup on September 24th at Knoxville’s Mill & Mine.

The same mission drive that characterized Genera when it was founded out of the University of Tennessee Research Foundation more than a decade ago is even more pronounced today in its passion for delivering sustainability improvements to the marketplace while making positive impacts in rural communities.

Genera made local and industry news recently, announcing new private investment totaling more than $118 million for a manufacturing facility in Vonore where it will produce its Earthable® line of sustainable agricultural fiber products. Partnering with local farmers, Genera’s new Vonore facility will convert grasses and other locally sourced fiber crops into compostable food service packaging products like plates, bowls, and takeout containers.

Asked about the Company’s East Tennessee roots, Tiller said, “East Tennessee is the ideal place for us to develop our first large-scale manufacturing project. We have purposely built our business around existing assets and competitive advantages we find in East Tennessee:

  • An abundance of lower-productivity and underutilized farmland;
  • Innovative farmers willing to pioneer new crops and sustainable production systems;
  • Existing legacy manufacturing assets;
  • A competitive labor market;
  • Expanding technical training programs boosting workforce skills and experience;
  • World-class research programs at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, particularly in agriculture and biosystems, lignin chemistry, bio-based products and materials, and additive manufacturing;
  • Supportive local officials and economic development professionals helping pave the way for continued investment and growth; and
  • A strategic and connected location allowing us to easily service our nation-wide customer base.”

During the Fireside Chat, Dr. Tiller will share some of the lessons Genera has learned firsthand over the last decade and discuss the growing momentum positioning Knoxville area startups for continued success. Speaking about the annual networking event and celebration of local entrepreneurship, Tiller says, “It’s a great opportunity to learn from each other. We’re excited to share our experiences developing a fully integrated, sustainable farm-to-finished product solution that has attracted well-aligned investments to the place we’re proud to call home.”

Knoxville’s annual entrepreneurship festival to feature mayoral forum, pitch competition, and the area’s top innovators

Discover the trailblazers and innovators behind Knoxville’s growing startup community during 2019 Innov865 Week, coming up September 23 – 27, 2019. The annual entrepreneurship festival, hosted by the Innov865 Alliance, spotlights Knoxville as a great place to start and grow businesses and connects the entrepreneurs planting roots here with support systems to succeed.

Innov865 Week boasts a range of events for everyone in the community to support local economic development, from investors and regional entrepreneurs to community leaders and students. “Entrepreneurship is essential to the success of our community,” said Tom Rogers, president and CEO of the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm and founding member of the Innov865 Alliance. “When we invest in building a supportive, high-growth ecosystem for aspiring and mature startups to grow their businesses here, everyone in Knoxville benefits.”

This year’s featured guest is Ted Serbinski, the managing director of Techstars Mobility, the first U.S. startup accelerator program focused on next-generation mobility technologies. Techstars is an American seed accelerator with more than 1,900 companies in its portfolio and has invested $6.2 billion in startups since 2006. Serbinski is a founding member and former partner of Detroit Venture Partners, a $55 million seed-stage fund that has invested in more than 25 companies. 

The week’s premier event is Startup Day, Tuesday, September 24, at the Mill & Mine in downtown Knoxville. This year’s festivities are bigger than ever: a mayoral forum moderated by WATE 6 On Your Side is planned, where the two candidates competing in the November general election to become Knoxville’s next mayor will present their vision for entrepreneurship and innovation. Other activities include a fireside chat with Genera, a local startup affiliated with the University of Tennessee Research Foundation that recently secured a $118 million investment for sustainable packaging and fiber products made from grass. 

Startup Day’s main event is the annual “Shark-Tank”-style pitch competition for a chance to win up to $10,000 in cash prizes. This year, six of Knoxville’s most investable startups will pitch their businesses on-stage before a panel of expert judges. In addition to the opportunity to spotlight their startup for investors, entrepreneurs will compete for a “crowd favorite” cash prize presented by SunTrust Bank. The 2019 expert judges panel features Richard Dapaah, venture partner with FundRX and Knoxville Entrepreneur Center executive-in-residence; Sue Malone, president of Strategies for Small Business; and featured guest Ted Serbinski with Techstars.

The competing startups were hand-selected by the Innov865 Alliance for their extraordinary potential and investability. They are:

Active Energy – startup offering ultra-efficient, low-cost thermal energy storage utilizing the world’s first “icephobic coating,” a patent-pending invention that creates a surface impervious to freezing water, thus improving cooling performance by completely eliminating ice build-up.

Cofounder: Mitchell Ishmael

EDP Biotech – medical device diagnostics company with novel platform technology enabling earlier detection of diseases such as colorectal cancer, using machine learning and multiplexing to perform more advanced and efficient blood tests.

CEO: Eric Mayer

Reviewbox – e-commerce software platform that enables brands and manufacturers to track product reviews and sales data across online retail sites like Amazon, providing visibility into every aspect of an e-commerce business and connecting companies directly with their customers.

Founder and CEO: Jim Horey

SmartRIA – software platform with proprietary technology that simplifies compliance for investment advisors, saving firms and hybrid firms time and money in maintaining compliance with federal and state regulations.

CEO: Mac Bartine

TCPoly – 3D printing company developing advanced materials and technology, including the world’s highest thermal conductivity filament (50x higher than traditional plastics). When combined with the design freedom of 3D printing, can be used to make lightweight, corrosion-resistant, and high-performance heat transfer components.

Cofounder and CEO: Matt Smith 

Winter Innovations – medical device company inventing novel orthopedic surgical tools that improve patient outcomes in high-risk procedures, such as the EasyWhipTM specialty needle that improves the stability, speed, and efficiency of graft stitching, a critical component of surgery for torn ligaments and tendons. 

Founder: Lia Winter

Startup Day is free and open to the public; doors will open at 1:30pm. Tickets are available now online.

In addition to Startup Day, Innov865 Week is full of both public and invitation-only festivities including a reception with local startups and venture capitalists; an Investor Series with GRIDSMART founder and CEO Bill Malkes; investor speed pitching; a celebration of Oak Ridge National Lab’s Innovation Crossroads graduates and incoming cohort of new energy startups; and frequent happy hours and networking opportunities. 

To learn more about the week’s events and details, visit This calendar will be updated as events are added throughout the week.

Vote for your favorite Knoxville startup in the LaunchTN Pitch Competition at 36|86

Have you cast your vote for the Crowd Favorite Award from the list of finalists for the LaunchTN Pitch Competition at the 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival yet? Two Knoxville-based startups, Nth Cycle and StoragePug, are eligible to win — so start voting today!

The Crowd Favorite Award provides competing startups a chance to win $10,000 to invest in their business. Live poll results will appear on LaunchTN’s website until Aug. 12. Voting will end Aug. 29 at 12p.m. CT, one hour before the pitch competition starts. The winner will be announced at the end of the competition. 

Learn more about these Knoxville-based startups below and don’t forget to cast your vote for the $10,000 Crowd Favorite Award: 

  • Nth Cycle: Megan O’Connor, the CEO and co-founder, developed an electrochemical recycling device to recover rare earth and specialty elements (i.e., cobalt) from end-of-life electronics waste streams for reuse in advanced manufacturing. 
  • StoragePug: Tommy Nguyen, the co-founder and COO, created his software company to help self-storage facilities raise their visibility and attract customers with marketing and web tools. The software connects customers to self storage through online rentals, bill pay and digital lease signing.

Nth Cycle and StoragePug competed in the Innov865 Startup Day pitch competition in 2018. Click here to register for Startup Day 2019, held at the Mill & Mine on September 24.

Guest Blog: Bunker Labs as a Member of The Innov865 Alliance

By: Derren Burrell, Bunker Labs Knoxville

Bunker Labs Knoxville is proud to be a part of The Innov865 Alliance, and we’re committed to building up the entrepreneurial ecosystem in and around our community.  Some of you may have never heard about Bunker Labs, and we wanted to introduce you to this relatively new and growing community of military entrepreneurs!

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. We are committed to seeing that every entrepreneur in the veteran community has the network, tools, and resources they need to start their own business.  The Knoxville Chapter has been in operation for a year and a half, and we are excited to take the chapter to the next level as part of The Alliance.

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. A very small percentage of transitioning members (about 6%) actually start businesses, and two of the main limiting factors are 1) access to capital, and 2) lack of a strong business network.  Bunker Labs seeks to bridge this gap by creating an environment in which veterans are able to interact with successful business leaders within their prospective communities. The Knoxville Chapter is a part of a nationwide, 25-city network that seeks to be within all 50 states over the next 3 years. Here are some of the national statistics of Bunker labs in the 5 years since its founding:

  • $117,436,328 Revenue generated by participating startups (excludes companies which individually generated more than $10 million in revenue)
  • 3,648 New business connections made through Bunker Labs
  • 1,954 Jobs created by participating startups
  • $80,120,447 Capital raised by participating startups
  • 1,012 Startups that have completed Bunker Labs programs 
  • 1,002 Jobs created for military veterans

Our core pillars and what we do can be summed up in three words: Inspire, Equip, and Connect.

Inspire. One of the many reasons why more veterans are not becoming entrepreneurs is that they don’t know all of the options available to them. After World War II and Vietnam, veterans returned home and started everything from shoe companies (Nike) to shipping companies (FedEx). Veterans today are just as ambitious and innovative in entrepreneurship but their stories aren’t being told. We want to find and tell their stories.

Equip. Bunker Labs was started by veterans who got out of the military and started their own businesses. As such we understand the unique challenges associated with the transition process combined with the difficulty of starting a business. We have compiled and curated the best entrepreneurial training from the brightest minds in the field into three distinct phases of entrepreneurship.

Connect. Whether you are exploring a new career path after active duty service, starting a business or growing your business—building your network is critical. Bunker Labs invites veterans, business leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, and subject matter experts to get plugged into their local entrepreneurial ecosystem through our monthly Bunker Brews meetups.

This mission aligns perfectly with The Alliance, as both believe that entrepreneurship is essential to the success of our community. 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.  Bunker Labs Knoxville mirrors this same collaborative nature, choosing to hone in on the military veteran demographic.  

The veteran entrepreneur is fast becoming a powerful force across the nation, and we want to see this same phenomenon take root in Knoxville.  Tennessee is a magnet for veterans, ranking in the top echelon in places for service members to retire and begin their life after the military.  We at Bunker Labs believe that Knoxville’s entrepreneurial future is incredibly bright, and as a member of The Alliance we will continue to pour our efforts and resources to help this vision become a reality!

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.”