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/.

Innovation Crossroads Showcase

Join TAEBC and LaunchTN for the Innovation Crossroads Showcase! RSVP here

About this Event

Innovation Crossroads, located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), is the Southeast’s only entrepreneurial research and development program based at a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory. The program, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office and Tennessee Valley Authority, leverages ORNL’s unique scientific resources and capabilities and connects the nation’s top innovators with experts, mentors, and networks in technology-related fields to take world-changing ideas from research and development to the marketplace.

Presented by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council and LaunchTN, this virtual event will feature a fireside chat with Cortney Piper, TAEBC Executive Director, and Van Tucker, LaunchTN Interim Chief Executive Officer.

During this event, you’ll hear pitches from Innovation Crossroads’ Cohort Four startups!

The event will showcase a panel discussion with Dan Miller, Director of Innovation Crossroads, and Cohort Two alumni as they give us updates on their businesses and what their experience was like in Innovation Crossroads.

There will also be discussions on the resources available for energy startups, including the TAEBC’s Energy Mentor Network!

This event will take place via Zoom Webinar.

Spark Innovation Center Showcase

The Spark Innovation Center at UT Research Park is designed to enable East Tennessee to capitalize on its unparalleled technology assets. RSVP here.

About this Event

The Spark Innovation Center at UT Research Park (“Spark”) is designed, 100% dedicated and staffed to enable East Tennessee to capitalize on the its unparalleled technology assets at UT and ORNL to support technology-based businesses to launch and grow into sustainable businesses. This boost to the tech sector of our regional economy will result in increased employment, revenue generation and an improved tax base.

The event will take place Monday, September 28, 2020, from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. ET. Register here.

2019 ORNL Technology Showcase

Each year ORNL competitively selects compelling technologies for a year of strategic development investment, and increased outreach to prospective industry partners. The prospective industry partners are invited to submit applications to commercialize the technologies, and companies with the most compelling commercialization plans are offered licenses. In addition, some of the successfully licensed technologies will be competitively selected for a second year of research and development to be performed at ORNL in partnership with the licensing companies.

The 2019 Technology Innovation Showcase will include presentations describing each technology and resent research results, followed by technology demonstrations and laboratory tours. ORNL Technology Transfer staff members will be available for 1:1 meetings to discuss licensing opportunities, and tours of prominent ORNL facilities and landmarks will be offered.

RSVP Here!

  • CellSight — Rapid, Native Single Cell Mass Spectrometry [summaryvideo]
  • Nanocapsular Radiation Track Etch Indicator [summaryvideo]
  • Rapid Regeneration of Recalcitrant Plant Species [summaryvideo]
  • BEST: Biomacromolecule Engineering by Soft Chain Coupling Technology [summaryvideo]
  • Genetic Improvement of Salt and Drought Tolerance in Crop Plants [summaryvideo]
  • Commercialization of AlCuMnZr (ACMZ) Alloys [summaryvideo]
  • Safe Impact Resistant Electrolytes (SAFIRE) [summaryvideo]
  • Novel Catalyst for Low Temperature Emissions Control [summary]

Innovation Crossroads Showcase

Join us for a showcase of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Innovation Crossroads Program!

RSVP HERE!

Innovation Crossroads matches aspiring energy entrepreneurs with experts and mentors in technology-related fields to take their world-changing ideas from R&D to the marketplace.

During this event, you’ll hear pitches from Innovation Crossroads’ latest cohort three startups!

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) joined Innovation Crossroads in cohort three as a program sponsor enabling a record number of innovators focused on energy-related and grid topics.

The event will also feature a panel discussion with the Innovation Crossroads’ cohort one alumni as they give us updates on their businesses and what their experience was like in Innovation Crossroads.  

There will also be discussions on the resources available for energy startups, including the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council’s Energy Mentor Network!

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

Teknovation.biz 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!

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.

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

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.