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.

Eight growth stage companies sign-up for KEC’s modified 2017 “The Works” cohort

(NOTE: This article was originally published on Teknovation.biz)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) unveiled the eight companies that comprise the cohort for this year’s “The Works” accelerator at a kickoff party last night in The Old City.

It’s a slightly different mix of companies than the early stage nature of the ones that, for the most part, have been part of the past cohorts.

“I would say the main difference this year is that the program is growth-focused,” Jonathan Sexton, KEC’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence, explained. “Each year we have a different spin on the program.”

The energetic musician and entrepreneur in his own right noted that the program in the past was characterized by start-ups that had a media or content idea or fell into the coding category.

“This year the ticket in the door is having a product, users, and revenue,” Sexton explained. “I think it says a lot about the state of our ecosystem that we can do this. Three or four years ago, I’m not sure we would have enough companies that could check those boxes, and now we have to take this approach as a response to the needs of our market. It’s truly exciting and gratifying.”

The eight participants are:

  • Lirio which has two products – Fiveworx and Finworx;
  • SafeSurv, a Cookeville-based start-up that helps retail establishments with products that can only be sold to individuals who are 21 years of age or older manage their risks;
  • Buzzer Intel that is improving ROI on sponsorship investments at events;
  • CQInsights, a healthcare data analytics provider;
  • Unveil Events, a web app that outsources the calling and emailing of events;
  • Smart RIA that provides compliance management software for investment advisors;
  • BIT Dealership Software, a business management software provider to boat and power sports dealers, repair shops, and marinas; and
  • Prometheus Group, a company focused on helping businesses working across the globe utilize intelligence to better manage their risks.

With the shift in the stage of evolution of the companies, there will be a natural modification of the programming.

“The approach to working with a more advanced company is significantly different than idea stage,” Sexton said. “In years past, we’ve spent all summer on idea validation and often times can get much further than that. These companies are already there, so we can focus on other aspects of the business.”

He said the programming for the teams will be more individualized and focused, helping them identify two or three key strategic priorities based on a myriad of factors and use KEC’s full slate of resources to achieve those milestones.

“It’s also worth noting that our program still has a major media bent to it,” Sexton added. “We are experimenting to see if we can leverage media skillsets and talent to support each start-up. We believe that every company is a media company now, everyone is making their own content on social media or otherwise. After a few years of doing this kind of work, we are uniquely positioned to plan, create, and execute on content creation for our teams with the help of our specialist’s program.

The program began June 1 and runs through “The Works Demo Day” which will occur on September 20 during Knoxville’s second annual “Innov865 Week.”

For more details on the eight companies, read the KEC-provided summary (2017 The Works Cohort).

 

Brandon Bruce outlines Knoxville’s claims to #1 spot

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published on Teknovation.biz. Brandon Bruce, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Cirrusinsight and Knoxville’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016, presented the following list of Knoxville’s #1s in a speech at the recent Muse Knoxville luncheon. It’s pretty impressive.)

In 1980, The Wall Street Journal called Knoxville “a scruffy little city.” What the writer would see today is a beautiful and thriving Knoxville. We live in a city and region that is truly world class.

For example:

We’re #1 in national parks with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in America.

We’re #1 in lifestyle media with Scripps Networks Interactive, RIVR Media, Jupiter Entertainment, NorthSouth Productions, and more.

We’re #1 in homebuilding with Clayton Homes.

We’re #1 in movie theaters with Regal Entertainment Group.

We’re #1 in travel centers with Pilot Flying J.

We’re in the #1 state for growth and innovation in education with programs like Tennessee Promise.

We’re #1 in recreational boating with over 20 manufacturers including Brunswick and Malibu.

We’re #1 in church management software and online giving with Ministry Brands.

We’re #1 in pursuing novel detection and treatment for cancer with companies including ProNova and Provectus and EDP Biotech.

We’re #1 in 3D printing with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Local Motors, and more.

We’re #1 in outdoor recreation with the Urban Wilderness, Ijams, and hundreds of lakes, rivers, and parks.

We’re #1 in nuclear safety and security with Y-12, Analysis and Measurement Services Corporation, and more.

We’re #1 in jewelry e-commerce with Jewelry Television.

We’re #1 in pet products with Radio Systems Corporation.

We’re #1 in public power with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

We’re #1 in important things that start with the letter B: beans (Bush Brothers), bacon (Benton’s), breweries (more than any other city in Tennessee), and barbecue (too many great places to list).

According to Forbes, we’re the #2 happiest city to work in right now, but based on all of the above, I’d say we make a strong claim to #1.

As we celebrate springtime in Knoxville with the Big Ears Festival, the Dogwood Arts Festival, the International Biscuit Festival, Earthfest, Outdoor KnoxFest, and the Rossini Festival, we can be sure that Knoxville is a pretty great place to live and call home. In fact, we’re #1.

ORNL unveils five entrepreneurs, four companies in inaugural “Innovation Crossroads” cohort

(NOTE: This article was originally published on Teknovation.biz)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) set a goal of finding up to five of the nation’s top young energy innovators and, by all accounts, it appears the recruiting team has achieved its goal with the inaugural cohort for the “Innovation Crossroads.”

ORNL leaders publicly unveiled the four start-ups at an event yesterday in Oak Ridge attended by the innovators, researchers with whom they will be working, and two top administrators from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

“If you look five, 10, 15 or 20 years ahead, where is the innovation going to come from to continue our nation’s economic growth,” Mark Johnson, Director of DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, asked. His answer was “programs like this.” Joining Johnson from DOE headquarters was Johanna Wolfson, Director of the Technology-to-Market Program.

In a conversation ahead of the event, Johnson described “Innovation Crossroads” and two similar programs at other DOE labs as a post-doc program. After all, the five innovators have either earned their Ph.Ds. or are in the process of completing them.

For ORNL, yesterday’s announcement was the culmination of a process that began more than six months ago with a solicitation of applications. Day-to-day responsibility for “Innovation Crossroads” is being handled by Tom Rogers, ORNL’s Director of Industrial Partnerships and Economic Development, and Beth Conerty, Program Lead for Entrepreneurial Support and Development.

As described in this September 20 article from teknovation.biz, the program is part of a DOE effort to help accelerate clean energy technologies in an era of substantially limited venture capital. The ORNL initiative is the third in DOE’s Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program (LEEP). The pilot, named “Cyclotron Road,” was tested at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and a second program, named “Chain Reaction Innovations,” started last year at Argonne National Laboratory.

A quick review of the resumes of the five entrepreneurs shows impressive pedigrees. Two either have or will soon earn their doctorates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where one was Co-Director of the prestigious “MIT Clean Energy Prize,” the largest such student-led competition in the country. Another student is working on her Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University while also serving as a National Science Foundation Graduate Student Fellow. Yet another, ironically from Knoxville, just finished his doctorate at Cornell University. The final selectee is a local entrepreneur – Ming Qi – who has his own start-up named Peroxygen Systems and has already achieved significant recognition, winning a seed grant under DOE’s ARPA-E program and being selected to work with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the Departments’ “Small Business Vouchers” program.

Those credentials remind me of a frequent ad on the Golf Channel with a tagline of “These guys are really good.”

ORNL began accepting applications in mid-November and culled the initial round of more than 50 applicants to 16 semi-finalists who were brought to Oak Ridge for interviews. Nine finalists were selected for more interviews before yesterday’s announcement of the four start-ups that were eventually chosen.

The five Entrepreneurs – one team has two Co-Founders – arrived a few weeks ago to start the two-year experience. It includes a stipend that will help cover living expenses and healthcare, collaboration space at ORNL, up to $350,000 in R&D support from ORNL through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), business model development assistance, help with marketing strategies, mentorship, and introductions to other successful energy entrepreneurs as well as potential industry partners.

Local organizations are supporting the effort including PYA, the power behind teknovation.biz. In PYA’s case, the firm will be helping these bright engineers with business structure and accounting advice. Also, through the relatively new Launch Tennessee Networks initiative, “Innovation Crossroads” participants will be able to access the Energy Mentor Network operated by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council.

Click here to read the official ORNL news release.