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.

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.

UTRF, ORNL planning “Technov865” event on September 19

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

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are joining forces to host a technology-focused showcase during this month’s “Innov865 Week” celebration.

The event, dubbed “Technov865,” will focus on the latest technologies coming out of the region’s two major research enterprises as well as those from TVA. It is set for the Square Room on Market Square, starting at 2:30 p.m. September 19, and ending with a one-hour networking event that begins at 5 p.m.

“This is a unique opportunity to meet and hear from the inventors behind the technologies,” said Stacey Patterson, Interim UT Vice President of Research and Vice President of UTRF.

Jetta Wong, Senior Advisor at the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator and the former leader of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Technology Transfer, will keynote the event. Other presenters include Joe Hoagland, TVA Vice President of Stakeholder Relations; Mike Paulus, ORNL’s Director of Technology Transfer; and three of the entrepreneurs in ORNL’s inaugural “Innovation Crossroads” program.

“This is really a great opportunity to get a quick glimpse of some of the best new technologies at both ORNL and UT, and to learn more about how you can get engaged in tech-based startup activity” said Tom Rogers, ORNL’s Director of Industrial and Economic Development Partnerships.

Read the full article here.