A world-class startup community is growing in the Oak Ridge Corridor with the help of Techstars, the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and TVA

The Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator will attract high-quality startups focused on solving the world’s most pressing environmental and economic challenges

June 3, 2021, KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the University of Tennessee System announced the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator today in partnership with Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. The accelerator will work with 30 startups over the next three years that use clean energy, AI, big data, cybersecurity, digital currency, 5G and other innovations to transform society.

This will be the first Techstars-operated accelerator in Tennessee, the first affiliated with a national laboratory, and the first focused on “Industries of the Future.”

The effort will combine forces of the country’s largest science and energy lab in ORNL, the nation’s biggest public power utility in TVA, and UT research and education resources that have won international awards for bringing technology to the marketplace.

“Working with ORNL, TVA and UT to foster an environment where startups building advancements in the Industries of the Future can come together and thrive is a unique and galvanizing opportunity,” said Techstars General Manager Nancy Wolff. “The heart of the Oak Ridge Corridor and the abundant scientific research and quantum computing facilities available to entrepreneurs is game changing for startups tackling the most critical problems of our future.”

The accelerator is expected to create an environment where startups focused on Industries of the Future can come to the Oak Ridge-Knoxville area and thrive. The program will begin accepting applications for its inaugural class in July. Members of that group will refine their technologies, receive mentorship, find and develop talent, and connect to organizations who could become customers while gaining access to Techstars’ global network.

“Research and technology from ORNL and from companies that have grown up here have made a difference in lives around the world,” said Thomas Zacharia, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “In the next three years, the Techstars accelerator will attract high-potential companies in fields that will define the economy in the generations to come. This is a unique opportunity to share our region’s great strengths with rising entrepreneurs.”

Jeff Lyash, president and CEO of TVA, said he sees how work they do in the Southeast can impact the accelerator in Oak Ridge-Knoxville, and then the world.

“Today, innovative startup companies have the opportunity to deliver impactful benefits, similar to those of nearly 90 years ago when TVA first brought electricity that transformed the lives of the people in this region we are privileged to serve,” Lyash said. “We look forward to supporting the companies that participate in the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator to drive advanced solutions with enormous energy, economic and environmental benefits for the people of the Valley, the country and the world.”

University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd likewise highlighted the broad impact of the accelerator and the partners’ support.

“The University of Tennessee is committed to being an economic driver for Tennessee,” Boyd said. “The resources available with our partners and through the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator will establish the Oak Ridge Corridor as a world-class location for breakthrough technology startups to benefit people and provide jobs. Working together, this initiative will catalyze tremendous entrepreneurial growth for our region’s future.”

Startups are expected to participate in the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator from fields such as clean energy, smart cities, robotization and autonomy, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, edge computing, sharing economy, cybersecurity and cryptography, IoT, 5G and advanced communication, grid scale energy storage, digital currency, industry 4.0 and battery technology.

Startups interested in the accelerator can learn more by visiting Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator page. Corporations interested in learning more about Techstars’ dedication to corporate innovation can learn more at techstars.com/corporate.

About Techstars

The Techstars worldwide network helps entrepreneurs succeed. Founded in 2006, Techstars began with three simple ideas—entrepreneurs create a better future for everyone, collaboration drives innovation, and great ideas can come from anywhere. Now we are on a mission to enable every person on the planet to contribute to, and benefit from, the success of entrepreneurs. In addition to operating accelerator programs and venture capital funds, we do this by connecting startups, investors, corporations, and cities to help build thriving startup communities. Techstars has invested in more than 2,500 companies with a combined market cap of more than $209B. www.techstars.com

About the University of Tennessee

Founded in 1794, UT is big on tradition, and is proud of its beginnings as the first public university chartered west of the Appalachian Divide. The UT System enrolls about 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students statewide, and more than 11,000 students graduate from UT campuses each year. The UT System’s delivery of education, discovery, outreach and public service contributes to the economic, social and environmental well-being of all Tennesseans.

About the Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the largest US Department of Energy science and energy laboratory, conducting basic and applied research to deliver transformative solutions to compelling problems in energy and security. ORNL’s diverse capabilities span a broad range of scientific and engineering disciplines, enabling the Laboratory to explore fundamental science challenges and to carry out the research needed to accelerate the delivery of marketplace solutions.

About TVA

The Tennessee Valley Authority provides electricity for 153 local power companies serving 10 million people in Tennessee and parts of six surrounding states, as well as directly to 57 large industrial customers and federal installations. We don’t get taxpayer funding; rather our revenues come from sales of electricity. TVA also provides flood control, navigation and land management for the Tennessee River system, and assists local power companies and regional governments with their economic development efforts.

Media Contacts

Ali Whitman
Techstars
ali.whitman@techstars.com

Tiffany Carpenter
University of Tennessee
tcarpenter@tennessee.edu

Morgan McCorkle
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
mccorkleml@ornl.gov

Malinda Hunter
Tennessee Valley Authority
mhunter@tva.gov

Now is our time to celebrate Knoxville’s entrepreneurial community

(Originally posted on Made for Knoxville)

By Jim Biggs, Executive Director, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and Cortney Piper, Innov865 Alliance

It is an exciting time to be part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Knoxville. 

In this city, we’re more than willing to get excited about the latest Vols win or claim Dolly Parton as our region’s patron saint, but we have not always been as proactive about telling the world about what makes our city such a great place to live, work and play.

Our community has been so busy rolling up its sleeves, testing technology in the lab, strategizing in the boardroom and mentoring the next generation of innovators that we have forgotten to let people in on our best-kept secret: Knoxville’s entrepreneurial scene is thriving. We think it’s about time the rest of the country knows that too. From a nationally recognized business accelerator coming to town to concentrated efforts to promote our city’s entrepreneurs, we have some fantastic developments to share.

“Put simply: Knoxville is made for entrepreneurs. We know what we’re doing and want more people and businesses to recognize that too.”

The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center serves as our city’s “front door for entrepreneurs.” Our mission is to build a community where entrepreneurs have access to the capital, customers and talent they need to be successful. We are a member of the Innov865 Alliance, a group of companies and stakeholders dedicated to advocating for Knoxville’s startups and entrepreneurs, ensuring our ecosystem is strong, vibrant and coordinated. The Alliance’s vision is to be a “nationally recognized” hub of innovation and entrepreneurship by leveraging our region’s world-class research, creative and technological capabilities to build the most connected and diverse startup community in Tennessee.

Our work is in line with the City of Knoxville’s latest commitments to bolster its entrepreneurial community. Mayor Indya Kincannon’s proposed 2021-22 city budget emphasizes investments in five priority areas, one of which is “thriving businesses and good jobs.” In this category, the proposed budget would provide over $1 million to support the City’s economic development partners, $90,000 in new funding to support business development in the Latino community, and $150,000 in new funding for KEC, including support for the 100Knoxville project to grow Black-owned businesses.

KEC and the Alliance’s efforts to grow and support our entrepreneurial community also wouldn’t be possible without the brilliant minds and extensive resources of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the University of Tennessee. These three entities recently came together to support the launch of a Knoxville Techstars accelerator in 2022. Over the next three years, the Techstars accelerator will engage 10 startups a year, attracting new entrepreneurs from around the world to start and grow their businesses right here.

Before launching the accelerator, Techstars released an assessment of Knoxville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, highlighting both what makes our community so great and areas where we can continue to grow. Techstars identified five primary benefits of our region: large research institutions, excellent quality of life, relatively low cost of living, deep pool of technical talent and exciting support organizations for startups. We couldn’t agree more.

The report also identified six “gaps” where our community can continue to grow. Those gaps include funding, support for growth-stage companies, participation, access, measurement and perception.

Perception, or the fact that many people in our state and city don’t know how well our companies are performing, was number one. Even though we’ve had many successful ventures over the years — Arkis Biosciences, Genera, EDP Biotech, Cirrus Insight, and Gridsmart, to name a few — this report made us realize how we need to do a better job sharing our triumphs within the community and on a larger scale.

We believe Knoxville is a wonderful place to start and grow a business. Our nationally recognized institutions, organizations, and resources are incredible assets for anyone looking to make it as an entrepreneur. Yet, simply having access to TVA or business support from KEC isn’t enough to make Knoxville great. The secret to Knoxville’s thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem is connection. Our organizations, groups, and experts continually collaborate and connect to ensure that we’re offering the best resources, opportunities, and expertise. Unlike larger cities, Knoxville entrepreneurs have ready access to this interconnected network of change-makers and leaders in their respective fields.

Put simply: Knoxville is made for entrepreneurs. We know what we’re doing and want more people and businesses to recognize that too. We have the talent, labs, resources and know-how to transform our community and the world around us. This city is made for makers, dreamers, leaders, inventors, investors and visionaries. Now is our time to highlight the great work innovators in our city are doing every single day, which is why we’re launching the Made for Knoxville campaign.

Made for Knoxville will elevate awareness of Knoxville’s diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem, and inspire action. The goal is to connect and empower the diverse entrepreneurial community in the Knoxville region — ranging from “solo-preneurs,” makers, growth-stage tech companies, investors and established institutions.

Over the next few months , KEC will release dozens of inspiring, incredible stories about the hardworking men and women who make our entrepreneurial scene so vibrant. From hard-tech researchers to artisans, we are letting the world know that Knoxville is truly “made” for entrepreneurs. Come join us.

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/.

Kickoff for Innov865 Week: Facebook Live with Randy Boyd

On Monday, September 28 at 11:00 a.m. ET, Randy Boyd, University of Tennessee President, will kick off Innov865 Week 2020 with opening remarks over Facebook Live! Follow us on Facebook to tune in!

Application Period Closes for Boyd Venture Challenge

The Boyd Venture Challenge is a seed-fund grant competition conducted in the fall and spring semesters each year.

Companies are awarded up to $20,000 in startup capital. Funds may be awarded to one company or split among several companies.

Applications open March 9 and close on April 6, 2020.

Eligibility

In general, any legally established, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, student-owned business is eligible to apply. Specifically:

  • Student-owned businesses must have a federal tax ID (FEIN or TIN).
  • Student-owned businesses can be a corporation, LLC, partnership or sole proprietorship.
  • The student owner must hold majority interest in the business.
  • Student-owned businesses awarded funds in previous Boyd Venture Challenge competitions can apply again but must show how past funds were used to advance the business.

Application

The application period opens during the spring semester each year. To apply, student owner(s) should submit an executive summary of their business, a pro forma budget and financial statements for five quarters out. If the business is currently generating revenue, please submit the financial statements for the previous five quarters. Additionally, applicants should submit a statement detailing how the grant funds would be used to propel their business.

Send applications to ACEI@utk.edu with “Boyd Venture Challenge” in the subject line. The grant-award committee will consider each company’s need for capital, business concept viability and growth potential.

Learn more here.

Application Period Opens for Boyd Venture Challenge

The Boyd Venture Challenge is a seed-fund grant competition conducted in the fall and spring semesters each year.

Companies are awarded up to $20,000 in startup capital. Funds may be awarded to one company or split among several companies.

Applications open March 9 and close on April 6, 2020.

Eligibility

In general, any legally established, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, student-owned business is eligible to apply. Specifically:

  • Student-owned businesses must have a federal tax ID (FEIN or TIN).
  • Student-owned businesses can be a corporation, LLC, partnership or sole proprietorship.
  • The student owner must hold majority interest in the business.
  • Student-owned businesses awarded funds in previous Boyd Venture Challenge competitions can apply again but must show how past funds were used to advance the business.

Application

The application period opens during the spring semester each year. To apply, student owner(s) should submit an executive summary of their business, a pro forma budget and financial statements for five quarters out. If the business is currently generating revenue, please submit the financial statements for the previous five quarters. Additionally, applicants should submit a statement detailing how the grant funds would be used to propel their business.

Send applications to ACEI@utk.edu with “Boyd Venture Challenge” in the subject line. The grant-award committee will consider each company’s need for capital, business concept viability and growth potential.

Learn more here.

Vol Court Pitch Competition

Schedule

Vol Court includes five speaker sessions conducted by successful entrepreneurs and UT faculty and experts. Sessions are held Wednesday evenings during the fall and spring semesters. UT students, faculty, staff, alumni and local community members are welcome to attend. Participants are encouraged to attend all speaker sessions but attend at least four of the five speaker sessions to be eligible to pitch in week six. There is no application or cost to attend this series, and participants are not required to pitch in order to attend.

Check out the other sessions here.

Partners

Vol Court would not be possible without the support of its partners. Many thanks to first prize partner Red Stag Fulfillment, and to our in-kind partners  UT Research FoundationPershing Yoakley and AssociatesMorehous Legal Group3 Roots CapitalInnovative Design, Inc., and Make Me Modern.

If you are interested in partnering with Vol Court with either cash prizes or services, contact Shawn Carson or call 865-974-5126.

The Pitch Competition will be held February 26 at the Student Union, Room 169 from 5:15PM to 6:15PM.

Vol Court Spring 2020 – Session 5

Schedule

Vol Court includes five speaker sessions conducted by successful entrepreneurs and UT faculty and experts. Sessions are held Wednesday evenings during the fall and spring semesters. UT students, faculty, staff, alumni and local community members are welcome to attend. Participants are encouraged to attend all speaker sessions but attend at least four of the five speaker sessions to be eligible to pitch in week six. There is no application or cost to attend this series, and participants are not required to pitch in order to attend.

Check out the other sessions here.

Partners

Vol Court would not be possible without the support of its partners. Many thanks to first prize partner Red Stag Fulfillment, and to our in-kind partners  UT Research FoundationPershing Yoakley and AssociatesMorehous Legal Group3 Roots CapitalInnovative Design, Inc., and Make Me Modern.

If you are interested in partnering with Vol Court with either cash prizes or services, contact Shawn Carson or call 865-974-5126.

Session 5 will be held February 19 at the Haslam Business Building from 5:15PM to 6:15PM.

Vol Court Spring 2020 – Session 4

Schedule

Vol Court includes five speaker sessions conducted by successful entrepreneurs and UT faculty and experts. Sessions are held Wednesday evenings during the fall and spring semesters. UT students, faculty, staff, alumni and local community members are welcome to attend. Participants are encouraged to attend all speaker sessions but attend at least four of the five speaker sessions to be eligible to pitch in week six. There is no application or cost to attend this series, and participants are not required to pitch in order to attend.

Check out the other sessions here.

Partners

Vol Court would not be possible without the support of its partners. Many thanks to first prize partner Red Stag Fulfillment, and to our in-kind partners  UT Research FoundationPershing Yoakley and AssociatesMorehous Legal Group3 Roots CapitalInnovative Design, Inc., and Make Me Modern.

If you are interested in partnering with Vol Court with either cash prizes or services, contact Shawn Carson or call 865-974-5126.

Session 4 will be held February 12 at the Haslam Business Building from 5:15PM to 6:15PM.

Vol Court Spring 2020 – Session 3

Schedule

Vol Court includes five speaker sessions conducted by successful entrepreneurs and UT faculty and experts. Sessions are held Wednesday evenings during the fall and spring semesters. UT students, faculty, staff, alumni and local community members are welcome to attend. Participants are encouraged to attend all speaker sessions but attend at least four of the five speaker sessions to be eligible to pitch in week six. There is no application or cost to attend this series, and participants are not required to pitch in order to attend.

Check out the other sessions here.

Partners

Vol Court would not be possible without the support of its partners. Many thanks to first prize partner Red Stag Fulfillment, and to our in-kind partners  UT Research FoundationPershing Yoakley and AssociatesMorehous Legal Group3 Roots CapitalInnovative Design, Inc., and Make Me Modern.

If you are interested in partnering with Vol Court with either cash prizes or services, contact Shawn Carson or call 865-974-5126.

Session 3 will be held February 5 at the Haslam Business Building from 5:15PM to 6:15PM.