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

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.