David Bonner headshot

Ryan Edwards headshotRyan is a Director of Project Finance at Silicon Ranch Corporation in Nashville. Ryan leads the construction and permanent financing process for 3-300 MWdc solar projects throughout the United States. Ryan has expertise in structured finance, financial modeling and analysis, project due diligence, deal negotiation, process improvement, and mentorship.

Prior to Silicon Ranch, Ryan was the lead Asset Manager for SunPower Corporation’s residential solar lease portfolio in Austin, TX. Ryan also served as the Board Chair for CleanTX, a 501c3 and 501c6 nonprofit focused on economic development for advanced energy companies in Texas. After moving from Austin to Nashville, Ryan stepped down as Board Chair to the Board of Advisors, and continues to serve by connecting individuals and companies in the advanced energy sector. Ryan was also a Fellow for the Veterans Advanced Energy Project, and continues to be an advocate for veterans making the leap into advanced energy. 

Before transitioning into the civilian sector, Ryan served eight years in the United States Navy as a P-3C Orion and P-8A Poseidon Naval Flight Officer. He was designated as Tactical Coordinator (TACCO), Mission Commander and Instructor TACCO, and deployed twice to the 7th Fleet Area of Responsibility. Following his two deployments, he changed duty stations from Jacksonville, FL to Austin, TX and served as an Associate Professor of Naval Science at the University of Texas at Austin Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps and also attended and graduated from the University of Texas MBA program.

Todd Essig headshot

Carol Seamons headshot

Carol Seamons is a private banker and former investment banker whose financial work over the last 15 years has included capital markets origination and independent strategic consulting to non-profit organizations. Seamons is a newcomer to Knoxville after living in Memphis, TN for 20 years. She currently serves on the boards of the Thomas W. Briggs Foundation, Porter-Leath, Inc., The Wolf River Conservancy, and is member of the Knoxville Chamber Entrepreneurship and Small Business Council and Rotary of Knoxville.  


Nastassja Hagan headshotNastassja Hagan is a curious and innovative leader with more than 15 years experience in the energy industry. She is a change agent, systems thinker and analyst at heart and has experience in sustainability, digital transformation, supply chain, and process improvement. Most recently, she was the Vice President, Low Carbon Energy and Sustainability, Procurement at bp. In this role she built and led a team to support bp’s net zero goals and growing renewable energy businesses in offshore wind, onshore wind and solar. Prior to this she held a variety of transformation and commercial roles at bp, and worked at a small start up as a consultant. 

Nastassja holds a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Texas A&M University and a LEAD corporate innovation certificate from Stanford University. She resides in Chattanooga with her family where she spends as much time outside as possible – hiking, running and climbing.


Van VanDrake headshotVance is an intellectual property, patent, trademark, and venture attorney in Ulmer’s Cincinnati office and he serves as Co-Group Leader of the firm’s Startups & Emerging Growth Companies Practice Group. He is the author of “The Patent Game,” a book written specifically for inventors, entrepreneurs, and business leaders that want to improve their patent knowledge – or, as Vance refers to it, IP IQ – to leverage patents as a key driver of business value. Vance is also the host of “The Patent Game Podcast.” In his first series, “The Basics,” Vance breaks down the foundational elements of the patent process in bite-sized (and sometimes moderately entertaining) chunks. He covers patent application types, tricks, and tools, the anatomy of a patent, and other practical information you can apply directly to your business or innovation.

Vance brings a progressive and creative approach to the development of intellectual property and business strategy for emerging businesses and startup companies. Vance helps his clients, including many angel and venture-backed companies, develop comprehensive strategies in a broad range of technologies including software, medical devices, and mechanical and electrical innovations. Vance assists his clients with all aspects of patent drafting and prosecution, trademark registration and clearance, and copyright and trade secret protection. His experience includes providing clients with patentability, validity, and infringement opinions, and serving various intellectual property litigation and regulatory (FDA) needs.

Vance has worked in-house for a Fortune 500 company, has co-founded three startup companies, and is an active angel investor. Vance is a frequent keynote speaker and mentor for universities, startup accelerators, incubators, and technology groups. He is a past President of the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association, was appointed by the Mayor of Cincinnati to the Small Business Advisory Committee, and was recognized as one of Cincinnati’s “Top 40 under 40” by the Cincinnati Business Courier.

Brandon Bruce headshotBrandon Bruce is Co-founder and CEO of Uncat – a web app used by accountants and bookkeepers to fix pesky uncategorized transactions with their clients and sync with QuickBooks Online. Brandon was previously Co-founder and COO of Cirrus Insight which was #41 on the Inc. 500 in 2016. He is the chair of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, entrepreneur in residence at Webb School, co-founder of the Knoxville Technology Council, chair of Junior Achievement of East Tennessee, chair of Muse Knoxville, co-founder of Startup Knox, founder of 100Knoxville, and board member at UT Research Park, American Museum of Science and Energy, and Leadership Knoxville.

Tom Ballard spent more than four decades building business connections between two major entities in East Tennessee and public and private organizations throughout the region, state, and nation before joining PYA in 2012 as Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives. He was the inaugural Director of Partnerships for Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Tom was with the University of Tennessee for 35 years, serving as Vice President for Public and Governmental Relations before joining ORNL.

He serves on the board of directors of a number of local and regional not-for-profit organizations including the East Tennessee Economic Council (Past Chair), Life Science Tennessee, Oak Ridge Economic Partnership (Past Chair), Roane State Community College’s ACE Advisory Council (Chair), Technology 2020, and Tennessee Technology Development Corporation (Vice Chair). He is a member of UT’s Development Council and the Pellissippi State Community College Foundation.

Bill Malkes headshotSerial entrepreneur Bill Malkes was appointed Chief Executive Officer of NellOne Therapeutics in April 2020. He previously co-founded and led GRIDSMART Technologies Inc, a global intelligent transportation solutions business, which was sold for $87 million in 2019. Under Malkes’ leadership, the business grew to be the second largest in its space, and expanded to 22 countries around the world. Prior to GRIDSMART, Malkes held a number of senior leadership and advisory roles in technology and healthcare businesses including Health Care Solutions, ASIC International, Tradewind Technologies and Learning Technology Systems.

A servant leader at heart and builder of all things, Bill strives to leave things bigger and better than when he found them. To learn more about our CEO, visit billmalkes.com.

Eric Dobson is proven leader, serial entrepreneur, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Angel Capital Group.  The last 26 years have been spent working in a variety of venues from government to private sector, the last 15 in start-up technology ventures. The founder of three companies, help found six, and lead investments in 24 more. Navigator Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2010 and in 2011, was awarded the Pinnacle Innovator of the Year by the Innovation Valley Technology Council and Knoxville Chamber of Commerce.

Chris Ayala is a Managing Director at Drum Capital and is a member of the Investment Committee. His responsibilities include the sourcing, underwriting and monitoring of investments across the Drum institutional funds. Chris has nearly two decades of experience as an investor and entrepreneur.

Prior to joining Drum, Chris served as CEO of Vertisense Inc., an early stage venture capital-backed company in New York, New York providing CPG and B2B solutions for health & safety compliance. Prior to that, Chris served as VP, Operations of ALK Technologies, Inc. offering enterprise software in the Transportation & Logistics industry. Earlier, Chris served as VP, General Counsel for Native American Resource Partners LLC, a private equity sponsored investment firm in Calgary, Alberta. Chris began his career as a corporate attorney at the firms ReedSmith LLP and Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP focusing on M&A and Business Transactions for some of the leading private equity firms in the world. Chris graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and received his Juris Doctor from Fordham University School of Law.

Jonathan Mills Patrick is a former C-level finance executive turned strategic consultant with more than 20 years of experience and proven results. His skill set is largely around funding where he has been involved in over $500M in debt/equity deals. Additionally, he works with companies on strategic (where he advises companies from pre-revenue to $7B) planning and decisions and marketing. Jonathan also holds a Marketing degree and has led marketing for a $230M organization.