Innovation Crossroads Showcase webinar emphasizes value of East Tennessee entrepreneurship

This year’s Innovation Crossroads Showcase emphasized the value of statewide partnerships and entrepreneurship in the East Tennessee region. Presented by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council and LaunchTN, the virtual event took place during Innov865 Week 2020.  

Kicking off the event, TAEBC Executive Director Cortney Piper spoke about TAEBC’s partnership with LaunchTN and creation of the Energy Mentor Network. The Energy Mentor Network program’s goal is to foster the growth of Tennessee advanced energy technologies and startups by connecting entrepreneurs with mentors and industry specific expertise. Piper highlighted the accomplishments of program graduates, including Solar Site Design, SkyNano Technologies, Stone Mountain Technologies, and Active Energy Systems.  

Afterward, Piper moderated a fireside chat with Van Tucker, LaunchTN’s Interim Chief Executive Officer, where they discussed Tucker’s background, LaunchTN’s work in the state, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem of East Tennessee.  

“I’m really proud of the work that is being done in East Tennessee,” Tucker remarked. 

Speaking about what gives her hope for the future, Tucker said that while there are plenty of challenges and problems that have arisen due to COVID-19, she believes “this is the moment for innovators and entrepreneurs” to rise up.

“Entrepreneurs are, I believe, the best chance we have of rapid economic recovery in our nation at the moment,” she said. “And they need to be given the resources they need to grow and thrive and help contribute to that economic recovery.”

Later, Dan Miller, Director, Innovation Crossroads, spoke about the Innovation Crossroads program and upcoming Cohort Five application deadline. Based at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Innovation Crossroads program leverages ORNL’s scientific resources and capabilities and connects the nation’s top innovators with experts, mentors, and networks in technology-related fields to take world-changing ideas from research and development to the marketplace. 

Miller then introduced Innovation Crossroads Cohort Four startups for their pitches. Attendees heard pitches from Actinic, AquaQuant Laboratories, Becq, PixelEXX Systems, and Quantum Lock Technologies.

Mitchell Ishmael, Cohort One alumni and co-founder of Active Energy Systems, moderated a panel discussion with Cohort Two alumni as they provided updates on their businesses and reflected on their time in the Innovation Crossroad and Energy Mentor Network programs. Panelists included Don DeRosa of Eonix, Shane McMahon of Lux Semiconductors, Justin Nussbaum of Ascend Manufacturing, and Megan O’Connor of Nth Cycle.

“The Knoxville area in general is extremely supportive,” Nussbaum said. “Everyone that I have worked with around here is always willing to help and provide feedback. It’s just been a great area to build a company in because of that assistance.” 

To learn more about the Energy Mentor Network or become a mentor, click here. To learn more about Innovation Crossroads or apply for Cohort Five before the October 31 deadline, follow this link.

Apply for a Microgrant and Let Launch TN Advance Your Business

Launch TN, the state’s public-private partnership focused on supporting the development of high-growth companies, recently announced the Microgrants program – ideal for TAEBC members.

Tennessee-based early-stage companies currently or in the near-term that will be applying for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I, Phase II or Fast-Track award can use the Microgrants program to increase the quality of their application. Microgrants can provide financial support for quality SBIR/STTR grant-writing assistance.Launch-Tennessee-logo-stacked

TAEBC member Renewable Algal Energy (RAE) is an example of how a program like this can help jump start a business model.

As RAE CEO and TAEBC board member Jeff Kanel explained in a Teknovation column, RAE has created what it describes as “novel breakthrough technology to produce sustainable, economically viable products from microalgae.” Those offerings range from algal oil as a feedstock for renewable diesel fuel to protein, carotenoids, and omega-3 fatty acids for animal and human nutrition.

Three of the four SBIRs that Kanel submitted were directly related to evolving RAE’s technology. The fourth, focusing on algae, was submitted by Kanel before RAE was founded. For many start-ups, an early funding source is an SBIR award.

RAE started down the SBIR trail in 2007 in a purposeful way. Kanel said success starts with understanding the federal agency’s need. In his case, it was the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The initial Phase I for RAE was submitted in 2007, and the award was made in 2008.

His recommended approach – focusing on the defined DOE need – characterized RAE’s responses that won the Phase II and III awards. Kanel identified several keys for success. They included utilization of solid project management tools, inclusion of well-defined milestones and deliverables, and a clear understanding of the critical success factors.

Over a roughly six-year period, RAE successfully won Phase I, II and III awards that have proven the viability of the technology, helped fund work to validate the financial model and scalability of the technology, and deploy a semi-works facility.

Today, RAE has strategic relationships, customers, and a technology proving ground in Arizona as well as a North-American developer with a site that is permitted for the deployment of RAE Technology.

Phase II, again funded by DOE, ran from 2009 to 2012, with RAE collecting considerable amounts of data to show financial viability and technology scalability.

Phase III, which ran from 2012 into 2014, was an accelerator period when RAE deployed the technology in a semi-works scale effort designed to reduce the technology risk. This final phase helped RAE to secure contracts with interested partners.

In mid-2014, the company announced two strategic partnerships. One was an off-take agreement with Neste Oil Corporation, the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel fuel. Under the arrangement, Neste can purchase RAE’s crude algae oil on a commercial scale for use as a feedstock for producing renewable fuel.

And, all of this success was made possible through SBIR grants.

TAEBC encourages members to consider applying for the Microgrants program to help navigate the SBIR/STTR process.

For information about how to apply for the Launch TN Microgrants program, visit here.

For more about RAE’s success, visit here and here.

Annual Meeting Featured Speaker: Ted Townsend, Chief of Staff, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development

Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) members are encouraged to bring a guest and hear from J. Edward (Ted) Townsend III, Chief of Staff for Commissioner Randy Boyd with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) during the annual membership meeting on Wednesday, February 10, 2016.ted_townsend_500x500

TAEBC member Bradley Arant Boult Cummings is hosting the annual meeting in Nashville. The annual meeting and networking reception are from 2:00 PM – 5:30 PM CT.

Townsend will talk to TAEBC members about Tennessee’s growing economy, why more businesses are choosing to locate to the Volunteer State and advanced energy’s role in making Tennessee the #1 state in the Southeast for high-quality jobs.

Prior to becoming chief of staff, Townsend was assistant commissioner of strategy where he oversaw all rural programs—including Select Tennessee, ThreeStar, Tennessee Main Street, Tennessee Downtowns and Retire Tennessee—along with federal grant programs that include Community Development Block Grants, the Delta Regional Authority and the Appalachian Regional Commission.  He has also served the department as TNECD regional director over the greater Memphis region comprised of Fayette, Lauderdale, Shelby and Tipton counties. Additionally, Governor Haslam has appointed Townsend his official designee to the federal programs affiliation with the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority.

The annual meeting is a great way for members and prospective members to learn about the value of TAEBC membership and how the organization champions advanced energy as an economic development job creation strategy so Tennessee can grab its more than fair share of the $1.3 trillion global advanced energy market.

The meeting also is an opportunity for members to provide feedback on projects/priorities that foster the growth of Tennessee’s advanced energy jobs, companies and technologies.

Stay tuned for program announcements and other guest speakers.

To register or for more information click here.