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.

TCPoly developing thermally-conducted materials to improve heat dissipation

(NOTE: This is the final article in a five-part series spotlighting the work of the second cohort of start-ups comprising Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s “Innovation Crossroads” initiative. They arrived in the area in May to begin their two-year effort to further advance their early stage energy-focuses companies.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

“We decided we wanted to pursue a company and make something real out of our research,” Matt Smith, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of TCPoly Inc., told us.

The other part of the “we” equation is Co-Founder Thomas Bougher, a fellow classmate in the doctoral program at Georgia Institute of Technology. “We were doing our doctorates together and shared a small closet office with no windows for four years,” Smith said.

In October 2016, they launched TCPoly to develop a new class of high thermal conductivity plastic composite materials designed to improve heat dissipation, allowing for metal replacement and light-weighting, cost and component reductions, and improved performance and reliability. The materials also exhibit the unique ability to be 3D-printed, allowing thermal engineers to rapidly and inexpensively prototype multi-functional thermal solutions and enabling the design of heat transfer products that cannot be manufactured using traditional methods.

Today, Smith is participating in the second cohort of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) “Innovation Crossroads” initiative, while Bougher remains at the start-up’s home office in Atlanta. Both are engaged full-time in the new venture.

“We have complementary skills,” Smith says. His doctorate is in materials science and engineering, while Bougher’s is in mechanical engineering. They started the company with six 3D printers and a couple of polymer extruders housed in, you guessed it, Bougher’s garage.

Read more here.

Eonix Energy focused on significantly lowering cost, size of ultra-capacitor modules

(NOTE: This is the fourth article in a five-part series spotlighting the work of the second cohort of start-ups comprising Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s “Innovation Crossroads” initiative. They arrived in the area in May to begin their two-year effort to further advance their early stage energy-focuses companies.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

“What good is an energy storage device that doesn’t store a lot of energy?”

Don DeRosa, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Eonix Energy, has a plan to solve that challenge with a new high voltage electrolyte that will significantly lower the cost and size of ultra-capacitor modules. The resulting lower cost and smaller ultra-capacitor modules can be used in tandem with lithium ion batteries to dramatically improve the efficiency, range, and longevity of hybrid and electric vehicles.

The State of New York native, part of the second cohort of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) “Innovation Crossroads,” learned about the program through word of mouth, something that says a lot about the initiative’s growing national reputation.

“Shane (McMahon) told me about it, and he learned about the program from Mitch (Ishmael),” DeRosa said. Ishmael was in the inaugural cohort selected in 2017, while McMahon is part of the second group that started in May 2018.

“When I first found out about the program, I could not believe it,” DeRosa said, noting that it could significantly help him reach his goal of having a minimum viable product to scale by the time the two-year effort ends.

Read more here.

Using father’s tools as a youngster sparked Ascend Manufacturing Justin Nussbaum’s interest

(NOTE: This is the third article in a five-part series spotlighting the work of the second cohort of start-ups comprising Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s “Innovation Crossroads” initiative. They arrived in the area in May to begin their two-year effort to further advance their early stage energy-focused companies.)

Credit: Teknovation.biz

By: Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

One characteristic of many young entrepreneurs we have met and interviewed since launching teknovation.biz in early 2012 is the influence that their parents had on their pursuits. That’s certainly the case with Justin Nussbaum who is part of the second cohort of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) “Innovation Crossroads” initiative.

The Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ascend Manufacturing told us that his father had a lot of tools that were available to the young son as he grew-up in Clearwater, FL. “I enjoyed using them and, over time, they slowly became mine,” Nussbaum says. “I liked to take things apart. If I wanted something, I just built it.”

That curiosity led him to the University of South Florida where, as a volunteer at the school’s Micro-Integration Lab, Nussbaum was exposed to 3D printing. His interest in 3D printing began with the repair of a Fab@Home, one of the first commercially available hobby-level 3D printers. Nussbaum then used the printer to conduct research for his master’s degree and made his first invention disclosure for that work.

And, as they say, “game on” as his career path, at least for now, has been established. Ascend Manufacturing is developing an additive manufacturing  system, called Large Area Projection Sintering (LAPS), that offers many advantages over new and traditional technologies. With LAPS, components can be economically created with increased production rates, reduced peak processing temperatures, and extended exposure times, enabling the processing of a broader range of materials while also providing superior mechanical properties.

Read more here.

Nth Cycle all about recycling to provide secondary source for rare earth materials

(NOTE: This is the second article in a five-part series spotlighting the work of the second cohort of start-ups comprising Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s “Innovation Crossroads” initiative. They arrived in the area in May to begin their two-year effort to further advance their early stage energy-focuses companies.)

By: Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Megan O’Connor has adopted the mantra that all investors like to hear. She’s “all in” as it relates to Nth Cycle, the start-up company that provides a recycling technology to enable a secondary source of rare earth and specialty metals for a sustainable, secure energy future.

And, in spite of several detours along the way – one academic, another a “fork-in-the-road” career decision, and the third a difficult technology problem not solved until the proverbial 11th hour – O’Connor is very optimistic about the future several months into her fellowship as part of the second cohort of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) “Innovation Crossroads” initiative.

The Plattsburgh, NY native says her interest in entrepreneurship began while an undergraduate student at Union College near Albany, NY. “I wanted to build a technology to solve a big problem,” O’Connor explained.

She went from Union College to Duke University in Durham, NC where, halfway through her doctoral work, O’Connor’s advisor left for Yale University. That individual was Desiree Plata.

“Desiree’s passion for teaching and the environment was the right fit for me personally,” O’Connor says, so she followed the inspirational advisor to New Haven, CT where she finished her academic work at Yale, but graduated with her doctorate from Duke.

Read more here.