Open letter from an EMN graduate: Please restore the SBIR/STTR Matching Fund

The SBIR/STTR Matching Fund was not included in Governor Bill Lee’s 2021-2022 budget proposal. As a result, Launch Tennessee is advocating for this funding to be restored in the FY22 budget and is encouraging stakeholders to join in this effort.

Anna Douglas, Co-Founder and CEO of SkyNano and an Energy Mentor Network graduate, has answered LaunchTN’s call. SkyNano received an SBIR Matching grant in 2019. According to LaunchTN, the Matching Fund continues to be one of the state’s most promising ways to support the commercialization of high-value startups in Tennessee. Read Douglas’ letter below:

Senator Briggs,

I run a science-based startup company SkyNano, which is based on my Vanderbilt PhD research on low-cost production of highly valuable carbon nanotubes from CO2. The work has been funded by the US Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the National Science Foundation, the state of Tennessee, and some initial customers. Our work has been widely recognized in scientific literature as well as by Forbes (both co-founders are Forbes 30 Under 30 innovators) and R&D100 Magazine (2020 R&D100 Awardee, an award known as the “Oscars of Innovation”). When we founded the company in January 2017, it was just a wild idea and a couple of crazy scientists with a dream of economically viable carbon pollution sequestration without the need for a carbon tax or other policy incentive, but driven by market demands for lower cost nano-materials for high performing materials and devices. Fast forward 4 years and we are now a team of 5 full time and 1 part time engineers, having raised >$3.7M in non-dilutive funding, having created 5 high-paying jobs from nothing, and licensing the technology from Vanderbilt. Not only is SkyNano a job creator (and recruiter of talent, having recruited 2 of our staff from out of state to relocate here), but we are helping to train up the next generation of Tennessee scientists through hosting summer interns.

In 2019, SkyNano received an SBIR Matching grant to support the development of our technology and cover the cost of necessary expenses that are unallowable by the SBIR/STTR program. Since then, we’ve received $2.7M, of which SkyNano is responsible for cost-sharing $500K over the next 3 years. We have been counting on the SBIR/STTR Matching program being restored into the state budget, but it has come to my attention that the program has not been funded in Gov. Lee’s proposed FY22 budget. I am urging you to restore the funding at double of 2019’s level to make up for the lack of funds in 2020, and to aid in Tennessee’s economic recovery post-COVID crisis. As the Kauffman institute has demonstrated through their 2014 study, NEW and YOUNG businesses are the primary source of job creation in the American economy. As LaunchTN has shown in their infographic here, Tennessee receives less SBIR/STTR funds than almost every other neighboring state, despite having the nation’s LARGEST national laboratory and 2 of the best engineering institutions right here in our backyard. The SBIR/STTR Match program helps businesses like SkyNano thrive here and continue to pull in more federal SBIR/STTR funding to continue creating jobs for talented Tennesseans. One of the reasons SkyNano has chosen to continue operating in Knoxville is due to the support we have received in the past from the state, but if support like the SBIR/STTR matching program is not restored in ongoing budgets, we will be forced to look at relocating to a state with a more fertile environment for growth. The pathway to commercialization for science-based companies like ours is long, arduous, and expensive, and we heavily rely on community support to survive our early years. I ask again that you reinstate the SBIR/STTR matching program to help startups like SkyNano be the backbone of Tennessee’s economic recovery and set an example to neighboring states to show them how investing in YOUNG and NEW high-growth startups pays dividends in economic rewards.

I am available if you have any questions or would like to talk further about this critical issue.

Thanks,
Dr. Anna Douglas

If you would like the SBIR/STTR Matching Fund to be restored, LaunchTN say to contact your state legislators before March 1. Like Douglas, include your own unique story about why the Matching Fund is important for startup company growth and the creation of new jobs for Tennesseans. Find local representatives and senators here.

To learn more about the Energy Mentor Network, run by TAEBC in partnership with LaunchTN, click here.

TAEBC reflects on 2020 accomplishments

As 2020 draws to a close, the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) is taking a look back at its accomplishments over the last 12 months.

This year, Tennessee’s advanced energy economy was booming. We stood alongside our members and stakeholders as they celebrated business milestones, received countless awards for sustainability and business accolades, funding for advanced energy innovations, and expanded and broke ground on new facilities.

At the same time, we recognize that 2020 has been a challenging year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even in these uncertain times, TAEBC has continued to champion advanced energy as an economic development and job creation strategy for Tennessee. We believe that Tennessee has an opportunity during this economic downturn to add jobs and become a leader in the advanced energy economy. That is why we are committed to keeping our members and stakeholders informed by sharing the latest news concerning Tennessee’s expanding advanced energy ecosystem.

TAEBC’s commitments to you, our members and stakeholders, remain as strong as ever. These commitments are:

  • Inform the national energy agenda.
  • Support TVA and our local power companies’ efforts to become the energy companies of the future.
  • Help Tennessee become the #1 location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs.
  • Foster the growth of Tennessee advanced energy technologies and startups.

Here’s some of the ways TAEBC championed advanced energy as an economic development and job creation strategy in 2020. 

Inform the National Energy Agenda

Advanced energy is a $1.4 trillion global market. Tennessee and TAEBC have a lot of expertise to share, especially in the area of transportation electrification. The state is uniquely positioned to capitalize on transportation electrification thanks to the hard work of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander and previous governors like Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam, who diligently put our current advanced energy infrastructure and assets in place.

  • In July, TAEBC joined 50 cleantech organizations in signing on to the Transportation Electrification Partnership’s (TEP) $150 billion federal stimulus proposal. TEP’s proposal would create 2.3 million high-quality, advanced energy jobs across the United States and provide much-needed investments in zero-emissions vehicle manufacturing and innovation.
  • In August, TAEBC joined with the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator to host a webinar on the federal stimulus proposal and how it could support transportation electrification as a job creation and economic development opportunity in Tennessee.
    • TAEBC also authored an op-ed about the proposal and how its investments in advanced energy can help recharge Tennessee’s economy and secure its place as a leader in transportation electrification.
  • TAEBC held its 2020 Annual Meeting at Schneider Electric’s Nashville Hub in early March. TAEBC members, stakeholders, and supporters heard from Commissioner Bob Rolfe of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) and Commissioner David Salyers of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, who spoke about electric vehicles (EV) and their role in Tennessee’s advanced energy economy.
    • Attendees also heard from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Senior Power Utilization Engineer, Drew Frye, who spoke about EV trends and the utility’s EV strategy for the state, and Silicon Ranch’s Director of Regenerative Energy and Land Management, Michael Baute, who spoke about the company’s holistic approach to solar power plant design, construction, and operations.
  • In early December, TAEBC held its annual Opportunities in Energy event. This year’s event included a panel session called, “Tennessee’s EVolution: Making the state a destination for the electric vehicle supply chain.” Panelists discussed the importance of transportation electrification efforts, areas of opportunity, and steps Tennessee can take to accelerate its goal to become the top state for EV manufacturing. The event also featured a preview of the 2021 Advanced Energy Economic Impact Report.

Support TVA and Our Local Power Company’s Efforts to Become Energy Companies of the Future

In February, TVA’s board voted to allow local power companies (LPCs) to self-generate or procure a percentage of their power demand through its Flexibility Proposal. Prior to this modification to the Flexibility Proposal (also called the Flexibility Option), LPCs were restricted from generating or procuring energy from local distributed sources.

  • The Flexibility Option represents a potential increase of more than one gigawatt of distributed advanced energy in the Tennessee Valley. TAEBC submitted comments to TVA’s draft Environmental Assessment. After the flexibility announcement was made, TAEBC praised TVA, stating that this move has the potential to create great economic impact in the region. TAEBC is here to offer our expertise so we can seize these opportunities to recruit and retain businesses in the state.
  • This fall, TAEBC partnered with Seven States Power to host a three-part Advanced Energy 101 webinar series for LPCs. The webinar series emphasized the benefits of advanced energy solutions, provided baseline information on various distributed energy technologies, and offered guidance to help LPCs take advantage of the Flexibility Option and any economic development opportunities that might follow.
  • In November, TAEBC also hosted a virtual Lunch and Learn with Jeannette Mills, TVA’s Executive Vice President and Chief External Relations Officer. Mills talked about several LPC flexibility projects that arose from the Flexibility Option. She also discussed TVA’s approach to accelerate EV adoption through partnerships and the ways in which advanced energy serves as an economic development driver in Tennessee.

Help Tennessee Become the #1 Location in the Southeast for High-Quality Jobs

TAEBC champions advanced energy as a job creation and economic development strategy. According to the 2018 Advanced Energy Economy Impact Report, employment in the advanced energy sector grew by 10.3%, a rate higher than the state’s overall growth rate of 8.3%, since 2013.

  • In 2021, we will be releasing our third Advanced Energy Economy Impact Report. This new report will present a great opportunity to educate and exchange information about Tennessee’s advanced energy sector. We intend to use data from the report to inform actions we can take as a state to maximize economic opportunity from this sector for our economy, specifically in support of Tennessee’s goal to become the number one state in the country for EV manufacturing. We are grateful for TVA and the University of Tennessee’s financial support in this report.

Foster the Growth of Tennessee Advanced Energy Technologies and Startups

The Energy Mentor Network, a partnership between TAEBC and Launch Tennessee, is stronger than ever. The Energy Mentor Network’s goal is to foster the growth of Tennessee advanced energy technologies and startups by connecting entrepreneurs with mentors and industry-specific expertise.

  • In 2020, 35 mentors helped us serve over 20 companies, while a record high number of five companies graduated from the program. Energy Mentor Network companies raised a combined total of $8 million in grants and funding. Here are a couple of highlights from our companies this year:
    • Justin Nussbaum, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ascend Manufacturing, launched A Mask for All with two partners to address the global shortage of N95 masks, procedure masks, and personal protective equipment, which are desperately needed by caregivers and healthcare workers on the frontlines of COVID-19.
    • Quantum Lock, co-founded by Erica Grant, won the $3,000 Innov865 Crowd Favorite prize as voted on by viewers of the annual pitch competition during Startup Day 2020, hosted by the Innov865 Alliance.
  • This year’s Innovation Crossroads Showcase took place virtually during Innov865 Week 2020 in September. The event, presented by TAEBC and Launch Tennessee, focused on the value of entrepreneurship in the East Tennessee region and featured pitches from the five Innovation Crossroads Cohort Four startups. Innovation Crossroads Cohort Two alumni participated in a panel discussion where they provided updates on their businesses and reflected on their experience in the Innovation Crossroads program.
  • TAEBC Executive Director Cortney Piper was a featured participant in a panel session on innovative partnerships at this year’s 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival, presented by LaunchTN. Piper discussed TAEBC’s mission and how the Energy Mentor Network supports this mission by fostering the growth of advanced energy companies and technologies in Tennessee. In a separate panel session, seven members of Innovation Crossroads Cohort Three discussed what is on the horizon for cleantech and energy and how the Tennessee entrepreneurial ecosystem helped their companies over the past year.

Additional 2020 Highlights

In addition to our mission highlights from 2020, TAEBC wants to share several other developments and accomplishments that occurred over the past 12 months.

  • TAEBC awarded Dan Hurst, CEO and Founder of Knoxville-based Strata-G, with the annual Thomas B. Ballard Advanced Energy Leadership Award during TAEBC’s Annual Meeting in March. The award honors exemplary leadership and success in championing, connecting, and strengthening Tennessee’s advanced energy economy. Since founding Strata-G in 2002, Hurst and his 240 employees have contributed to Tennessee’s advanced energy economy through a diversity of advanced energy projects that are committed to improving the state’s communities.
  • TAEBC Executive Director Cortney Piper shared her vision for making Tennessee a global leader in advanced energy innovation and job creation on an October episode of LaunchTN’s Disrupt the Continuum podcast. Piper’s podcast episode, Turning Energy Innovation into Economic Growth, is part of LaunchTN’s #BuildTN series, which explores Tennessee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
  • In October, TAEBC celebrated a significant victory for Tennessee’s advanced energy industry with the announcement that GM will build an electric vehicle, the Cadillac Lyriq, at its Middle Tennessee Spring Hill plant. GM’s announcement comes with a planned $2 billion investment for the state and, along with Nissan’s and Volkswagen’s electric vehicle plans, signals opportunities for employment in the advanced energy economy for the people of Tennessee.
  • In November, TAEBC congratulated the University of Tennessee (UT) for receiving the prestigious designation as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. The university has partnered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) over the years to expand a number of energy-related research programs and partnerships that contribute to Tennessee’s advanced energy economy.
  • Volkswagen, UT, and ORNL are partnering to create an innovation hub at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm. This will be Volkswagen’s first innovation hub in North America and will offer research opportunities for doctoral students focused on EVs and the use of composite materials to create lighter vehicle components, among others.
  • In December, Piper was featured in a Startup Knox podcast episode where she discussed the creation of TAEBC and all things Knoxville.

Here’s wishing you a Happy Holidays from TAEBC!

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.

Innovation Crossroads Showcase

Join TAEBC and LaunchTN for the Innovation Crossroads Showcase! RSVP here

About this Event

Innovation Crossroads, located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), is the Southeast’s only entrepreneurial research and development program based at a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory. The program, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office and Tennessee Valley Authority, leverages ORNL’s unique 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.

Presented by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council and LaunchTN, this virtual event will feature a fireside chat with Cortney Piper, TAEBC Executive Director, and Van Tucker, LaunchTN Interim Chief Executive Officer.

During this event, you’ll hear pitches from Innovation Crossroads’ Cohort Four startups!

The event will showcase a panel discussion with Dan Miller, Director of Innovation Crossroads, and Cohort Two alumni as they give us updates on their businesses and what their experience was like in Innovation Crossroads.

There will also be discussions on the resources available for energy startups, including the TAEBC’s Energy Mentor Network!

This event will take place via Zoom Webinar.

Register for the Innovation Crossroads Showcase during Innov865 Week 2020!

Join us for the Innovation Crossroads Showcase during Innov865 Week 2020! The virtual event will take place Wednesday, September 30 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET. Register today to attend!

Innovation Crossroads, located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), is the Southeast’s only entrepreneurial research and development program based at a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory. The program, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office and Tennessee Valley Authority, leverages ORNL’s unique 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.

Presented by the TAEBC and LaunchTN, the Innovation Crossroads Showcase will feature a fireside chat with Cortney Piper, TAEBC Executive Director, and Van Tucker, LaunchTN interim CEO. Later, Cohort Four startups will pitch their companies!

The event will also showcase a panel discussion with Mitchell Ishmael of Cohort One and Cohort Two alumni as they give us updates on their businesses and what their experience was like in Innovation Crossroads and the Energy Mentor Network. The event will highlight resources available for energy startups, including the TAEBC’s Energy Mentor Network. To learn more about the program or become a mentor, click here

During LaunchTN’s recent 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival, Cohort Two alumna Megan O’Connor of Nth Cycle moderated a panel session with seven members of Cohort Three to discuss what advice they would give to burgeoning entrepreneurs and how the Tennessee ecosystem has helped their companies over the past year.

“This area has so much to offer. It’s so accessible,” explained Trevor McQueen of Neptune Fluid Flow Systems. “It has helped every facet of our business grow. We couldn’t be happier.” 

Register for the Innovation Crossroads Showcase today!