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.

Google opens Clarksville-Montgomery County data center

Google recently opened its new, $600 million data center in Montgomery County. The data center’s power usage is matched with 100 percent renewable energy as part of a deal with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). 

The Clarksville data center will employee a range of professionals, including engineers, maintenance, computer technicians, and more. Governor Bill Lee, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Bob Rolfe, Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durett, Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts, TVA CEO Jeffrey Lyash, Austin Peay State, and University President Dr. Alisa White joined Google executives for the opening ceremony on November 6.

“We welcome Google to Clarksville and are thrilled with the growing technology sector right here in Tennessee,” said Governor Bill Lee. “Our highly skilled workforce and Google’s reputation for innovation will be transformational for this area and beyond.”

Since initially announcing its investment in the area, Google has given more than $450,000 to local nonprofits and schools. The company has also worked with Austin Peay State University on the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative.

“While this project is a part of a larger nationwide network of data centers, Google has worked hard to make a strong local impact. We are grateful to Clarksville and Montgomery County for welcoming us into this great community, and that is why we have made a concentrated effort to give back,” said Enoch Moeller, Google Data Center Site Lead. “We are thankful for the strong partners we have met throughout the process including, the State of Tennessee, both local governments, the Montgomery County school system, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Austin Peay State University, and many more.”

Google executives said from the outset of the deal being finalized that Clarksville-Montgomery County offered many of the most desired attributes on the company’s site-selection checklist. Those include a trained and tech-savvy workforce, as well as the right energy infrastructure and pad-ready, developable land.

(Some information used from The Leaf Chronicle)