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.

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.

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!

LaunchTN’s Virtual Workshop: SBIR/STTR Accounting

Congratulations! Your company has received a Phase I SBIR/STTR award. Now what? RSVP here

In this webinar, we will cover the basics required to establish a sound accounting system in Phase I, along with some basic finance rules to follow as you complete your work and draw down funding from the awarding agency. We’ll also help prepare you for a Phase II award, where indirect rates can be negotiated and more stringent rules and an audit are the norm.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program is a highly competitive federal program that encourages domestic small businesses to engage in research and development that has the potential for commercialization. Through a competitive awards-based program, SBIR/STTR enables small businesses to explore their technological potential and provides the incentive to profit from its commercialization.

This workshop is funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

TAEBC wants your feedback, highlights resources for small businesses during COVID-19 pandemic

During this time of crisis, TAEBC is continuing to champion advanced energy as an economic development and job creation strategy for the state and provide businesses and entrepreneurs with the resources they need to weather this storm. 

To start, TAEBC wants your feedback about what the industry needs to remain solvent and thrive. What could your business use or need in a second round of federal stimulus? Please send your feedback to TAEBC here by email.

“Even in these challenging times, TAEBC continues to champion advanced energy as an economic development and job creation strategy for the state,” said Cortney Piper, Executive Director of TAEBC. “We are committed to our members and stakeholders in fostering the growth of Tennessee’s advanced energy technologies and startups.”

As one of TAEBC’s missions is to foster the growth of Tennessee’s advanced energy technologies and startups, we want to provide resources small businesses and entrepreneurs can use during this crisis. See the resources from Launch Tennessee (LaunchTN) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) below:

LaunchTN’s COVID-19 Updates, Resources and Tennessee Innovation Crowdsource Platform
LaunchTN has created a special webpage which includes guidance from health officials, updates from statewide network partners, resources to support small businesses and startups, webinars and other virtual learning opportunities, and other information as needed. Browse the list of resources here.

LaunchTN is also partnering with Governor Bill Lee’s COVID-19 Unified Command to invite proposed solutions to the critical challenges the state now faces. Companies, including entrepreneurs and startups, are encouraged to submit proposals via the Tennessee Innovation Crowdsource Platform, which will allow them to evaluate, perform due diligence and recommend selected solutions to state procurement specialists for fast-track treatment.

All innovators are invited to participate, regardless of whether they’re able to scale at the level needed right now. This long-term project will address immediate needs and continue to serve the state far into the future.

SBA Disaster Assistance
Tennessee small businesses are now eligible for disaster assistance from SBA. Businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic may apply for up to $2 million in federal assistance to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue. To learn more about the application process and loan parameters, click here. To apply, follow this link.

The Small Business Owner’s Guide to the CARES Act
The programs and initiatives found in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act recently passed by Congress are intended to assist business owners with whatever needs they have right now. There are many new resources available for small businesses, as well as certain nonprofits and other employers. This guide provides information about the major programs and initiatives that are available from the SBA to address these needs, as well as some additional tax provisions that are outside the scope of SBA.