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.

Renewable Algal Energy has won four Small Business Innovation Research awards

TAEBC member Renewable Algal Energy (RAE) was featured in a two-part series on Teknovation.biz for its successful use of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants to scale its business model.

RAE’s CEO, Jeff Kanel, has been very focused and purposeful in using the SBIR program to strategically advance the company.

Kanel describes his keys for success in submitting and winning the awards: utilization of solid project management tools, inclusion of well-defined milestones and deliverables, and a clear understanding of the critical success factors.

RAE has created what is describes as “novel breakthrough technology to produce a sustainable, economically viable product from micro algae.” 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.

“Our model is to be a technology licensor,” said Kanel. “We are trying to make algae a profitable endeavor that also solves a lot of global problems.”

Three of the four SBIRs that Kanel submitted were directly related to evolving RAE’s technology. The fourth, also focused on algae, was submitted by Kanel before RAE was founded.

Over a roughly six-year period, RAE has 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.

“By going through the SBIR Phase I, we matched-up a proof on concept (that showed) what we were doing had a chance of success,” Kanel said. The proposal was submitted to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in 2007. The award and work were conducted in 2008.

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.

“We were moving the proof of concept to commercialization,” Kanel says in describing that period.

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.

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the series on the Teknovation.biz website to learn more about why and how SBIRs had a solid impact on RAE’s development.

Guest Blog: TAEBC board president Tom Ballard answers, “What is TAEBC?”

Tom Ballard

Tom Ballard

By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, and President of the Board of Directors, Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council

The name of our organization – Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council – is a mouthful, and our acronym – TAEBC – does not roll off the tongue easily.

Nevertheless, no one would question the important role that this new, statewide not-for-profit organization plays in advancing the interests of a burgeoning and important contributor to the Volunteer State’s economy.

From Renewable Algal Energy in Johnson City to the Memphis Bioworks Foundation about 550 miles to the west, Tennessee is home to a vast array of established commercial entities, research organizations, and start-ups focused on technologies that contribute to our nation’s energy independence.

TAEBC takes a broad definitional view of the term “advanced energy.” As such, we are pleased to include as members and partners global players like Alstom (nuclear energy) and Schneider Electric (energy management), technology start-ups like Silicon Ranch Corporation (solar) and Top Five Corporation (composites), top research organizations like Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and energy consulting firms like Strata-G.

As Tennessee’s only organization focused solely on companies in the advanced energy space, TAEBC has established a strong track record in its formative two years.

  • We worked with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and Pathway Lending to produce Tennessee’s Advanced Energy Asset Inventory, the first document of its kind dedicated to promoting the use of advanced energy technologies and assisting the development of Tennessee businesses in the emerging advanced energy sector.
  • We held three listening sessions – one each in Chattanooga, Knoxville and LaVergne – that drew more than 150 participants. During two of these sessions, we facilitated vibrant feedback sessions with top administrators from the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • We have partnered with the Energy Foundation to capitalize on that organization’s strong network and draw on its history of “best practices.”

In the months ahead, we will be hosting additional listening sessions, including West Tennessee, as we focus on understanding how to best serve this important industry sector.

You don’t have to be directly in advanced energy to be a member of TAEBC; certainly my employer is not. PYA does believe that technology advancements are critical to our state’s economy. If you share similar views, I invite you to join our organization and become an advanced energy evangelist. It’s as simple as clicking here.

Pershing Yoakley & Associates is the nation’s 10th largest privately held healthcare consulting company. Headquartered in Knoxville, PYA also has offices in Atlanta, Kansas City, Nashville, and Tampa. Tom Ballard is Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives for PYA and also Chief Operating Officer of PYA Analytics, LLC. The author has retired twice – from the University of Tennessee as Vice President for Public and Governmental Relations and from Oak Ridge National Laboratory as Director of Partnerships.