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.

Tennessee startups Active Energy and SkyNano graduate from Energy Mentor Network

Two Tennessee energy startups – SkyNano Technologies and Active Energy Systems – are graduating from the Energy Mentor Network, a rigorous mentorship program that cultivates energy entrepreneurship across the state.

Run by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) in partnership with Launch Tennessee, the Energy Mentor Network equips promising young companies with the tools and connections to raise capital and scale their businesses to market success. Active Energy and SkyNano were paired with expert entrepreneurs to guide the companies through the multi-tiered program of panel presentations and mentorship sessions. To reach graduation, the startups built investable pitch decks, finance models, and structured business plans and defended those plans before panels of established entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

Active Energy Systems was founded by Mitchell Ishmael and Levon Atoyan in 2017. The cofounders invented the world’s first “icephobic coating,” which creates a surface impervious to freezing water. The patent-pending coating is the technology behind Active Energy’s revolutionary air conditioning system that greatly improves cooling performance by eliminating ice build-up. The ultra-efficient, low-cost thermal energy storage system is environmentally superior to standard cooling systems and enables electricity to be accessed overnight for later use when cost is less expensive.

SkyNano Technologies was cofounded by Anna Douglas in 2017. She and co-founder Cary Pint developed a novel technique that makes the production of highly sought-after carbon nanotubes much more efficient, affordable, and scalable. SkyNano’s patent-pending technology relies on electrochemistry, rather than solely chemical catalysis as is currently used, and more efficiently converts atmospheric carbon dioxide into functional nanomaterials. The new manufacturing technique produces low-cost, high-value nanotubes, solving cost and scalability limitations associated with existing carbon nanotube manufacturing techniques while also enabling commercial viability to carbon conversion technologies through high-value secondary material.

During their time in the Energy Mentor Network, Active Energy and SkyNano made significant gains in financing and market-readiness.

SkyNano secured close to $1,000,000 in funding grants and fellowships from the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation SBIR program matched by LaunchTN. Anna was named a 2019 Forbes Magazine “30 Under 30” Disrupter in Energy. The company is expanding its work force and this fall, SkyNano plans to scale its patent-pending technology and deliver product samples to early customers.

Active Energy secured more than $500,000 in funding grants and fellowships from the Department of Energy, TennesSeed Fund, and National Science Foundation SBIR program matched by LaunchTN. The company was also named a finalist in the 2018 76West Clean Energy Competition. Active Energy is currently building a much larger cooling system for a 6,000 sq ft facility and constructing a “show and tell” system for onsite demonstrations.

Both graduating energy startups were members of the inaugural cohort of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Innovation Crossroads program, a two-year fellowship that supports energy entrepreneurs take their inventions from R&D to commercialization. Innovation Crossroads is a business mentor partner of the Energy Mentor Network. SkyNano and Active Energy are the third and fourth startups to graduate from the Energy Mentor Network.

Two Innovation Crossroads Entrepreneurs named to Forbes 30 Under 30

(Originally published: Teknovation.biz)

Two Entrepreneurs in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) “Innovation Crossroads”initiative are among 600 individuals selected from across the U.S. and Canada for the “Forbes 30 Under 30” cohort for 2019.

Anna Douglas, Co-Founder of SkyNano Technologies, and Megan O’Connor, Co-Founder on Nth Cycle, made the prestigious list. They were two of 30 individuals selected from the energy sector, one of 20 industries that Forbes identified for recognition. A total of 30 up and coming leaders was identified in each industry group.

In making the announcement yesterday, Forbes said that “Everything old is new again with the 2019 edition of the “Forbes 30 Under 30,” our annual list chronicling the brashest entrepreneurs across the United States and Canada. From creating milk without cows to trucks without drivers, these innovators are shaking up some of the world’s stodgiest industries. Spanning 20 different industries, our collection of 600 young leaders and entrepreneurs embodies how fresh vision, powerful technology and unwavering optimism can combine into earthshaking companies and movements. From finance to food, fashion to philanthropy, these risk-takers are forever changing how America does business.”

Forbes chose the 600 from thousands of nominees through what it says was a “three-layer process that relies on the knowledge and authority of our wide-reaching community, skilled reporters and expert judges.” The magazine’s Editors worked closely with a panel of judges that included well-recognized individuals like Tory Burch (Art & Style), Craig Newmark (Education), Padma Lakshmi (Food & Drink), Jim Hackett and Eren Ozmen (Manufacturing & Industry), David Axelrod (Law & Policy), Kirsten Green (Retail & Ecommerce), Thomas Tull (Sports), and Arlan Hamilton and Alexis Ohanian (Venture Capital).

Read more here.

Energy Mentor Network company SkyNano Technologies wins as runner up in MegaWatt Ventures pitch competition

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SkyNano Technologies, an Innovation Crossroads Cohort One company and Energy Mentor Network startup, took home third place after competing in the Megawatt Ventures competition.

Anna Douglas, Founder of SkyNano Technologies, received a $10,000 check for her efforts.

SkyNano Technologies has developed an open system manufacturing technique to produce low cost, high value carbon nanotubes, a material with potential applications in a variety of areas from energy storage to consumer electronics.

Compared to traditional manufacturing processes that require high vacuum and high pressure gas flow systems, SkyNano’s patent-pending technology relies on the electrochemical conversion of carbon dioxide, resulting in a process that is lower in cost and scalable for commercial applications. Aside from lowering the cost of carbon nanotubes, SkyNano’s technique offers a promising method for converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into useful functional nanomaterials.

Several promising cleantech companies from throughout the United States participated in MegaWatt Ventures—an annual clean technology business plan competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Cleantech University Prize (Cleantech UP).

Each team had the opportunity to give a 10 minute pitch followed by judges questions.  Judges consisted of seasoned investors, industry veterans, and technical experts representing an array of clean technology backgrounds and experience.

 The competition supports companies working on intellectual property-protected products, processes or technologies represented from the ten program offices of the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

Many of the winning teams are spin-outs from university research labs and every competing team must be composed primarily of current university students.

Energy Mentor Network Company: SkyNano Technologies

The Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council is featuring the companies benefiting from the Energy Mentor Network program, which offers industry specific expertise from experienced mentors.

The Energy Mentor Network‘s goal is to foster the growth of Tennessee advanced energy technologies and startups by connecting entrepreneurs with mentors. This gives Tennessee yet another advantage in grabbing its more than fair share of the $1.3 trillion global advanced energy market.

The Energy Mentor Network is run by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council in partnership with Launch Tennessee.

In broad strokes, the Energy Mentor Network pairs mentors with promising new companies and entrepreneurs through a structured program involving panel presentations and mentoring sessions.

The purpose of the program is to develop quality startups. After completing the program, startups will have an investable pitch deck, a rock solid business model and a plan to establish more traction. These tools will position Tennessee’s entrepreneurs to raise capital, request other funds like SBIR grants, and scale their company.

This week TAEBC is highlighting SkyNano Technologies. SkyNano Technologies has developed an open system manufacturing technique to produce low cost, high value carbon nanotubes, a material with potential applications in a variety of areas from energy storage to consumer electronics. Compared to traditional manufacturing processes that require high vacuum and high pressure gas flow systems, SkyNano’s patent-pending technology relies on the electrochemical conversion of carbon dioxide, resulting in a process that is lower in cost and scalable for commercial applications. Aside from lowering the cost of carbon nanotubes, SkyNano’s technique offers a promising method for converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into useful functional nanomaterials.

TAEBC is currently accepting applications from Tennessee advanced energy companies to apply for the Energy Mentor Network program. If you are interested in this opportunity, please visit the “For Startups” section of the Energy Mentor Network portion of TAEBC’s website.

SkyNano Technologies is enrolled in ORNL’s Innovation Crossroads program. TAEBC and Launch Tennessee provide non-exclusive business mentoring services to the Innovation Crossroads Innovators.