University of Tennessee Spark Innovation accelerator helps startups – Knoxville News Sentinel

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Scenes from Techstars Demo Day

10 startups presented at the Techstars Industries of the Future Demo Day on Thursday, May 26, 2022.

Knoxville News Sentinel

Six sustainability focused companies want to make the world a greener place. But first, they need to set their businesses up for success. 

These clean technology companies are heading to Knoxville this summer to participate in the University of Tennessee Spark Innovation Center’s first Cleantech Accelerator program.

The goal of the program? “We want these companies to be investor-ready at the end of 12 weeks,” said John Bruck, director of Spark Innovation Center. “That’s the objective.”

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To do that, the company founders will be answering the big question every investor wants to know before they invest: Why would a customer choose their product or service?

“We take the big theories and boil them into practical steps that (founders) of a company are going to need to ultimately be successful,” Bruck said. 

The 12-week in-person program, led by Bruck and Carol Seamons, the director of engagement for Spark, will help companies identify their ideal customers, create a financial model for their business, research potential investors and funding partners, build a market strategy and ultimately craft an elevator pitch.

“When you’re finished with the accelerator, we can put you in front of any investor and you can walk through your pitch. You will be able to speak their language and tell your story that will hopefully lead to investment,” Bruck said. 

In a world where minimizing the negative impacts of climate change is crucial, investing in clean technology companies that have sustainability at the core of their business is at the forefront of investors’ minds. 

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“Environmental impact means so many different things from heat to noise, but especially when you consider clean tech, it’s the release of greenhouse gases,” Bruck said. “How do we stop releasing so many greenhouse gases? If we continue to release greenhouse gases, then how do we capture them? And what do we do with them?”

The six clean tech companies coming to Knoxville are:

  • frakktal: a Houston-based company developing a no-waste manufacturing process that begins with 95 percent locally recycled materials, like tires and plastic water bottles
  • GenH: a Boston-based company using innovative technology to generate electric power from low-head dams
  • Green Llama: a Johnson City, Tennessee-based company creating environmentally friendly powder-based cleaning materials 
  • Groundstar: a Cincinnati-based company using carbon nanotubes to capture carbon dioxide from vehicle exhaust
  • RAEV: a Philadelphia-based electric car-sharing company
  • Windfall: a Knoxville-based company developing a system to recycle and recover wind turbine blades

The companies will have access to everything the UT Research Park has to offer, including prototyping services through the UT’s Center for Materials Processing, mentoring and one-on-one support from experts in various industries and training workshops. Company founders will also receive a stipend while they’re in Knoxville to help cover travel and living costs.

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Thanks to sponsorships from the U.S. Department of Energy, the City of Knoxville, Launch Tennessee, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the UT Research Foundation, and a partnership with Evergreen Climate Innovations, the accelerator will advance the commercialization of innovative climate tech and clean energy businesses in Knoxville.

“We are very excited to welcome these outstanding entrepreneurs and clean tech companies to Knoxville,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said in a statement. “The Spark Cleantech Accelerator is helping the city address its goals of innovation and sustainability, further expanding East Tennessee’s tech and clean energy economy.”

The accelerator is also supported by the Energy Mentor Network program from the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council.

The Spark Innovation Center is a University of Tennessee initiative that takes advantage of the entrepreneurial and innovative resources East Tennessee offers. The center focuses on getting energy tech companies the resources and support services they need to succeed through partnerships with UT, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Tennessee Valley Authority.  

The UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm is just across the Tennessee River from UT Knoxville. The 1.6 million square feet of development space provides connections, support and resources to East Tennessee’s energy, research, infrastructure and materials science leaders.

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