By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Pershing Yoakley & Associates, more commonly referred to as PYA, launched teknovation.biz nearly four years ago to spotlight technology, innovation and entrepreneurship in the region, and several of our assets were on display at Tuesday’s “White House Forum on Connecting Regional Innovation Ecosystems to Federal and National Labs.”
East Tennessee was well-represented at the half-day event with more than one in every 10 attendees coming from the area. Those gathered in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for the series of presentations and discussions ranged from University of Tennessee (UT) President Joe DiPietro and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Director Thom Mason to Mark Proffitt of Greeneville-based MECO Corporation.
Others from the region included UT Knoxville’s Taylor Eighmy and Suresh Babu, Craig Blue of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), Tennessee Tech University’s Vahid Motevalli, Beth Phillips and Dwaine Raper of UT’s Center for Industrial Services, Stephen Williams of Tech 2020’s Regional Advanced Manufacturing Program, and yours truly.
Whether making one of about 10 brief presentations as Mason did or simply offering perspectives on some aspect of the innovation agenda, the East Tennessee delegation was very engaged.
When my email invitation arrived last week, I wondered, “How did I get on the list?” After all, I had been retired from two of our regional innovation drivers – UT (more than 11 years) and ORNL (nearly four years). I found the answer on my name card – President of the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council.
We are, after all, an organization advocating for this sector of the state’s economy that accounts for nearly 325,000 jobs and contributes $33.4 billion to the state’s gross domestic product. We also proudly champion ORNL and UT as key assets in what Innovation America’s Rich Bendis described as the quadruple helix – a public, private, non-profit and foundation partnership.
The Tennessee delegation joined maybe 80 other individuals – laboratory directors, university leaders, federal agency administrators, and business executives from around the country who were gathered to share their experiences, perspectives and ideas on how federal labs can do even more for their regional economies.
While four of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) national labs were represented, they were outnumbered by attendees from other federal labs like NASA, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and National Institute of Standards and Technology.
The discussion was clearly intended to cover the spectrum of federal R&D assets.
The event was hosted by the White House National Economic Council, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and Office of Management and Budget, one of several such sessions that are being organized around a variety of topics.
OSTP Deputy Director Tom Kalil explained the purpose very simply: there are about 60 weeks left in the Obama Administration, and it wants to continue to advance the important innovation agenda as far as possible.
Much of the first half of the Tuesday session was focused on vignettes of programs and initiatives that various organizations are pursuing. Mason discussed ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) and its bi-directional program that helps producers of additive manufacturing equipment as well as companies exploring the feasibility of 3D printing for their businesses.
He also noted that initiatives like the state-funded RevV program and DOE’s recently announced “Small Business Vouchers Program” are helping make it easier for small businesses to take advantage of ORNL’s expertise.
Later, during an abbreviated breakout session where clients of three Manufacturing Extension Partnership Programs spoke, Proffitt, a client of UT’s, talked about a RevV project that he is launching this week at his company. His goal is to move from a commodity-based business to one that makes value-added products.
In the final brainstorming session, a number of us – Blue, Motevalli, Williams and I – had the opportunity to offer ideas and suggestions.
We have a vibrant regional innovation ecosystem enabled in large measure by ORNL and UT, the UT-Battelle partnership, and big wins like IACMI, but also powered by large and small enterprises. Attending an event like Tuesday’s has to make you proud that many of the initiatives that we have underway were part of a national dialogue on best practices.