Region had a “really good week”

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I was reminded again and again last week just how important this area is to the creation and commercialization of technologies to drive our local, regional and national economies.

Since joining Pershing Yoakley & Associates in January, I have visited companies that I did not even know existed – from relatively new start-ups to well-established companies that are utilizing technology in innovative ways to be competitive in today’s marketplace.

I started this past week with a visit to ERMedStat, a company that Scott Gray founded just four months ago. He has built his company on the simple premise that we want first responders to know as much as they can about our health if we have an emergency that requires their services. Yet, the absence of a single platform for sharing medical information makes that a real challenge. Gray’s company “combines Smartphone technology with QR codes” that can be used to access information wherever the individual with the emergency condition is located. It’s not rocket science, but it is an innovative use of technology to equip those who have high-end medical technology to critical information about us that could make a difference in a “life or death situation.” And, ERMedStat was founded in Maryville.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I was in Washington, DC for a series of activities arranged by Life Science Tennessee, an organization on which I serve as a board and executive committee member. One of the events in DC was a Wednesday breakfast in a U. S. Capitol conference room attended by seven of the 11 members of Tennessee’s Congressional delegation. Both U. S. Senators talked about the importance of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Y-12 National Security Complex (Y-12) and the University of Tennessee (UT) in the generation of new ideas. Their message was repeated by several of the Members who attended, starting with Third District Congressman Chuck Fleischmann in whose district ORNL is located.

Speaking of ORNL, we reported in a Friday post on teknovation.biz that the lab’s second annual “Bridging the Gap” (BTG) commercialization conference drew about twice the number of attendees compared to 2011. The increase was significant, but perhaps more important was the fact that almost everyone who attended the previous year returned. This included representatives from a number of the TNInvestcos that are located in other parts of the state as well as local and regional entrepreneurs. Linkages like these are important to a region that wants to see more technologies commercialized locally.

ORNL’s Associate Lab Director Jim Roberto perhaps had the defining message when he said that lab scientists know how to invent, but they need entrepreneurs and investors to know how to innovate. Jim made this comment as part of a ceremony where Campbell Applied Physics executed its latest agreement with the lab. The message and the signing of the agreement underscored the importance of commercial partnerships if inventions are going to be turned into viable products.

Also on Thursday, Y-12 announced the signing of two licenses with a new company founded by a familiar local businessman – Dan Hurst. The new company is named Sustainable Environment Technologies, LLC, and the technologies that it has licensed are Y-12’s Access Rate Control System and the Delayed Latching Mechanism. Hurst is President and Founder of Strata-G and has devoted a significant fraction of his time over the past few years to exploring technologies to find commercialization opportunities in the region. Founding a new company is testimony to his persistence.

On Friday, the White House issued a news release ahead of a Presidential speech in Virginia later in the day that carried the following headline: “President Obama to Announce New Efforts to Support Manufacturing Innovation, Encourage Insourcing.” The release outlined the President’s proposal to establish a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation with as many as 15 Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation located across the nation. According to the release, the network will forge public-private-academic partnerships to accelerate innovation by “investing in industrially-relevant manufacturing technologies with broad applications to bridge the gap between basic research and product development, provide shared assets to help companies – particularly small manufacturers – access cutting-edge capabilities and equipment, and create an unparalleled environment to educate and train students and workers in advanced manufacturing skills.” Later in the release, the following text appeared:

Several areas of innovation illustrate the opportunities that this proposal could help to realize:

  • Developing lightweight materials, such as low-cost carbon fiber composites (CFC’s), that will improve fuel efficiency, performance, and corrosion resistance of the next generation of automobiles, aircraft, ships and trains.
  • Refining standards, materials, and equipment for “3-D printing” (also known as additive manufacturing) to enable low-cost, small batch production using digital designs that can be transmitted from designers located anywhere.

Anyone familiar with the region knows that these two examples (out of three identified in the release) reflect key strengths of ORNL. A proposal is just that – a proposal, but it is not insignificant that this region has much to offer in both technology areas, and this on top of the events, announcements, accomplishments and citations made earlier in the week. We have much to celebrate.

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