By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Fred Tompkins has been around technology all of his professional life – as a faculty member, administrator and, more recently, as the University of Tennessee’s point person in Oak Ridge. He even teaches a non-traditional entrepreneurial course each fall semester at UT Knoxville.
Today, Tompkins is putting into practice many of the things he’s learned and the concepts that he has taught by starting his own company – Skimtek, LLC.
He told us in a recent teknovation.biz interview that his opening question to the engineers and scientists in his class each semester is, “What are you working on that that can be turned into a product and become the basis of a new company?”
Now, instead of just asking that question, Tompkins explains, “I wanted to test the hypothesis.”
He has licensed technology from the UT Research Foundation that is based on the research of John Tyner, the primary inventor. It is a sediment basin dewatering technology that combines the advantageous features of a floating skimmer with those of the standard vertical perforated riser pipe.
“I grew up in the construction business,” Tompkins said in explaining one of his interests in the technology. Another factor in his decision was how quickly the technology could be taken to market.
“I need a technology to turnover in five to seven years,” he explained.
Another factor in Tompkins’ decision was the fact that Tyner wanted to help advance his invention.
“You need the scientist or engineer or someone close to the invention to do the maturation and help move it to a product,” he added, drawing on his years observing success and failure in technology transfer.
As for the technology, it is focused on the challenges that contractors face in effectively managing sediment pools. By combining the advantages of the two existing approaches – vertical riser pipe and floating skimmer – and eliminating their disadvantages, Tompkins believes Skimtek has a winning product.
He explains that the vertical riser pipe is inexpensive, but it also has a major disadvantage – discharging the dirtiest water first. The floating skimmer is more expensive, requiring a larger footprint that cannot easily handle small storms.
“Skimtek discharges water ‘skimmed’ from the pool surface where the cleanest water is located,” Tompkins said. “The design also allows the outflow rate to increase or decrease, depending on the storm water volumetric inflow rate.”
One U.S. patent has recently issued, and a second divisional patent has been filed seeking protection in three jurisdictions – U.S., Canada, and Australia.
While this is Tompkins first personal start-up, he’s observed the local entrepreneurial space for a number of years. For example, he is the immediate Past Chair of Tech 20/20.
Skimtek is self-funded by Tompkins although he is looking for a strategic partner as he moves the company forward.