Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
December 05, 2012 | Tom Ballard

More than 200 participate onsite, remotely in ORNL’s “Spark Technology Forum”

More than 60 people crowded into the auditorium of the Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) on Tuesday afternoon for the annual “Spark Technology Forum.”

Mike Paulus, ORNL’s Director of Technology Transfer, said pre-registration for the onsite event reached a record this year. In addition, he added that about 150 people had pre-registered for the “Spark” webinar component

“This is a big opportunity for us to get your feedback on what we think are our most promising technologies,” Paulus told both audiences. During the follow-up presentations, those onsite at ORNL, as well as those viewing the webinar had an opportunity to ask questions after each of 10 technologies was reviewed by staff of ORNL’s Science and Technology Partnerships directorate and two team members from Tech 20/20.

Prior to the technology presentations, the attendees heard from Jeff Price, a former ORNL researcher who left the lab in 2008 to join local start-up Aldis as Director of Software Engineering, and Vig Sherrill, one of the founders of Aldis and now an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Tech 20/20.

Those in the audience included ORNL researchers, so Price used three words – faith, focus and control – to describe the lessons he learned since leaving ORNL for the start-up world.

He told the attendees that they have to fully understand the problem that they are trying to solve. “Your faith has to be in solving the problem, not in the solution,” Price emphasized.

In terms of focus, he said it requires “a relentless focus on the most direct way to solve the problem” and noted that it’s not always the preferred approach for a scientist who is interested in R & D when the solution might simply require solid engineering.

Finally, Price said, “You have control of everything, whether you want it or not.”

Sherrill introduced Price and followed him with some insights from a person who has started several companies. His thoughts included:

  • One in eight adult citizens in the U.S. is an entrepreneur.
  • More intriguing, the demographic with the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity is the 55 to 64 year old age group, not the younger one that most people assume.
  • Only one in 18 start-ups will be around five years later, yet 560,000 companies are started nationally every month.
  • “Ideas look a lot like fresh fruit . . . they look good on the shelf, but not over time.” As such, he said you have to turn an idea into something concrete quickly.

Sherrill also quoted a number of individuals. My favorite was Winston Churchill who said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”

The 10 technologies, in the order of presentation, were:

  • Mesoporous titanium oxide-based anodes for batteries;
  • Thin carbon films for batteries;
  • Nonoporous membrane for water recovery from gasoline exhaust;
  • Catalytic conversion of bio-alcohols to hyrdocarbons;
  • Lignin-based oxidized fibers for flame retardancy;
  • Digital 3D holographic microscopy;
  • Remotely activated valve implant;
  • Magnetic filtration process;
  • Advanced credentialing for trusted network; and
  • Content recommendation solution for technical information consumers.

Information on each of them can be found at

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