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January 11, 2022 | Tom Ballard

Applications open for new “Spark Cleantech Accelerator”

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The Spark Innovation Center at the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Research Park is now accepting applications for its inaugural “Spark Cleantech Accelerator.”

As first reported in this June 2021 article, the accelerator is partially funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to a team comprised of the Clean Energy Trust and mHUB in Chicago, Centrepolis in Detroit, and the Spark in Knoxville. The local component is being offered with the support of the City of Knoxville, Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council, Launch Tennessee, TVA, UT, UT Research Park, and other partners to support early stage cleantech businesses and drive commercialization of their technologies in Tennessee and throughout the Midwest.

“We’re thrilled to be part of the massive growth in innovation and entrepreneurship in the region, particularly in the cleantech sector,” said John Bruck, Director of the Spark Innovation Center.  “Obviously, finding and developing solutions to the global climate change crisis is critical to our long-term future.”

UT Research Park President Tom Rogers emphasized the importance of having the right team in place to execute on the vision for the “Spark Cleantech Accelerator” and the critically important community support.

“An important key to success with business incubators is the people leading them,” he said. “With John Bruck and John Derrick at the helm, and with support from other mentors across the state, we think the ‘Spark Cleantech Accelerator’ will attract great companies who we hope to recruit permanently to Knoxville.”

According to this fact sheet (2022 Spark CTA Info Sheet), eligibility criteria include:

  • Companies should demonstrate a positive impact to energy efficiency, generate renewable energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase recycling/upcycling and a circular economy;
  • Companies that show strong market potential and defensible intellectual property (IP), with issued patents or pending patents filed;
  • Those who demonstrate their technology can support the challenges and needs of Spark partners, such as utilities, local governments, universities, manufacturing companies, and commercial building operators;
  • Those that create software or hardware technologies including intelligent connected devices, advanced materials processes, or with technology companies at a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 2 to 6.

Applicants will be evaluated on:

  • Evidence of customer discovery and market validation and interest;
  • Their understanding of the competitive landscape and market forces;
  • A dedicated founder and qualified advisors;
  • Committed funding sources including the founder as well as evidence of non-dilutive grants; and
  • Dedication to developing and growing their business in Tennessee directly or through supply chain partners in the state.

Those accepted into the first cohort will receive:

  • Stipends to help defray travel and living costs and to support business and technical milestones;
  • Prototyping services through the UT Center for Materials Processing;
  • Mentoring one-on-one support from experts in business, market analysis and positioning, and IP/patent strategy, product design, engineering, prototyping, testing, material selection, tooling design, and manufacturing;
  • Connections with customers, investors, strategic partners, suppliers, and universities and national laboratories;
  • Training workshops and one-on-one support, including individual meetings with DOE staff involved in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) areas; and
  • Partnerships with organizations such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, UT, City of Knoxville, and members of the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council.

Deadline for companies to apply is March 11 at this link. The program begins in June with “Demo Day” scheduled for September.

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