By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Tricia Martinez has set a high bar for herself between now and early October.
“My goal is to interface with 500 companies,” the Managing Director of the new “Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator,” told us in an interview last week. Through those one-on-one discussions, Martinez expects to identify 10 to 20 exceptional companies to be considered for the first cohort of the program that starts January 24, 2022 in a still-to-be-determined location in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region.
Applications open today, and Martinez understands the challenge of finding the best of the best for an accelerator located in a city that an assessment by Techstars itself said was not as well-known as it should be, based on the technology assets that are here, and for program with a title that arguably can mean different things to different people.
In that regard, she sees the challenge as two-fold. “I want to demystify the meaning of technology industries of the future as we see them,” Martinez says. “I also want to get people excited about Knoxville,” including the world-class expertise that resides in the three partners that are underwriting the three-year program.
The University of Tennessee (UT), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) are sponsoring the program that will bring 30 start-ups from around the world – 10 each year – to Knoxville for an intensive three-month experience.
“What’s so important (for the region) are the spillover benefits,” Martinez said. She wants to see a strong buzz within the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region and plans to be active with weekly posts to keep people informed.
On the matter of exactly what the term “industries of the future” really encompasses, Martinez described them in a very recent post on the “Techstars Industries of the Future” website. “For our 2022 ‘Industries of the Future program,’ I will be focusing on the six major industries that have the potential to solve the most pressing issues of our time: artificial intelligence, cleantech, quantum information science, advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, and 5G/advanced wireless technology,” she wrote.
Martinez told us in our interview that the six are derived from “the way government defines industries of the future.” After the initial cohort, Martinez added that Techstars might narrow the focus for 2023 and 2024.
At the end of this article, readers can find a summary of the six areas that was drawn from the referenced post.
Another important component of the accelerator will be the identification of a cadre of about 100 mentors. Because Techstars runs so many accelerators around the world, it has developed a network of its own mentors, but Martinez says the three partners – UT, ORNL and TVA –will likely provide about one-third of those required. They will include researchers in the technology areas represented by the cohort participants as well as subject matter experts in areas like business development, marketing and sales.
Martinez, who is a Techstars alum, was formally announced as Managing Director of the “Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator” in early June during the second day of the “Tennessee Valley Corridor National Summit.” She’s an experienced serial entrepreneur who most recently served as a Presidential Innovation Fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy.
Here’s a summary of Martinez’s recent post describing the six focus areas.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) – These are technologies that enable computers or machines to exhibit human-like intelligence including problem solving and adapting. From machine learning to deep learning, AI has immense potential to disrupt present and future industries and take our society to new places given its ability to learn and calculate at incredible speed. Using AI to monitor carbon emissions, manage natural resources, reduce pollution, predict weather, and track renewable assets are just a few of the possibilities. Areas of interest include sensors, predictive analytics, robotics process automation, autonomous vehicles, weather modeling, infrastructure management and security, energy storage automation, and carbon monitoring.
- Cleantech – Climate change is the single greatest problem of our time and mitigating and eliminating it requires novel technologies, systems, and processes that reduce environmental damage, drive more energy efficiency, manage the sustainable use of resources, and protect our environment. Not every technology will be a winner, but we need to build and test everything we can at incredible rates if we are to win this battle. Areas of interest include autonomous grid management systems, renewable energy technologies, carbon capture and storage, nuclear energy, batteries and storage, green transportation, and energy market trading.
- Quantum Information Science – This area includes more powerful computing, more accurate healthcare imaging, navigation systems through GPS, and more trusted and secure communications. Through quantum technology, computers can acquire, transmit, and process more information addressing some of our world’s most pressing issues. Quantum is truly the future of our technology world and while some concepts are in very early stages, backing breakthrough quantum concepts with exceptional teams is my top priority to advance this field. Areas of interest include secure communications, quantum machine learning, healthcare and drug discovery, optimization and forecasting, and physical qubits.
- Advanced Manufacturing – Cutting edge technologies that reinvent traditional manufacturing processes and systems to produce superior products are of interest. This includes any novel device or system as well as building with more green and energy efficient practices. From reducing waste to saving time and money to creating more innovative products, advanced manufacturing will impact all industries in the world and how we consume. Areas of interest include augmented reality and virtual reality, robotics and machine vision, industrial internet of things (IoT), and additive manufacturing equipment.
- Biotechnology – This focus is on technologies that develop new breakthrough products through the use of living systems and organisms. From pharmaceuticals to agriculture to biofuels, biotechnology will be far reaching across industries and address some of the world’s greatest challenges. As our world changes we will be called to address issues of feeding larger populations, new and growing disease, and depleted resources. Biotechnology will support in addressing these challenges. Areas of interest include synthetic biology, life sciences, and digital health therapeutics.
- 5G/Advanced Wireless Technology – 5G technology is the fifth generation of wireless technology that will drastically improve speed, efficiency, and connectivity paving the way for smart cities, autonomous vehicles, industrial IoT, and more. In the not so distant future, we will all be living in smart connected cities where our homes, cars, and devices will all be in communication, and all of that can only happen with the advancement of 5G. Areas of interest include IoT, sensors, smart cities/smart factories, and vehicle communications.