Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
May 02, 2021 | Tom Ballard

Budget passed last week has some important funding for the region and tech-based start-ups

The Tennessee General Assembly last Thursday approved a budget for 2021-22 and sent it to Governor Bill Lee for his signature. It’s a record amount – $42.6 billion – and includes many items that fall into the one-time or non-recurring category.

For those who live and work in our primary coverage area – the eastern half of the Volunteer State, the legislative action late last week had some really good news in terms of technology as an economic driver.

SBIR/STTR Matching Program Restored

First, the Governor in April submitted an amendment to his original proposed budget for next year that restored the matching program for recipients of federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) awards to its $3 million level that existed in 2019-20 before COVID hit. Readers may recall that concerns over the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the resulting potential negative impact on state revenues a year ago resulted in many programs being cut or eliminated entirely. The SBIR and STTR matching program, managed by Launch Tennessee, was one of those casualties.

With strong support from Senator Bo Watson and Representative Patsy Hazelwood, Chairs of the Finance Ways and Means Committees in their respective chambers of the General Assembly, as well as other members, the funding was increased another $4 million for 2021-22. As we understand things, the intent was to help offset the lack of matching funds in current budget that ends June 30. The $7 million is in the “non-recurring” category of the budget which means it must be proposed again when the legislature convenes in January 2022 and the Governor submits his budget for the next year.

Funding Approved for UT-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute

Closer to home, the University of Tennessee (UT) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are celebrating the $8 million that the Governor proposed for the new UT-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute and the legislators approved for the upcoming budget year.

In a news release issued Friday, UT President Randy Boyd said, “My sincere appreciation goes to Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly for their continued support of the UT-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute. Our ability to effectively leverage our nation’s largest science and energy laboratory will enable us to deliver a robust pipeline of talent in emerging fields for industry, government, and academia.”

The UT-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute was established in 2019 to further align the expertise and infrastructure of ORNL and UT in support of world-leading research and talent development. In addition to the state’s contribution, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded $20 million over five years to the entity to support workforce development and innovation in emerging fields.

Over the next 10 years, the Institute plans to recruit faculty and scientists to the region, attract and train top-level student talent, and develop new team-based science initiatives focused on solving some of the world’s greatest challenges.

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