The significance of Knoxville as a technology hotspot was further reinforced yesterday with a major announcement about plans for a very visible, but currently vacant building at the corner of Gay Street and Wall Avenue.
The former W. T. Grant Department Store and later headquarters of the TVA Federal Credit Union will be rebranded as the Scientific Innovation Center to house the corporate headquarters of Cocoon Resources Inc. and also be home to a laboratory for a division of one of its portfolio companies that is finalizing a COVID-19 testing and monitoring product.
In making the announcement of the plans yesterday, Katherine Bazemore, Founder and President of Cocoon Resources, said the company expects to close on the purchase of the building in the next 90 days. When that occurs, the BreathKeys Division of Huntsville, AL-based Volatile Analysis Corporation (VAC) will also establish a lab to finalize commercialization of a chewing gum for use in testing and monitoring for disease states in the body, along with the execution of its COVID-19 project.
The basement of the building will house the lab with 11 new scientific instruments, and VAC will begin hiring up to 50 new associates in a variety of scientific specialties including machine learning as the building is remodeled.
VAC, which is majority owned by Cocoon Resources, was founded in March, 2007 and began operations in a business incubator near the campus of the University of Alabama Huntsville. It describes itself as a scientific odor company, specializing in volatile chemical detection and measurement for medical and industrial purposes. In 2015, the company opened research and development lab space at the HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology in the nearby Cummings Research Park.
For Bazemore, who earned her B.S. in Business Administration at Carson Newman University, it is somewhat of a return back to a very familiar building. “I started my career working for financial institutions and worked with the TVA Federal Credit Union,” she says.
Bazemore also serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of VAC, while her husband, Russell, serves as Chief Research Officer. They relocated to Knoxville last November so he could also serve as Senior Naval Science Instructor for the Junior ROTC Program at Knoxville’s Central High School.
For us and no doubt most readers, Cocoon Resources and Volatile Analysis are new names, but we had the opportunity to talk with Bazemore yesterday to learn more about both businesses and her plans for not only the multi-story downtown building, but for greater involvement in the community.
We walked away from the telephone interview with the distinct impression that she is a doer on steroids. “We can do anything we need to accomplish,” Bazemore says in her passionate manner. That feeling also extends beyond her company and its investments to ways to help move the region forward in a big way.
“I want to get the community excited about innovation,” she says, briefly explaining one way to do so is by using the windows along the Wall Avenue side of the building. Bazemore plans to populate the space with “thought stimulating exhibits” that are periodically changed. Those plans also extend to engaging with organizations that promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities.
In describing Cocoon Resources, she says it is “an accelerator and global connector of integrated initiatives supplying technology, processes, investment tools, and leadership. We are a venture company, building investment tools and promoting entrepreneurship.” As previously noted, VAC is one of its portfolio companies.
Looking into her crystal ball, Bazemore cites areas like artificial intelligence, biotechnology, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) as sectors that are of high interest to Cocoon Resources. She also is planning to launch a $75 million Opportunity Zone fund.
“Cocoon is looking forward to integrating into Knoxville’s venture environment and serving the community as a gateway for global innovation in biotech and STEM,” Bazemore said in a news release. “It is very exciting to acquire the building because its space allows for the potential of many new technological investments that can bring new STEM jobs to the region. Our goal is to work with scientific related non-profits in the Knoxville community to encourage children and young adults to be excited about discovery and problem solving, in addition to continuing our efforts through internships and support of new start-ups.”