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June 21, 2023 | Shannon Smith

Deeptech start-ups shine at Knoxville Techstars Summit

From wave energy to wildfires, robotic mining to mixed reality, deeptech was the focus of the second annual Industries of the Future Summit powered by Techstars.

“There is no monopoly on innovation.”

That statement by Antonio Bouza with the Department of Energy summed up the tone of Wednesday’s Industries of the Future Summit powered by Techstars, as 10 companies innovating in different ways shared how their technology is shaping the world.

These 10 companies who have been part of the Knoxville-based Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator for the past three months all got a chance to pitch onstage, interspersed with other speakers, panels, and presentations.

The event at the Mill & Mine in downtown Knoxville started with a keynote speech from Cheryl Ingstad, the Managing Director of the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN). NSIN is an unrivaled problem-solving network in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) that adapts to the emerging needs of those who serve in the defense of our national security. With a background in military and energy security herself, Ingstad spoke on the importance of continuing to innovate the energy sector, especially in regard to defense.

“Energy security is more than an important problem set, and it really has to be at the center of our national security and our climate security strategies,” she said. She gave an example of how soldiers on assignment rely on diesel generators, which are both smelly and loud and can give away locations. Replacing these with new, preferably renewable energy increases safety and efficiency.

NSIN works with early-stage start-ups whose technology may not have originally been designed for military or defense use but can be adapted to fit the DoD’s needs. Two of the Techstars cohort members, Crowe Industries and Allosense, have participated in past NSIN programs.

Three different panels throughout the day discussed deeptech innovation and successfully bringing that technology to market, navigating opportunities in the ever-evolving deeptech landscape, and transforming transportation for a sustainable world.

Local entrepreneurs Don DeRosa, Chief Technology Officer of Eonix, Anna Douglas, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SkyNano, and Trey Fisher, CEO of Orion Therapeutics, discussed running their deeptech companies in Knoxville during a fireside chat. All transplants to the area, they’ve all grown their companies in East Tennessee, and discussed how they recruit and grow here, noting that a lack of laboratory space is a problem for growing a tech industry here.

TVA’s Senior Manager of Operational Research and Support Curt Jawdy presented on identifying technology gaps to enable the power system of the future.

“Our task is to create a system where we utilize our resources sustainably, whether they come from our own backyards, gas fields nearby, or mines on the other side of the planet,” said Jawdy. “We need to create conditions that allow for choice and fulfillment for individuals while maintaining solidarity to protect the weakest among us.”

And between all these presentations, the 10 local Techstars cohort members shared what they’re working on. Here’s a brief synopsis of each company:

  • Allosense is making advanced sensors and measurement systems – specializing in electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturing, test automation, and logistics.
  • Crow Industries is building a fully autonomous robotic labor force that will allow critical mineral producers to exceed production targets while keeping their people safe. Crow Industries announced at Wednesday’s summit that the company just signed its first letter of intent with Chilean Cobalt Corp., a cobalt mine in Chile.
  • Eolic Wall is providing homes, communities, and businesses with cheap and highly efficient on-site wind energy to reach net zero.
  • Ex Lattice is providing software for additive manufacturing users that have time-consuming build preparation and setup challenges that can generate real-time physics-based analytics and simulation-driven setup solutions that make precision and speed a reality.
  • HyperTunnel is enabling real-time (synchronous) and time-delayed (asynchronous) collaboration between frontline workers and domain experts – from remote physical worksites to centralized immersive digital twins through a mixed-reality software platform.
  • Laminar Scientific is tapping into the ocean to capture the steadiest renewable energy source. Our revolutionary wave energy device brings ocean energy to even the smallest of operators, with simple surface-level installation, low-cost design, and replaceable components.
  • Raev is the new transportation option for individuals traveling less than 5 miles through their city. RAEV is a fleet of shared, small, electric vehicles available for use on a pay-per-drive basis.
  • Team Wildfire is using revolutionary technology and tactics for fighting wildfires.
  • Undesert is producing electrical power, deionized water, and dry salt with no liquid waste – Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD).
  • Wing Driver is supporting driver safety by avoiding accidents with next-level computer vision and AI designed for mobile OS.

The Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator is possible thanks to partnerships with TVA, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This is the second year this accelerator has been based in Knoxville.

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