By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Eleven different ideas, covering the gamut from a bio microfluidic reactor to a way to successfully match students and corporate employers, were presented on the opening day of the latest I-Corps South program at the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Research Park at Cherokee Farm.
Hosted by the UT Research Foundation and UT Knoxville’s (UTK) Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the three-session, two-week activity is designed to equip researchers and entrepreneurs with the tools to validate the value proposition of their ideas from the perspective of potential customers.
The participants will be working to complete a minimum of 20 interviews with real customers during the two weeks, returning next Thursday (October 10) for another session, and sharing what they’ve learned in the finale of October 17. All events are being held at the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials.
Most of the 11 participants were either UT, Knoxville students or participants in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s “Innovation Crossroads” (IC) program, but others included a Post Doc from Florida International University (FIU) who joined via Zoom videoconferencing and two people from UT Chattanooga (UTC).
Ironically, it was Natalia Bourguignon from FIU whose idea is the bio microfluidic reactor designed to meet the demands of biomanufacturing industries by providing higher productivity and reproducibility at a lower cost.
Six students from UTK’s Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering, better known as MABE, were paired around two very different ideas. Both teams are developing their concepts as part of the mandatory senior design project. One idea is an evaporative cooling system for greenhouses, while the other is a high-rise storage system to allow homeowners to be able to more efficiently use floor space in their garages.
Mitch Ishmael, Co-Founder of Active Energy Systems, was a participant in Cohort 1 of the IC program and completed his two years in May. Cohort 3, which just started a few months ago, is well-represented by William Fitzhugh of American Nanotechnologies Inc., Hicham Ghossein of Endeavor Composites Inc., Jesse Thornburg of Grid Fruit, and Jesse Claypoole of Mantapoole.
Traveling from Chattanooga for the event were Hamdy Ibrahim, an Assistant Professor at UTC, and Austin Sims, a graduate student at the university. Their idea is biodegradable, patient-specific orthopedic implants.
In his opening remarks, Shawn Carson (pictured below) of the Anderson Center, who is leading the I-Corps South program for UT, reminded the attendees that “a business model is worthless if you don’t spend any time understanding your value proposition.” Over the next two weeks, he said their initial ideas will be validated or they will discover that they need to pivot to have a commercially viable product that a sufficient number of customers will buy.