(EDITOR’S NOTE: Participants in Cohort 2 of the “Innovation Crossroads” program operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory have completed their two-year Fellowship that was extended a few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What did they expect? How was the experience? What’s next? This is one in a series of articles that provides those answers. Today’s spotlight is on Matt Smith, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of TCPoly. His lightly edited responses follow.)
- When you arrived nearly two years ago, how would you characterize the expectations that you had as far as the work that needed to be done during your Fellowship? From a technical perspective, I knew that we needed to improve the performance of our materials and to demonstrate their use in various applications. I also knew that we needed to create marketing materials, a website, start business development, and continue to develop our business model. The primary focus was the application of electronics cooling, and we created specific technical and business goals tied to that application.
- How “true” have you been to that path? Have you pivoted and, if so, how? We have pivoted our target market focus from electronics cooling to using our materials to 3D print molds for use in traditional manufacturing processes such as injection molding, thermoforming, and expanded foam molding. This has changed the technical development goals and has resulted in the development of not just high thermal conductivity materials, but also materials that are strong and can withstand high temperatures and pressures.
- Now, as you prepare to move forward, how would you describe the progress that you have made and the position in which you find yourself and your start-up for the future? We have made significant progress in the past two years from both a technical perspective and a market focus perspective. We have developed two new product lines with high thermal conductivity and temperature stability to enable 3D printing of mold tools to replace and/or supplement machined metal molds. We have secured funding through two different Small Business Innovation Research Phase I grants (one from the National Science Foundation and one from the Department of Energy) and have clear pathways to continue to improve the performance of our materials and printed products. Most importantly, we have begun to nurture customer relationships with early adopters that we plan to rely heavily on as we scale.
- What are the next few milestones? We need to hire a business development lead, raise a small amount of seed capital to supplement our grants, and prove out our materials usefulness in a variety of mold tooling applications. Our goal is to move into multiple production contracts with mold tooling customers by the end of 2020.
- Will you remain in the region or move elsewhere? We are currently maintaining our operations in both Atlanta and Knoxville.
- As Cohort 4 prepares to arrive at ORNL, what advice would you offer them as to gaining the most advantage they can during their two years with “Innovation Crossroads” and the team? I would advise them to hire and engage engineers quickly at the lab to start to build out a team that will help you throughout your Fellowship. I would also highly recommend having your own space off-campus (we are located at the Fairview Technology Center). Having a location outside of the lab can be extremely helpful in improving your efficiency.