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December 19, 2021 | Tom Ballard

IC COHORT 3: William Fitzhugh exploring expanding into device application space

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a series on Cohort 3 of “Innovation Crossroads.” Earlier this year, the cohort graduated from the program. Each article focused on what’s next for the innovators.) 

By Kailyn Lamb, Marketing Content Writer and Editor, PYA

After the pandemic, William Fitzhugh is looking to expand his company’s vision into the device application space.

Fitzhugh, the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of American Nanotechnologies, Inc. (ANI), joined Cohort 3 of “Innovation Crossroads” to develop a purification platform for carbon nanotubes. The platform would enable ANI to sort nanotubes based on different variables and be a materials provider for companies looking for cost-effective sorted product. Read more in this article. Now, Fitzhugh is also looking into the applications of these materials.

William Fitzhugh

“While we’re still focused on providing value by delivering high-quality processing, we think there is more value to be created/captured by reaching down into application spaces,” he said.

Fitzhugh said he has partnered with multiple universities to help develop new applications using his materials, including sensor work he did for a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) contract through the U.S. Air Force AFWERX program. Read more in this article.

Like a few other “Innovation Crossroads” fellows, Fitzhugh moved his research into the Spark Innovation Center after lab space became restricted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) during the pandemic. Fitzhugh said he is working on building a commercial reactor there. Although not having access to the lab was challenging, Fitzhugh said he found an upside in having more time to focus on business development.

“On the plus side, the limited lab access really forced us to take time to focus on our business development activities and our vision for the future,” Fitzhugh said. “A lot of the time in hard tech companies you get too focused on the tech and miss the forest for the trees.”

In addition to expanding his business model, Fitzhugh made his first senior technical hire for a research scientist who started in October. “We’re brought him on to focus on using our unique material processing supply to demonstrate next-generation sensors,” Fitzhugh said.

Right now, the focus is on getting the reactor ready to provide a minimum viable product. Then, ANI can begin with small-volume sales of the refined material to the research market. Fitzhugh added that the same supply will also go toward the device applications the company is working on.

Recently, Fitzhugh was one of the 23 companies awarded a grant from Launch Tennessee’s “Tennessee SBIR/STTR Matching Fund Grant Program.” ANI received $50,000 from the program. Read more in this article.

These non-dilutive funds are important for a start-up, particularly because access to capital remains a challenge, Fitzhugh said.

“Launch TN has made some great financial resources available to companies in Tennessee. I would strongly encourage our state legislators to continue supporting Launch, particularly the SBIR matching fund,” he said.

Final updates on the other six members of Cohort 3 can be found here:

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