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April 04, 2012 | Tom Ballard

Inaugural CIRE student also pursuing entrepreneurial path

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The initial story about the latest Vol Court “Pitch Competition” can be found at

The winner of the latest Vol Court “Pitch Competition” is pursuing a passion that the creators of the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education (CIRE) hoped would be a goal for some of the students – entrepreneurship.

Oak Ridge native Charles Chin is one of the students in the inaugural CIRE class, a joint doctoral program involving the University of Tennessee (UT) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Under the CIRE initiative, doctoral students enroll at UT for their classes and do their research under the oversight of scientists at ORNL. The organizers hoped that some of the students would become so enamored with the research that they were doing that they would start a company after graduation.

In Chin’s case, he’s just in his first year but already focused on a start-up company, a fact that he credited to two administrators at UT during a recent interview with

One of the two is Lee Riedinger, a long-time Professor and administrator at UT who currently serves as CIRE Director. Riedinger also was one of the UT administrators who assumed a top leadership position with UT-Battelle, LLC, when the company assumed responsibility for management of ORNL in 2000.

Chin recalled a class during his first semester where Riedinger “asked us to give a presentation of an idea and how it could be a business. He wanted a focus on business and entrepreneurial ideas.”

In Chin’s case, his idea was based on two of his interests – video games and energy – and one of his strengths – an intuitive understanding of “what makes a video game good.”

Chin said that John Hopkins, Project Director with the UT-coordinated Tennessee Solar Conversion and Storage using Outreach, Research and Education (TN-SCORE) initiative, saw his presentation in January and urged him to enter the Vol Court competition held in March.

Chin’s “pitch” was a video game designed to get children interested in energy sciences and technology. He described this as “the merger of two goals that seem incongruent but, if done correctly, can work out well.” He readily admits that he wants to use the fascination of students with video games to also educate them about the energy issues facing this country.

The concept was conceived in November.

“Once I hammered down the general idea, it came together easily,” Chin said. “Making them work mechanically is the challenge.”

By winning the semi-annual Vol Court competition, Chin won $1,000, free office space in the UT Business Incubator and several hours of legal services from the Adams Law Firm.

The video game that won the competition is just one of many entrepreneurial ideas Chin has. “Right now I’m making sure I get (all of) the ideas on paper,” he said.

As far as the initial video game idea, Chin said, “I can program, but I’m not a programmer.” He will turn to friends who can program to take the game to market. Chin’s plan is to follow the initial game with others to create a community of users – middle school students who Chin hopes will learn about energy issues while playing a video game that has an educational purpose.

Like his fellow CIRE classmates, Chin does not believe “anyone came in with an idea of being an entrepreneur, but it is taking off.” He adds that students are now asking, “How can I take this idea and . . .?”

Chin has joined with other CIRE students who are preparing to enter the 2012 Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Business Plan Competition.

The Oak Ridger who earned his bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University and master’s degree from UT says that he was “shooting to be a researcher” when he enrolled in the CIRE program last fall.

“If this takes off, who knows,” he now admits.

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