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April 08, 2024 | Tom Ballard

“Innovation Crossroads” Leadership Council gets update on 2022 and 2023 cohorts

Dan Miller reported that more than one-half of those who have completed their Fellowships have remained in the region and raised $176.1 million in outside funding.

When the “Innovation Crossroads” Leadership Council gathered at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) recently, the members received updates from most of the participants in the 2022 and 2023 cohorts.

Dan Miller, Director of the program, noted that the 38 start-ups that are either alumni or current participants have raised $176.1 million in outside funding and 14 of the 25 who are officially alumni have elected to remain in the region after completing the program. The primary purpose of the meeting of the Leadership Council was to provide input about 12 finalists for the 2024 cohort.

Here’s what we learned about the active members during their brief presentations, first from the soon-to-graduate 2022 cohort.

  • Dr. Bianca Bailey said Agriwater is raising a $2 million seed round with some of those dollars earmarked for a pilot unit that would be deployed to the University of Tennessee Dairy Farm to turn animal waste into clean water. The start-up also has a patent pending on its technology.
  • Ateios Systems has raised a little more than $3 million and generated $1.83 million in revenue in 2023, which Founder Rajan Kumar meant the company made its first profit. The company is focused on the need for more energy storage and what Kumar said was an outdated, 50-year-old manufacturing process. The start-up’s technology allows for a 5x production improvement while reducing the cost by 30 percent.
  • Captis Aire LLC has developed its CAIRETM technology that Founder Kim Tutin said captured more than 90 percent of pine chemical waste. Saying on several occasions that “there’s lots to be thankful for,” she noted that the company was honored with a “Green Challenge Award” from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is negotiating a $2.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and is actively exploring sustainable aviation fuels as a new business opportunity.
  • Vitriform3D’s Alex Stiles unveiled the start-up’s new tagline – “Bottles to buildings.” That reflects its focus on taking glass waste, crushing it, and making 3D-printed engineered stone. The start-up also founded a sister company named 4th and Glass that collects discarded glass for recycling. Over the next two years, Stiles says Vitriform 3D is focused on developing a pilot facility in Knoxville.

Those in the 2023 cohort that are midway through their two-year Fellowship also provided updates.

  • Manas Pathak, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of EarthEn, said the start-up has raised $1.4 million but needs $16 million to fully fund two pilots – one each in Tennessee and Texas. He wants those to be shovel ready within 18 to 24 months to demonstrate the company’s carbon dioxide-based technology to provide flexible energy storage for 24/7 power, thereby increasing grid resiliency and enabling a fully renewable grid.
  • Daniel Lee, Co-Founder and CEO of Perseus Materials explained that labor is 40 percent of the cost of making windmill blades. “Our chemistry allows us to reimagine all composites manufacturing,” which includes being able manufacture at the point of need, thereby saving on both labor and transportation.
  • Explaining that Qubit Engineering Inc. had either collaborated or benchmarked more than a half-dozen global players in the last six months, Co-Founder and CEO Marouane Salhi said the company is using advanced computational techniques for two applications: (1) optimization of wind farm system; and (2) power grid data analytics and modeling.
  • Re-Du is focused on the growing problem of plastic waste going into landfills rather than being recycled. Founded by MD “Arif” Arifuzzaman, a native of Bangladesh who invented an effective organocatalyst while a Post Doc at ORNL, the start-up is finalizing a license for the technology and hopes to have a 1 to 5 kg batch system in place by the end of 2025.
  • Sarah Jordan of Skuld reported that she had closed on an old foundry in Piqua, OH where she is installing three induction furnaces and has generated $75,000 in orders thus far for its AMEC technology that eliminates the need for tooling in lost foam, allowing it to be used for small and medium volumes. She added that she expects to launch a raise of $5 to $10 million in the next year.
  • Ryan Spencer said ThermaMatrix is developing what he believes is a platform technology that he characterized as a “confident inspection solution for a safer world.” He sees uses for a variety of industries, ranging from composites and metals to semiconductors and even railroads. Spencer explained that his vision is to produce and sell an inspection system as a full product.
  • ThermoVerse’s Shantonio Birch said the existing approaches for enclosure thermal management are outdated, and his company is focused on developing a new, two-option approach. He calls it LATCHES, short for Large-Area Transactive Cooling, Heating and Energy Storage System. Birch added that the technology, which is patent pending, includes both a wallpaper option and a full, drop-in wall panel. The start-up was one of 19 Phase 1 winners of DOE’s Making Advanced Technology Commercialization Harmonized (Lab MATCH) prize, which encourages entrepreneurs to find actionable pathways that bring groundbreaking national laboratory intellectual property (IP) to market.

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