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November 13, 2018 | Tom Ballard

Two “Innovation Crossroads” Entrepreneurs named to “Forbes 30 Under 30”

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Two Entrepreneurs in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) “Innovation Crossroads” initiative are among 600 individuals selected from across the U.S. and Canada for the “Forbes 30 Under 30” cohort for 2019.

Anna Douglas, Co-Founder of SkyNano Technologies, and Megan O’Connor, Co-Founder on Nth Cycle, made the prestigious list. They were two of 30 individuals selected from the energy sector, one of 20 industries that Forbes identified for recognition. A total of 30 up and coming leaders was identified in each industry group.

In making the announcement yesterday, Forbes said that “Everything old is new again with the 2019 edition of the “Forbes 30 Under 30,” our annual list chronicling the brashest entrepreneurs across the United States and Canada. From creating milk without cows to trucks without drivers, these innovators are shaking up some of the world’s stodgiest industries. Spanning 20 different industries, our collection of 600 young leaders and entrepreneurs embodies how fresh vision, powerful technology and unwavering optimism can combine into earthshaking companies and movements. From finance to food, fashion to philanthropy, these risk-takers are forever changing how America does business.”

Forbes chose the 600 from thousands of nominees through what it says was a “three-layer process that relies on the knowledge and authority of our wide-reaching community, skilled reporters and expert judges.” The magazine’s Editors worked closely with a panel of judges that included well-recognized individuals like Tory Burch (Art & Style), Craig Newmark (Education), Padma Lakshmi (Food & Drink), Jim Hackett and Eren Ozmen (Manufacturing & Industry), David Axelrod (Law & Policy), Kirsten Green (Retail & Ecommerce), Thomas Tull (Sports), and Arlan Hamilton and Alexis Ohanian (Venture Capital).

For ORNL’s Tom Rogers, who coordinates the “Innovation Crossroads” initiative, it was further validation of the program’s impact.

“We’re all so proud of Anna and Megan,” he said. “They are both really focused on building successful tech companies, and deserve this national recognition. We hope this will inspire more entrepreneurs to come to ORNL and East Tennessee to launch their companies.”

Douglas, whose SkyNano start-up was one of the inaugural companies selected for “Innovation Crossroads,” suspended her doctoral studies at Vanderbilt University to take advantage of the opportunity to be in the program. SkyNano is focused on a low-cost manufacturing technique for high-value carbon nanotubes that overcomes cost and scalability limitations associated with traditional techniques. You can learn more about the company by reading our article from earlier this year here.

Here’s what Forbes published about SkyNano: “While at Vanderbilt University, Anna Douglas, 26, developed a novel method of manufacturing carbon nanotubes relying on electrochemistry rather than solely on catalysis, combining carbon dioxide, cheap feedstocks and electricity to produce functional nanomaterials. Along with its application to advanced batteries, the process has myriad defense uses. Her startup, SkyNano, was accepted into the Innovation Crossroads program at Oak Ridge National Lab.”

In O’Connor’s case, Nth Cycle is developing a technology to allow for the recycling of rare earth metals like those found in magnets that are currently discarded with old electronics devices. With the U.S. relying so much on foreign countries as a source of these rare earths, recycling them is important. There’s also a focus on reusing waste materials created when electronics are manufactured. We spotlighted Nth Cycle in this article last month.

Here’s what Forbes wrote about Nth Cycle: “Batteries and other electronics are notoriously difficult to recycle. Megan O’Connor, Founder of Nth Cycle, has devised a novel, more environmentally friendly method of recycling valuable metals using carbon nanotube filters the size of a water bottle to extract materials like cobalt and lithium from an acid bath of dissolved discarded electronics. O’Connor, 28, believes nanotube filters will make it cheaper for electronics makers to buy recycled metals than newly mined supplies, and with one tenth the energy input. She conducted research at the Oak Ridge National Lab.”

“Innovation Crossroads” is one of three such initiatives funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Programs. All place top technical post-doctoral talent within national labs as Research Fellows. The ultimate goal is to help accelerate the likelihood of successfully bringing new energy technologies to the market.

Recipients of the two-year fellowship receive an award valued at nearly $500,000 that includes stipends, vouchers for collaborative research and development at ORNL, start-up business guidance and mentoring, and health and travel benefits.

ORNL is in the midst of evaluating applications for its third cohort that could have as many as six new energy companies start the two-year program in May. For cohort three, ORNL has secured an additional sponsor – TVA.

In addition to SkyNano and Nth Cycle, other participants in “Innovation Crossroads” are: Active Energy Systems, Ascend Manufacturing, Eonix, Lux Semiconductors, TCPoly, and Yellowstone Energy.

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