Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

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April 29, 2012 | Tom Ballard

Innovation emphasized last week in Nashville, East TN well-represented

The word “innovation” was at the forefront for three days last week in Nashville.

It started with the quarterly meeting of the board of directors of the Tennessee Technology Development Corporation (TTDC) on Wednesday afternoon and continued on Thursday and Friday with the inaugural “Governor’s Innovation Conference” co-hosted by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and TTDC. (EDITOR’S NOTE: The author is a board member and Vice Chair of TTDC.)

After considerable discussion on Wednesday, the TTDC board unanimously approved a new strategic plan that calls for a stronger coordinating role for TTDC going forward. The plan, dubbed “Launch Tennessee,” calls for TTDC to focus on four program areas – entrepreneurship, commercialization, outreach and capital. The staffing will be beefed-up as well. All of the focus is on growing Tennessee’s economy and growing more in-state companies built on the fact that Tennessee ranks in the top 10 among all states in terms of research funding but the bottom 10 in commercialization of those technologies.

More information about the plan can be found at

The innovation theme continued over the next two days at the “Governor’s Conference” with a series of panels and individual presenters from across the country talking about the key elements of success – vision, leadership and execution. Deborah Wince-Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Council on Competitiveness, joined Governor Bill Haslam in delivering keynote addresses at Thursday’s luncheon.

The noon-time event followed consecutive panels – one on driving Tennessee’s growth in the global market and another on current trends in investment capital.

As previously reported in, start-ups tied to the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region captured four of the eight top prizes during the Thursday afternoon “Venture Showcase.” John Morris, President and CEO of Tech 20/20, sent an email to his board on Friday that highlighted the region’s wins.

Greetings from Nashville!  I wanted to let you know that the Innovation Valley has been well represented at the Governor’s Innovation Showcase in Nashville.  Companies from the Innovation Valley won three of the four industry tracks at the conference.  These companies won $5000 each and we’re in competition with companies from around the state.  In addition, a company from East Tennessee won the people choice award in the fourth track.  The winners were:

 Andrew Wilhelm – LED North America (an ORNL licensee and Tech 20/20 tenant)

Doug Grindstaff/Dr. Michael Zemel – NuMeta Science (a UTRF licensee and Fairview tenant)

Matt Tunstall – Stalltalk (a Tech 20/20 tenant)

Joey Natour – Dine Touch (a UT student team and Boyd fund winner)

The East Tennessee region – Northeast Tennessee to Chattanooga – provided 12 of the 24 companies that were scheduled to present at the “Venture Showcase.”

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