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March 04, 2021 | Tom Ballard

Jennifer Skjellum helping UTC faculty commercialize inventions

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Jennifer Skjellum is no stranger to the entrepreneurial and tech commercialization space, having previously served as President of TechBirmingham, an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Birmingham-Southern College, a co-founder and senior executive in several tech start-ups, and Program Director for Chattanooga’s CO.LAB.

For the past year, she has been working part-time as the first Commercialization Counselor for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) in a role that helps the institution develop a culture of innovation. That is a priority for Chancellor Steven Angle and Joanne Romagni, Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, as evidenced by articles that we have posted recently.

A sampling of those articles include ones on the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (click here for the article), S&J NanoChemicals Inc. founded by Soubantika (Sou) Palchoudhury, an Assistant Professor of Civil and Chemical Engineering (click here for the article), and the nationally recognized “Smart Cities Community Collaborative” that UTC coordinates.

All of these programs are moving the needle, even at a time when restrictions due to COVID-19 are having an impact. In the case of Skjellum, who thrives on interactions with others, she says she’s found ways to help UTC faculty in spite of pandemic-related constraints. A good example is Palchoudhury whose start-up is focused on helping significantly increase crop yields for small acreage farmers.

“I hooked her up with the AgLaunch Bootcamp last summer,” Skjellum said of the program jointly offered by Memphis-based AgLaunch and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. “It’s not that I have something special but more that they (faculty members like Palchoudhury) just don’t have these connections.”

Skjellum also made a connection for Palchoudhury with Bundled, the Launch Tennessee-funded effort to provide a “bundle” of pre-paid professional services that will enable an entrepreneur to quickly and completely meet an important milestone on the road to a successful launch. Bundled, which supported S&J NanoChemicals, was one of three state-based and four local or regional programs highlighted in the 2021 edition of the “Rise of the Rest Ecosystem Playbook” (see pages 42-48).

Of efforts like those for Palchoudhury, Skjellum says it is simply the case of someone “looking at both sides to make collisions happen.”

Being a liaison between the UT Research Foundation (UTRF) and UTC faculty is also another part of the job. Skjellum works closely with Nghia Chiem, one of the UTRF Technology Managers, on a variety of efforts including stimulating more invention disclosures.

“We hosted a webinar on the invention disclosure process and also protecting intellectual property,” she said. UTC has also offered a CO.STARTERS program for researchers, and  Skjellum holds weekly virtual office hours where faculty can seek advice and guidance on intellectual property questions.

She notes that UTC is on the upswing with awarded contracts and grants. The research outcomes enabled by this extramural funding fuels inventions and commercialization opportunities.

“We need to get faculty thinking more and more about the possibilities for the intellectual property they create at UTC beyond the limits of their grant or contract,” Skjellum says. The goal is for this entrepreneurial mindset to lead to commercialization, patents and copyrights, business launches, and regional economic development powered by UTC inventions.

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