Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
February 06, 2022 | Tom Ballard

John Sorochan helping make surfaces where athletes perform safer and better

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

John Sorochan is immersed in all aspects of sod and turf with a specific goal of making surfaces where athletes perform safer and better.

The longtime faculty member at the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville – he’s been there since mid-2002 – is a Distinguished Professor of Turfgrass Science in the Department of Plant Sciences. Internationally recognized as a leader in the design, installation, and maintenance of safe, sustainable, and attractive playing surfaces for major sporting venues, the native of Canada is a frequent author of research papers on the topic, a consultant to the National Football League (NFL) Players Association, and also now a serial entrepreneur with his second start-up.

We first spotlighted Sorochan in 2014 when he was President and Chief Technology Officer of QuickSod Inc., a company that  took first place in the inaugural “Tennessee Venture Challenge” sponsored by the UT Research Foundation (UTRF). As he told us for this article, that start-up was focused on decreasing the time it took to grow and harvest sod – then anywhere from 12 to 30 months, depending on the type of grass – to 12 to 16 weeks. The “secret sauce” was a proprietary biodegradable growing medium that not only accelerated the growth, but also extended the shelf life of the sod and required fewer pesticides.

John Sorochan

“The technology was ahead of its time,” Sorochan says today, adding that QuickSod also faced scaling-up challenges at a time when “sod was cheap.”

That experience did not deter him, however, and he’s back with a new company named Summit Performance that was one of six start-ups selected to pitch at the most recent “Startup Day” Knoxville in early October. Sorochan’s latest venture draws on his decade or more of working to help the NFL Players Association to help ensure the safety of its members as well as his robust consulting role across the globe.

“It is an idea I have had for a longtime, along with Kyley Dickson, Ph.D. – Associate Director for the UT Center for Athletic Field Safety, and together they started developing it about two and a half years ago,” he says, adding that they went through several Beta versions of his minimum viable product for which UTRF has two pending patent applications.

“We have developed a device to measure the tensile strength of grass,” he explains. The technology is also able to test the traction, safety, and durability of different shoes for all purposes including sports, work boots, and orthopedics.

That means Summit Performance can measure the performance, playability, and safety of sports surfaces while simultaneously measuring the forces on the body during athlete-to-surface interactions. Since no two surfaces are the same and even vary from one part of the field to another section, that is really important.

Sorochan explained that a sporting venue “fields can change over the course of a game and for sure over an entire season.” He also noted the lack of consistency from one field to another. “We have tested every high school field in Knoxville, and there’s a huge variance.”

Sorochan said that the device can produce a heat map for a sporting venue owner showing the consistency of the surface. “That allows them to do site-specific management,” he explains.

His work with the NFL Players Association takes Sorochan regularly to test the playing surfaces of venues. He’s also a  Special Advisor to FIFA, officially known as the Federation Internationale de Football Association and the international governing body of soccer, as well as an advisor to the Singapore National Stadium. FIFA is bringing the 2026 World Cup to North America with Canada, Mexico and the U.S. hosting events.

“I’m always seeing problems in these venues and looking for the best ways to make them playable and safe,” Sorochan explains. He was involved in the decision in 2018 to cancel an NFL game in Mexico City due to poor field conditions.

Another initiative that consumes some of Sorochan’s energy is the DREAM ACADEMY, a not-for-profit organization using agriculture and sports to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to the youth of Botswana. He’s a founding member of the after school initiative and explains that the goal is to raise sufficient funds to purchase 4,000 acres to start a full-time school.

Don’t Miss Out on the Southeast’s Latest Entrepreneurial, Business, & Tech News!

Sign-up to get the Teknovation Newsletter in your inbox each morning!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

No, thanks!