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February 18, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Judges announced for PYA’s Ballard Innovation Award

Applications for the Ballard Innovation Award open on Wednesday, February 21.

PYA, the power behind, has announced five esteemed judges for this year’s PYA Ballard Innovation Award.

These judges were hand-selected as a result of their contributions to the Tennessee entrepreneurial ecosystem, and personal achievements with their respective companies and organizations.

Meet the Judges

  • Drew Everett is the Chairman of the Board at Bush Brothers & Company. He is a fourth-generation member of the Bush family. Everett joined the Company’s Board of Directors in 2007 and was elected Chairman in 2015. In addition, Everett is a founding member of the Bush Family Senate, and Chair of the Investment Committee at the Shoebox Private Trust Company.
  • Dr. Maha Krishnamurthy is the President of the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF). The organization is responsible for helping commercialize UT’s innovations, promoting an entrepreneurial culture, and assisting UT in growing its research. Krishnamurthy also manages UTRF’s $5M Accelerate Venture Fund. Before joining UTRF in 2011, Maha served as an intellectual property commercialization, licensing, and maturation consultant for several NASA and Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) technologies.
  • Jorge Sanabria is the President of Expoquip. The company supports private sector, government, and international customers in the construction, earthmoving, and mining industries by offering spare parts and components for heavy equipment. Additionally, Sanabria is heavily invested in growing the Knoxville economy. He serves on the board at Covenant Health, Leadership Knoxville, and is a member of the Knoxville Chamber’s Entrepreneurship and Small Business Council.
  • Anca Timofte is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Holocene, a startup working to develop and deploy direct air capture technology. Their machines remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it away permanently. She participated in both Innovation Crossroads at ORNL and the Spark Incubator at the Spark Innovation Center at UTK.
  • David Youngblood is the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for Strategic Acquisitions Group (SAG), LLC.  He joined SAG in 2020. Before the role, he was CFO of Dalen Products, a CPG company, from 2018-2019, and before that, he spent a decade as the CEO of Avkem International (formerly Basic Resources) where he led its expansion into new markets in North America, South America, and Asia.


The Ballard Innovation Award is the largest gift of cash and in-kind services available to East Tennessee entrepreneurs and startups. It is a reflection of PYA’s commitment to the region.

The annual pitch competition honors Tom Ballard, PYA’s Chief Alliance Officer, and a well-respected East Tennessee entrepreneurial community member. Ballard spent more than four decades building relationships for the University of Tennessee System and ORNL throughout the region, state, and nation before joining PYA in 2012. He is the Editor and Publisher of

The first-place winner of the PYA Ballard Innovation Award will receive a $50,000 package of capital ($10K) and in-kind services ($40K), marketing and promotional awareness through earned media, and a physical award for presentation and marketing purposes

Applications open on February 21! Find more information on PYA’s website.

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