(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another article in our series spotlighting the start-ups that comprise Cohort 2 of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s “Innovation Crossroads” initiative. The companies are a little beyond the halfway point in the two-year program.)
Matt Smith, Chief Executive Officer of TCPoly Inc., co-founded the company in October 2016 along with Thomas Bougher, a fellow classmate in the doctoral program at Georgia Institute of Technology.
As Smith described the focus in this late 2018 article in teknovation.biz, the focus was on developing a new class of high thermal conductivity plastic composite materials designed to improve heat dissipation, allowing for metal replacement and light-weighting, cost and component reductions, and improved performance and reliability.
Here are his responses to our questions on progress.
- When you were selected for the inaugural cohort of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) “Innovation Crossroads” (IC) program, how would you describe the state of your technology and where you were in standing-up a start-up? At the beginning of the ORNL IC program, TCPoly’s technology was still in a proof of concept phase, and the company was just beginning to look into various use cases. We had started limited interactions with customers and were operating out of a two-car garage as a team of two.
- Now, a little more than halfway through the two-year experience, how would you answer the question? TCPoly now has small offices in both Knoxville and Atlanta, GA and six employees. We have further refined our technology and are utilizing customer feedback to develop new solutions that are more effective at solving their problems. The company is generating revenue and is actively working on contracts with industry partners.
- What have been the biggest changes and how has the “Innovation Crossroads” program helped with the progress that you’ve made? The biggest challenges have been technology development and customer development. ORNL helps with technology development by providing materials, equipment, and personnel to rapidly iterate and develop new materials. ORNL has also helped with customer development by providing credibility with and introductions to industry partners.
- What more do you expect/hope to accomplish before your two-year Fellowship ends in May 2020? By May 2020 we want to have secured SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) Phase 1 funding (or similar support for continued technology development) and three pioneer customer relationships working toward development of compelling use cases of our materials.
- Will you be ready to take the technology to market or will you continue to have to further advance it? We will be ready to take a form of our technology to market and will need to create white papers and other literature to help our customers understand how our material can be used to help solve their technical challenges.
- How have you found the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region in terms of its support for tech-focused entrepreneurs? Yes, the local region has provided us with resources including an office space at the Fairview Technology Center, mentors and advisors in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, connections to suppliers and partners, and customer development projects.