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Teknovation News and Notes
December 17, 2023 | Tom Ballard

News & Notes | Lilly Tench now Director of the Spark Innovation Center

Launch Tennessee hosting webinar on Tuesday focused on Department of Defense SBIR and STTR latest topics.

From Knoxville:

The leadership baton has been passed at the University of Tennessee’s Spark Innovation Center. Co-Founders Tom Rogers and John Bruck have announced that Lilly Tench has assumed the role of Director.

Lilly Tench

A graduate of Berea College, Tench was named Director of the Spark Cleantech Accelerator, part of the Spark Innovation Center, in January 2023, moving over from Memphis-based AgLaunch where she served for more than 18 months as lead for the Appalachian AgriFood Innovation Cluster program. She has more than a decade of experience working with entrepreneurs to develop solutions in key global industries from energy to agriculture.

We spotlighted Tench and her support for start-ups in this November 2020 teknovation.biz article soon after she joined the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.

In the email announcing her promotion, Bruck said his role now shifts to Spark Innovation Center Co-Founder and Lead Advisor. “I will continue to work with Lilly as an advisor to her as well as all the Spark team members and companies,” he added. Tench commended Rogers and Bruck for building “something special at Spark. I am grateful for this opportunity to continue growing it.”

The Spark Cleantech Accelerator completed its second cohort that also included the seven start-ups that comprise the 2023 cohort of the “Innovation Crossroads” program operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Also from Knoxville:

Three news items from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), including two from the Haslam College of Business.

  • The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation has announced the Spring 2024 edition of its “Bridging Research & Practice” conversation will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. February 12 at UTK Creamery. The facility at the corner of Kingston Pike and Neyland Drive was built as a Faculty Club and later served as a Visitor Center before its reincarnation. Launched last fall, the twice-a-year event is where professionals and researchers from diverse industries come together to forge meaningful connections, share experiences, and strengthen their networks.
  • The latest edition of the Haslam Digital Magazine has cast a spotlight on Heath Wilson and his new start-up named Aro. Launched a little more than a year ago after Beta testing (see teknovation.biz article here), the device is a combination of an app and a smartphone storage device that prompts users to put down their technology and spend time with others. The name comes from a Māori word meaning “to notice, take heed or turn toward.” Aro proudly proclaims on its website that its “Aro Community just crossed 1,000,000 hours away from our phones.”
  • The Fall edition of the Torchbearer, a UTK publication, has a long article spotlighting the various ways that campus organizations are “Powering the Future of Mobility.”

From Oak Ridge:

Boston Government Services LLC (BGS), the Oak Ridge-headquartered engineering, technology, and security firm, has promoted longtime executive Karen Harris to Vice President for Energy and Environmental. “Our work supporting our America’s clean energy future and our work supporting the cleanup of Department of Energy legacy facilities is vital for our nation and a source of great pride for BGS,” said Founder and CEO Dr. Harry Boston. “Karen has been essential to BGS growth and performance and is ideally suited for this important role.”

From Chattanooga:

  • The Company Lab has named David Gorchoff as its new Rural Outreach Coordinator. He’s a graduate of Tennessee Tech University (TTU) with a background in marketing. At one time, he worked at TTU’s Tennessee Center for Rural Innovation.
  • For customers who want world-class connectivity, EPB has launched Gig2.5, a new residential internet service that delivers 2,500 Mbps of broadband capacity, more than twice as fast as EPB’s world-famous Gig speed service. At $97.99 per month, the service gives customers the bandwidth they want at the best value and includes professionally installed Smart Net Plus Wi-Fi to ensure customers have the equipment to experience the full bandwidth of their internet service. Installed and monitored by EPB Tech ProsSM, Smart Net Plus gives customers full value of the world’s fastest community-wide internet service by using the most current Wi-Fi 6e technology and equipment. Professional installation of the latest equipment eliminates internet dead zones and includes connecting all smart devices in every corner of customers’ homes. Smart Net Plus also helps block malware, spam, phishing, and other threats with continuously updated protection. Parental controls help families manage screen time, set alerts for when family or visitors are home, and more.

From Nashville but with Statewide Implications:

Launch Tennessee is hosting a webinar from 4 to 5 p.m. EST on December 19 focused on the pre-released topics for the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Many of the topics involve Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Large Language Models (LLM), and Natural Language Processing (NLP). Applications are due in early February 2024. To register for the webinar, click here. Prior to the session, attendees are encouraged to review the DoD document at this link.

From Memphis:

Pete Nelson, President and Executive Director of AgLaunch, was a participant last week on the first day of the two-day “Virtual Innovation Summit” hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The topic was “Empowering Entrepreneurship in Rural Ecosystems,” and Nelson shared how his experience growing up in the rural South launched him on the journey to start AgLaunch.

Pete Nelson

Today, his Memphis-based organization is the recipient of three of SBA’s 14 awards under its Regional Innovation Clusters (RIC) initiative. ““We now have a presence in Oregon, Oklahoma, Iowa and Appalachia in addition to Tennessee and the MS (Mississippi) Delta,” Nelson said when the third award was announced a year ago.

The panel was moderated by Obum Ukabam, Associate Director of the OK Catalyst in Norman, OK, and featured Nelson; Don Ufford, Assistant Director for Supply Chain and Ecosystem Development at the National Institute of Standards and Technology; and Anna Lucas, Director of SBA’s Office of Rural Affairs.


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