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January 11, 2022 | Tom Ballard

PART 8: Two IC alums share their hopes for the region and their start-ups in final article

(EDITOR’S NOTE: We asked individuals who had been spotlighted in the past year or so in two questions ahead of the dawn of 2022. One concerned their hopes for their local entrepreneurial ecosystem, the other about their aspirations for their company. This is the final article in a series capturing their responses.)

What better way to wrap-up our series of wishes for 2022 than with two entrepreneurs who moved to the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region to participate in the “Innovation Crossroads” (IC) program operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The 19th and 20th respondents to our questions are Justin Nussbaum, Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ascend Manufacturing, and William Fitzhugh, Founder and CEO of American Nanotechnologies, Inc. (ANI).

  • Ascend Manufacturing participated in Cohort 2 of the IC program with a goal of developing a brand new way to 3D print that is faster, stronger, and cheaper than anything else on the market. It placed third last year in the inaugural PYA-funded “Tom Ballard Innovation Award” and recently announced that the start-up has begun manufacturing its next generation 3D printing system with assistance from Mesa Technologies, Inc., a local company that is its partner. Ascend Manufacturing is also one of 10 early stage finalists in the 12th annual “SPIE Startup Challenge.”
  • ANI, a member of IC Cohort 3, joined the program to develop a purification platform for carbon nanotubes. The platform would enable the start-up to sort nanotubes based on different variables and be a materials provider for companies looking for cost-effective sorted product. As described in this recent update article in biz, Fitzhugh is also looking into the applications of these materials. In addition, ANI recently secured a $256,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation to develop its chemical sensor technology.

Ironically, both transplants who have remained in the region after completing the IC program have similar aspirations that should be noted by local leaders. As Nussbaum noted in his response, Ascend Manufacturing hopes to close a seed round by the end of Q1 2022.

What one or two wishes do you have for the entrepreneurial ecosystem where you and your start-up are located?

  • NUSSBAUM: I wish we had a larger number of seed and Series A funding groups.
  • FITZHUGH: Greater visibility in the venture capital world.

What specific aspirations/goals do you have for your start-up in 2022?

  • NUSSBAUM: Close a large seed round, hire a team of seven additional employees, and begin the 18-month journey required to get to large scale revenue.
  • FITZHUGH: In 2022, we expect to get our carbon nanotube materials to minimum viable product and begin collecting revenue. Additionally, we expect to complete a first prototype of using these materials to fabricate thin-film chemical sensors.

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