Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

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June 11, 2019 | Tom Ballard

Participants in Cohort 3 of ORNL’s Innovation Crossroads” program arrive in the region

Participants in Cohort 3 of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) “Innovation Crossroads” program have arrived in the region for their two-year experience.

Selected through a merit-based process, the latest group of scientists and engineers continue the tradition of attracting top talent to the region where they will work alongside ORNL researchers to advance their technologies during the next 24 months.

The goal of the initiative, one of three funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), is to help ensure that more advanced energy and grid technologies make it to the commercial marketplace by helping bridge the technology “valley of death.”

With Cohort 3, DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office and ORNL added a new partner – the Tennessee Valley Authority. That addition was highlighted in this article from last September announcing recruitment for the third cohort.

In 2017, three start-ups were selected, while five were added in 2018. As the first three complete their two-year engagement, seven new start-ups join the program, obviously the largest number in its history.

Pictured to the right are the entrepreneurs behind the seven companies. What follows are brief profiles about them and their start-ups.

  • Jesse Thornburg, Co-Founder of Grid Fruit. He is developing a novel technology and operating framework for monitoring and control of commercial refrigeration systems installed at food retailers. This technology aims to simultaneously procure savings for retailers and provide grid response services for the power network. With better monitoring and control the technology will be able to leverage thermal storage capacity of retailer refrigeration systems as energy storage for the grid, providing a dynamic storage option for grid managers to flatten the load curve during peak demand hours. Thornburg holds a PhD in electrical and computer engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and is co-founder of Grid Fruit.
  • Alex Lewis, Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Electro-Active Technologies. The company is developing a microbial electrolysis system to extract energy from organic waste streams to produce renewable products such as hydrogen. This technology can enable companies and communities to reinvest their waste in the form of value-added products, with hydrogen serving as a means of energy storage as well as a zero-emission fuel to power the growing fuel cell market.  Lewis holds a PhD in energy science and engineering from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK).
  • Leila Safavi-Tehrani, Co-Founder and CEO of Purist. She is developing a platform technology that can be implemented in existing underutilized research reactor infrastructure nationwide for local and on-demand medical grade radioisotope production. This innovative radioisotope production mechanism can be easily adopted by research reactors of any size for medical grade radioisotope production. Safavi-Tehrani holds a PhD in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from the University of California, Irvine.
  • Hicham Ghossein, Founder of HG Technologies. Ghossein founded the company to continue the design and implementation of an innovative mixer system for the hydroentanglement process that offers several advantages over the current fiber dispersion techniques. The innovative mixing system allows production of defect free carbon fiber nonwoven textiles at an increased production rate compared to current processes. Ghossein holds a PhD in mechanical engineering from the UTK.
  • Trevor McQueen, CEO of Neptune Fluid Flow Systems. He is working to scale-up, validate, and manufacture an advanced, thin-film cryogenic sample preparation device designed to substantially improve sample preparation for the transmission electron microscopy (TEM) community. This will allow scientists and engineers to design, build, and institute quality control measures for a wide variety of advanced materials. McQueen holds a PhD in chemistry from Stanford.
  • William Fitzhugh, Founder of American Nanotechnologies. Fitzhugh is developing a novel dielectrophoresis (DEP) platform that can reduce the cost of semiconducting carbon nanotube production by orders of magnitude. He aims to produce semiconducting carbon nanotube inks that can be implemented with roll-to-roll printing to disrupt the thin-film-transistor industry. Fitzhugh is a PhD candidate in applied physics at Harvard.
  • Jesse Claypoole, Founder of Mantapoole Technologies. The company is developing roll-to-roll manufactured, active multispectral light field (AMLF) micro-optics for applications including autonomous surgery, industrial manufacturing, robotic farming, and real time robot vision. In many automated industries in order to properly execute tasks, the combined use of this multispectral and directional information is critical. Currently, multispectral light field imaging systems usually consist of multi-sensor arrays that are too large, complicated, fragile, or expensive to be integrated on many of these applications. Claypoole is a PhD candidate in nanoscale science at the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute.

“We are pleased to welcome the third group of entrepreneurs to ‘Innovation Crossroads,’” said Moe Khaleel, ORNL Associate Laboratory Director for Energy and Environmental Sciences. “We look forward to supporting these young innovators as they work to advance their early science to benefit American manufacturing and clean energy.”

The program is one of DOE’s “Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Programs” designed to provide unique support to science-based start-ups to help advance game-changing technology from the laboratory to the marketplace. The two-year fellowship provides a cost-of-living stipend, comprehensive business development plan assistance, and up to $200,000 to use on collaborative R&D at ORNL, the nation’s largest science and energy laboratory.

“TVA pursues and supports research and development that best serves the people of the Tennessee Valley,” said Joe Hoagland, TVA Vice President, Enterprise Relations & Innovation. “By leveraging our partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and others, we can assist these talented scientists take advantage of this unique entrepreneurial fellowship program.”

Applications for cohort four of Innovation Crossroads will open in fall 2019.

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