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April 05, 2015 | Tom Ballard

Revised autoXLR8R accepting applications for 2015 cohort

autoXLR8R(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Editor of is a member of the Board of Directors of Tech 2020.)

By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

To paraphrase the NASCAR announcer, “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.”

In this case, the announcement refers to those interested in participating in the next cohort of the autoXLR8R, an initiative focused on start-ups seeking to commercialize technology in the automotive industry.

The “starting line” is now active with applications being accepted until May 1 for the third edition of the program. All of the details can be found on the program website.

As recently reported, leadership for the autoXLR8R has been transferred from the Southern Middle Tennessee Entrepreneur Centers (SMTEC) to Oak Ridge-based Tech 2020. The latter provided content support during the first two years, and Tech 2020 has contracted with Jack Sisk, SMTEC’s Program Director for the autoXLR8R, to assist with the 2015 version.

“East Tennessee is a great place for autoXLR8R,” said Tech 2020’s Shawn Carson.  “It’s a strategic location for a program that will extend to start-ups across the Southeastern U.S. We are in the heart of innovation and technology development with institutions like the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CUICAR) close by.”

Sisk is an automotive industry veteran we first met nearly two decades ago. He was a key member of the Saturn team and its memorable tagline – “A different kind of car company.” During his tenure at Saturn and mine at the University of Tennessee, we worked to help apply university expertise, specifically the Center for Industrial Services (UT CIS), to help address technical and quality challenges facing Saturn’s suppliers in Tennessee.

Years later, Sisk served as a consultant to UT CIS. More recently, the 30-year plus industry veteran has been helping APLAIR Manufacturing Solutions, Inc. of Etowah, a participant in last year’s autoXLR8R, commercialize an ORNL technology to help assess the quality of spot welds. We spotlighted that licensing agreement in a recent post on

“The automotive industry is constantly seeking innovation and the integration of new technology into its vehicles,” Sisk said. “We view autoXLR8R as a catalyst to introduce these new technologies.”

This year’s autoXLR8R cohort will begin the program on July 6 in Oak Ridge and complete the program at the nine-week experience at the end of August with a roadshow to follow. Also, as previously noted, new educational technologies will be utilized to reduce the onsite requirements for the start-up entrepreneurs.

“This will minimize disruption of the entrepreneur’s normal business activities, and it also removes geography as a constraint,” Carson said.

The autoXLR8R is still the nation’s only automotive technology-focused start-up accelerator in the country.


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