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December 05, 2022 | Tom Ballard

Spark Innovation Center portfolio companies report great numbers over past two years

“Spark is poised to not only continue this mission but GROW along with active cohort companies and alumni.”

The Spark Innovation Center at the University of Tennessee Research Park has issued its first report (2020-2022 SPARK BiAnnual Report) covering two years of operations, and there are some impressive numbers recorded by its inaugural portfolio companies.

Collectively, the seven start-ups raised nearly $35 million, employed 26 full-time people, have 10 contract employees, and supported 10 internships. The funding total includes $18 million in non-dilutive grants, $15.6 million in equity investments, and $1.2 million in recurring revenue.

“As a builder of businesses, the Spark Innovation Center has delivered some impressive results, as you’ll see in this report, and our impacts in terms of funding and new jobs are remarkable,” says John Bruck, Director of the Center, who cites four key reasons. They are:

  • Focusing on recruiting and supporting companies with what they need – the right space and the right programming at an equity-free, affordable price;
  • Assembling and managing a team that is experienced, skilled, works together well, and executes on plan;
  • Connecting our companies with resources right here, in our local community, and in return our entire program contributes to building the community; and
  • Supporting the development of real-world investible and commercialized companies.

“Spark is poised to not only continue this mission but GROW along with active cohort companies and alumni,” Bruck adds.

Since its launch in September 2020, the Spark Innovation Center has housed these companies in either a residential or non-residential mode: (1) American Nanotechnologies Inc.; (2) CQ Insights; (3) EONIX; (4) Neptune Fluid Flow Systems; (5) SHIFT Thermal, formerly known as Active Energy Systems; (6) SkyNano Technologies; and (7) Qubit Engineering.

Several of the inaugural cohort participants have outgrown the Spark Innovation Center’s space and have moved into commercial facilities. Two other companies – American Nanotechnologies and Qubit – continue as participants in the next cohort. They are joined by: (1) Addiguru; (2) BECQ; (3) FC Renew; (4) Holocene Climate Corporation; (5) Orion Therapeutics; and (6) RAEV.

Another initiative during the past year was the inaugural Spark Cleantech Accelerator where five start-ups, including RAEV, were inaugural participants. Recruitment will begin soon for six new companies that will comprise Cohort 2.

Looking to 2023, the Center’s priorities include:

  • Hiring a full-time Director of the Spark Cleantech Accelerator;
  • Strengthening mentor support through the Tennessee Energy Mentor Network, managed by Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council;
  • Collaborating with the City of Knoxville to expand innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the city;
  • Recruiting and supporting six new companies in Cohort 2 of Spark Cleantech Accelerator (Fall 2023);
  • Leveraging Opportunity Appalachia grant to design and develop a stand-alone Spark Innovation Center facility;
  • Establishing a Spark for Faculty pilot program designed to support faculty interested in commercializing their research; and
  • Support the launch of 40 new advanced energy, advanced materials, cleantech, and healthcare companies.