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June 21, 2016 | Tom Ballard

“Spark!” showcases promising technologies, exciting new companies

Spark 2016By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

When conversations occur about the uniqueness of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge entrepreneurial ecosystem, they invariably quickly focus on the importance of capitalizing on the research undertaken at the University of Tennessee (UT) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Some of those most promising technologies were on display yesterday afternoon when the sixth annual “Spark!” technology forum, co-hosted by UT and ORNL, was held for the first time ever in Downtown Knoxville. The location was symbolic in several ways.

“We are sharing with you our most promising new technologies and capabilities and companies,” Tom Rogers, ORNL’s Director of Industrial and Economic Development Partnerships, said in his opening comments. “We want to tell you what time it is, not how to build a watch.”

With the exception of one year when the event was held at Tech 2020 in Oak Ridge, “Spark!” has been hosted at ORNL.

Rogers and Stacey Patterson, Vice President of the UT Research Foundation (UTRF), shared moderator duties.

For about 90 minutes, seven individuals – four from ORNL and three with UT ties – made fast-paced presentations about promising technologies being developed or companies that are commercializing research from one or both of the region’s research entities. It was a smorgasbord of existing activities and intriguing opportunities – everything from “farm to table,” as Joy Fisher described work at UT’s Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) to cybersecurity, wireless charging and “on the spot” chemical analysis.

  • ORNL’s Jesse Smith cited numerous examples of companies that have refuted the reputation that “it’s too hard to work with the lab.” One of those was Local Motors and its latest product offering – the electric-powered Olli mini-bus described in this follow-on post.
  • Ming Qi, Founder of Peroxygen Systems Inc. and winner of the recent “Tennessee Venture Challenge” sponsored by UTRF, gave the attendees a comprehensive overview of his start-up that is moving into the Fairview Technology Center managed by the Development Corporation of Knox County. We will have a profile on Peroxygen Systems tomorrow.
  • ORNL’s David Sims spotlighted the lab’s cybersecurity work that ranges from existing technologies to new opportunities like the “1 SR Shadow Network” that allows companies to test new security tools before they are deployed on enterprise networks.
  • Fisher, who is working part-time with UTIA, focused on diagnostic tools. One example was a prototype that detects diseases like the Zika virus. Another is a software and sensor-based tool that detects diseases in animals three to five days before symptoms appear.
  • ORNL’s Gary Van Berkel followed Fisher with a presentation on PenDoc, a mass spectrometry device that will quickly provide analysis of chemicals in a doctor’s office or an airport security line.
  • Another ORNL researcher – Madhu Chinthavali – described cutting edge technology that revolutionizes the wireless charging landscape whether stationary, quasi-dynamic such as a transit bus making scheduled stops along its route, and in-motion, dynamic charging.
  • The final technology presentation featured Adam McCall, President and Chief Executive Officer of TennEra LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of UTRF focused on commercializing disruptive, clean energy chemistry technologies that allow for the cost-effective production of composites. We previously profiled McCall in this series (Part 1 and Part 2).

The event wrapped-up with Jeff McCay of Top Five who described his eight years of successfully working with ORNL. He initially started with a focus on carbon fiber and most recently executed a license for an ORNL technology.

Those who could not attend can find yesterday’s presentation at this link.

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