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December 08, 2021 | Tom Ballard

“Spark Cleantech Accelerator” now accepting applications for inaugural cohort

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Applications for the first cohort in the new, Knoxville-based “Spark Cleantech Accelerator” are now open.

The announcement was made by John Bruck, Director of the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Spark Innovation Center, during yesterday’s eighth annual “Opportunities in Energy” event hosted by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC). He was a participant on a panel that also featured Tricia Martinez, Managing Director of the “Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator,” and Dan Miller, Program Lead for the “Innovation Crossroads” program operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

John Bruck

Collectively, the participation of the three highlighted the emergence of Knoxville and Oak Ridge as the only location in America to host three high-profile, energy-focused business accelerators. The newest addition – the “Spark Cleantech Accelerator” – is supported by a combination of strategic partners including the City of Knoxville, UT, UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm, Tennessee Valley Authority, TAEBC, and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

As noted in this June 2021 article, the Spark Innovation Center is a partner in the “Midwest Regional Innovation Partnership” that is also comprised of the Clean Energy TrustCentrepolis Accelerator at Lawrence Technological University, and mHUB. The group secured a $900,000 award under DOE’s “Energy Program for Innovation Clusters” program, and a portion of the federal dollars will be targeted for the local accelerator that is being supplemented by the regional partners.

Tricia Martinez

During the virtual event, Martinez also announced that the start of the “Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator” has been delayed by one month – now beginning February 21 – to allow for the renovation of dedicated space for Techstars on Gay Street. It is actually in a building that houses the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) and, for old timers like me, was the former home of the now long-closed Miller’s Department Store. She thanked KUB, the UT Research Foundation, and the Knoxville Chamber for helping make the space a reality.

Miller told attendees that vetting is currently underway for the sixth cohort of the “Innovation Crossroads” program which brings early stage but high-potential, energy-focused start-ups to the region for two years.

For the “Spark Cleantech Accelerator,” the target is also early stage, high-growth potential companies that aid in the development of decarbonization and other technology solutions by targeting the climate crisis while simultaneously supporting Tennessee’s advanced energy and circular economies. Applications are open through March 11 (click here), and the first cohort of the accelerator will begin in June.

Participants will be provided co-working space in the recently renamed Institute for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing at the UT Research Park, an equity-free stipend, and access to prototyping facilities at UT, Knoxville to help accelerate the participants’ progress during a three-month period.  Additionally, entrepreneurs will have access to investor and mentor networks with cleantech industry expertise and the opportunity to participate in events held by Spark’s regional partners including the Clean Energy Trust. This comprehensive set of services will assist in participants’ commercialization of their technologies in Tennessee and throughout the Midwest.

Participating companies will be encouraged to consider relocating permanently to Knoxville, which was recently ranked as the #16 cleantech hub in the country, according to venture firm Saoradh Enterprise Partners. That opportunity no doubt helped attract support from the community.

“The City of Knoxville is proud to host and support the newest accelerator in East Tennessee’s rapidly growing start-up scene,” Mayor Indya Kincannon said. “Supporting breakthrough clean energy technologies with accelerator programs is an important component of growing our innovation economy, retaining top talent, and asserting Knoxville’s leadership role as a clean-tech hub. The City welcomes opportunities to engage with Spark innovators to help meet my administration’s goal of reducing emissions 80 percent across the community by 2050.”

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