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November 21, 2013 | Tom Ballard

“Start-up Day” celebrates entrepreneurs, “Spark!” showcases technologies

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

It’s “Global Entrepreneurship Week,” and the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region has celebrated it with two very different pitch competitions – “Start-up Day” Thursday afternoon in Knoxville and the annual “Spark! Technology Forum” on Tuesday at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Close to 400 people packed The Standard in Downtown Knoxville yesterday for the region’s first ever celebration of entrepreneurship and music. “Start-up Day” was an amazing event, unlike anything focused on entrepreneurship that I have ever witnessed in Knoxville.

The distinguishing features were many, starting with the number and variety of individuals who showed-up for a 3 p.m. event. Yes, mid-afternoon, and close to 300 were in their seats, waiting for the kick-off. The room was buzzing, and the electricity level was maintained throughout the 13 pitches and two musical presentations.

“Start-up Day” attracted many of the people you might expect for such an event, but there was an amazing number of new faces, clearly the majority. Several dozen men dressed in suits – yes, more than just me – mixed with the more traditional entrepreneurs in jeans. Those in attendance spanned the range of ages – from college students to senior citizens. There were a few people with money and many more seeking investment capital.

Last, but not least, the ideas were as wide-ranging as the audience – everything from healthy food to reduce weight (the line of the day was “drop your pants,” as in size) to a company focused on hydrogen peroxide production.

Strickland’s keynote address struck just the right chord as he mixed his own success as an entrepreneur with an easy to remember acronym for success – O.L.D. – which stands for opportunity, luck and determination.

“When you believe in yourself, people will invest in you,” Strickland said.

A brief summary of 12 of the presenting companies is available here (Start-up Day Company Summaries).

Spark 2013Earlier in the week, ORNL hosted its annual “Spark! Technology Forum” where researchers and staff of the Partnerships Directorate presented 12 of their technologies viewed as top opportunities for commercialization.

“We absolutely want to hear from you . . . about which technologies have the opportunity to be most impactful,” said Mike Paulus, ORNL’s Director of Technology Transfer, as he opened the lab’s “Spark!” event on Tuesday.

The auditorium in the Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at ORNL, where the event was held, was close to overflowing. As an attendee at every “Spark!” session, I was struck by the many new faces in the audience.

Paulus told the attendees that about one-half the technologies reviewed on Tuesday are not yet available for licensing. They are in the new Technology Innovation Program in which ORNL is investing some of its royalty funds to advance them for successful commercialization.

Of the six, Paulus expects calls for license applications for four of them will be issued in June; the remaining two should be available in the next month or two. The others presented Tuesday are available now.

Overall, the technologies were presented were very diverse as were the industry sectors viewed as commercialization possibilities. A number of opportunities focused on various subsets of automotive – rechargeable batteries, high-performance plastics, and power electronic modules for electric and hybrid vehicles.

Another was the “Exoskeleton System” for individuals seeking a highly functional and comfortable prosthetic device, maybe as an arm or foot. Others targeted sectors like furniture, kitchen utensils, turbine and engine components, chemical and petrochemical processing, multi-sensor smoke alarms, solar cells and other semiconductor applications, solar panels, and mobile devices touch screens.

The list of technologies was summarized in a previous article available here. For those interested in reviewing any of the presentations, they are available by clicking here.

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