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Start-ups in inaugural cohort of “Spark Cleantech Accelerator” announced

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Six companies, including two from East Tennessee, will comprise the inaugural cohort of the new “Spark Cleantech Accelerator,” a strategic initiative within the Spark Innovation Center at the University of Tennessee (UT) Research Park at Cherokee Farm.

“We are honored to welcome six diverse, multi-faceted innovators and technologies in our first cohort of companies.” said John Bruck, Director of the Spark Innovation Center, who will lead the 12-week program along with Carol Seamons, the recently appointed Director of Engagement for the Center. “The partnerships developed within this program with fellow start-ups, investors and the University of Tennessee will play a crucial role in the ongoing development of Knoxville’s entrepreneurial scene.”

In alphabetical order, the first six companies selected to participate in the inaugural cohort that starts June 6 are:

  • frakktal (Houston, TX), founded by Jhana Porter, is developing a no-waste manufacturing process that begins with 95 percent locally recycled materials such as tires and plastics;
  • GenH (Boston, MA), co-founded by Siddarth Pannir, has developed a rapidly deployable modular system to produce hydro-electric power from small dams and canals;
  • Green Llama (Johnson City), co-founded by Kay Baker and Matt Keasey, is reducing the environmental footprint of consumer cleaning products by producing eco-friendly cleaning materials and sustainable packaging;
  • Groundstar (Cincinnati, OH), founded by Ed Chan, PhD, is a carbon capture technology focused on functionalized graphene for use in hard-to-abate emission sources;
  • RAEV (Philadelphia, PA), founded by David Castley, is developing an urban transportation system of small, shareable electric vehicles; and
  • Windfall (Knoxville), founded by Ryan Ginder, has developed a system to recycle and recover high purity fiberglass from wind blades and automotive composite scrap.

Between the start and “Demo Day” in late August. Bruck and Seamons will lead the companies through a comprehensive curriculum including customer discovery, product-market fit, financial modeling, organizational development, and investor outreach.

Among its offerings, the in-person program provides prototyping services through UT, Knoxville’s Center for Materials Processing, mentoring and one-on-one support from experts in various industries, training workshops, including individual one-on-one meetings with mentors, connections with customers, investors, strategic partners, suppliers, universities and national laboratories, and partnerships with key organizations in the region. The accelerator will also be supported the Energy Mentor Network, a program managed by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC).

Home base for participants will be the UT Research Park just across the Tennessee River from UT’s flagship campus, offering an ideal location for entrepreneurs to collaborate with top talent at UT and within the growing cleantech hub in Knoxville. The program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, City of Knoxville, Launch Tennessee, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and UT Research Foundation. The “Spark Cleantech Accelerator” is also a partner in the Heartland Climate Tech Partnership, a collaboration of start-up programs across the Greater Midwest Region including Evergreen Climate Innovations and mHUB, both based in Chicago, and Centrepolis Accelerator which is based in Detroit.

“We are very excited to welcome these outstanding entrepreneurs and cleantech companies to Knoxville,” said Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon. “The ‘Spark Cleantech Accelerator’ is helping the city address its goals of innovation and sustainability, further expanding East Tennessee’s tech and clean energy economy.”

TAEBC Executive Director Cortney Piper reinforced the Mayor’s point, noting that the Volunteer State has “unparalleled resources — including the largest science and energy national laboratory in the Department of Energy system, a top-notch university, more than 20,000 energy-focused businesses, along with a strong workforce, supportive state government, and a great central location (that the region) uniquely positioned to become one of fastest growing cleantech hubs in the country. The Energy Mentor Network, which TAEBC runs in partnership with Launch Tennessee, will help support these start-ups in the many challenges they face, all the way through financial modeling and preparing for investor pitches.”

The Spark Innovation Center is an initiative of the UT Research Park that builds on the facilities and expertise at the University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and TVA. The focus is on helping promising energy technology companies grow, offering access to top quality lab space, expert mentoring, and coordinating support services from nine partner organizations in the region.

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