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March 30, 2016 | Tom Ballard

Tech 2020 Board approves wind down plan, transfer of missions to others

Tech 2020The Tech 2020 Board of Directors, which includes the Editor of, approved on Tuesday a wind down plan for the organization that calls for the transfer of many missions to other entities, ensuring that the not-for-profit’s more than 20-year legacy continues.

The decision to wind down operations was first reported in a post on January 26 when the Board authorized Tech 2020’s Executive Committee to explore options to find homes for as many of the organization’s programs as possible. Details of the wind down plan can be found in the news release that Tech 2020 issued yesterday.


OAK RIDGE – The Tech 2020 Board of Directors approved a plan Tuesday that allows many of the organization’s priority initiatives to be continued under the leadership of other enterprises.

Since its founding more than two decades ago, Tech 2020 has focused on technology-based entrepreneurial support and access to capital. The organization contributed significantly to the success of a number of area start-ups – Pro2Serve, NucSafe, Protomet, Imtek, Protein Discovery, GridSmart, Nanotek, NetLearning, and many others. It played an important role in the creation of the region’s first two venture capital funds and an angel fund. Tech 2020 also started Digital Crossing in Knoxville, the region’s first data center.

“Our goal these past few months has been to preserve some of Tech 2020’s important resources, and we believe we’ve accomplished that with the plan approved at Tuesday’s meeting of the Board,” said David Bradshaw, Tech 2020 Chair.

That plan calls for the transfer of several of the Tech 2020 regional missions to other organizations on or before April 30, and the financial assets of a fourth to be returned to its founding members.

“When the Board voted on January 26 to wind down operations, it asked that we explore options to transition existing missions to other not-for-profit organizations,” Bradshaw explained. “We asked interested organizations to outline their ideas, and we are pleased that several have stepped forward with concrete proposals.”

Tech 2020’s autoXLR8R brand and curriculum will be transferred to the University of Tennessee’s Center for Industrial Services, and TN FIRST, LLC, which operates the Smoky Mountains FIRST Robotics Competition, will either be transferred to another local organization or to US FIRST, the national organization.

Activities surrounding a third program – the Regional Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (RAMP) – have been suspended, and Tech 2020 will return dues received from founding members on a pro-rated basis.

“These actions leave us with two remaining major assets – the Tech 2020 building at 1020 Commerce Park Drive, and several access to capital initiatives,” Bradshaw said.

The Board has authorized the Tech 2020 Executive Committee to engage a commercial real estate firm to sell the building. Tech 2020 is negotiating terms of this sale and the dispersion of cash assets with the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce which has a reversionary interest in the building.

“The remaining piece of the puzzle is the continuation of our efforts to improve access to capital in the region,” Bradshaw said. “We are fortunate that one of the early venture capital leaders locally – Grady Vanderhoofven – has indicated a willingness to shepherd ongoing and potential future access to capital initiatives.”

Vanderhoofven has been active in the regional access to capital arena since 2001. He and Tech 2020 partnered with Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation to establish the Southern Appalachian Fund (SAF) as a venture capital investor in October 2003.  One of SAF’s two offices has been located in the Tech 2020 building since that time. Three years later, the SAF team created Meritus Ventures, again establishing a presence at Tech 2020.  In 2013, a new team – Meritus Kirchner – was formed and recently obtained conditional approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to manage a Rural Business Investment Company with a focus on equity investment in rural areas.

Early last year, Vanderhoofven’s firm, Meritus Capital Management, teamed with Tech 2020, Memphis Bioworks Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Tennessee Research Foundation, and Innova Memphis to conduct a study focused on seed-stage investing, in preparation for forming the TennesSeed proof of concept fund, envisioned as an evergreen, seed-stage investor in high-growth-potential companies in Tennessee.

“The proposal from the Vanderhoofven-led team that the Board has approved, calls for the Tech 2020 not-for-profit charter to be amended as required to focus on a single purpose – access to capital,” Bradshaw said. The entity will do business with a reconfigured Board of Directors and under a new name that will be determined, and will seek to continue operating several initiatives currently underway.

“By April 30, we expect all wind down and go forward actions to be finalized with the possible exception of the sale of the Tech 2020 building,” Bradshaw said. “This process has been difficult for those of us who have been associated with Tech 2020 for more than 20 years, but we are pleased that so many of the organization’s activities will be continued under other entities.”

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