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March 20, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

‘The sky is the limit’ | SkyNano opens 20,000 square-foot facility in Louisville

"This is a space of growth for us, we plan to stay here, grow here, and hire lots of people here," said Co-Founder and CEO, Anna Douglas.

SkyNano is an East Tennessee deep tech start-up success story; one that the Co-Founder, Anna Douglas has been writing for seven years. On Tuesday morning, Douglas, alongside dozens of community members and partners, celebrated the ribbon cutting for SkyNano’s new 20,000-square-foot facility in Louisville, Tennessee.

SkyNano brings to market new, cutting-edge technology that helps with global decarbonization efforts. For the last several years, Douglas has been developing and expanding novel electrochemical manufacturing technology for the capture and conversion of CO2 into carbon-based materials, primarily carbon nanotubes.

Her revolutionary concept captured the attention of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2017, around the time Tom Rogers spearheaded the launch of the Innovation Crossroads program. Through the support of the U.S. Department of Energy, Douglas joined the first cohort of the post-doctoral entrepreneurship program. It was ultimately the influence of that program, community connections, and a robust support system that convinced her to plant her research, and new facility in East Tennessee.

Douglas obtained her undergraduate degree from Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. During her undergraduate years, she played on the school’s tennis team and majored in Mathematics. It wasn’t until a summer internship at NASA’s Glenn Research Center that she discovered her love for research.

“Seeing how my research at NASA helped impact aircraft in space was eye-opening for me,” Douglas said. “The work happening in labs matters.”

When she returned to school in the fall of her junior year, she added a B.S. in Chemistry (and still managed to graduate in four years).

Upon graduation, she continued her education with a master’s and PhD in Interdisciplinary Material Science at Vanderbilt University. She rotated doing research with various professors, which is somewhat typical of a high-level graduate research program. Some of the esteemed Vanderbilt professors were tenured and provided a wealth of experience and knowledge. However, Douglas felt drawn to the non-tenured professors.

“They were more eager. They had more to prove. I just really thrived in that hands-on environment,” she said.

Naturally, she began to take a vested interest in carbon. At the time, activists started amping up conversations around the dangers of climate change, and the concept of decarbonizing the planet.

“It is an element that makes up both dirt and diamond,” she said. “Recreating these molecules became the focus of my dissertation.”

It quickly became evident to her professor, Dr. Cary Pint, that she discovered the diamond in the rough. Pint suggested she consider starting a company based on her carbon nanotube research. He also agreed to support her as a Co-Founder. That’s how SkyNano was born, and eventually recognized by ORNL, Tom Rogers, and the Innovation Crossroads program.

In the first year of the program, only three companies were selected to participate, meaning those companies were at the center of attention in the East Tennessee community.

“I was pitching my company at everything and to everyone. I probably pitched SkyNano three times every week for two years, and sometimes three times in one day,” she laughed. “Through that experience, I got good at talking about my company. I tested out new ways to talk about the science we are doing.”

For example, Douglas shared a moment when she did a 60-second pitch at Launch Tennessee’s 3686 Entrepreneurship Festival and challenged herself not to say the words “carbon nanotube.” She worried the high-level science would cause some community members to tune out of her business pitch. SkyNano’s flagship product is carbon nanotubes. They are a carbon nanotube company. Yet, Douglas still managed to pull it off, successfully.

Since the program’s end in 2019, she participated in the Spark Innovation Center’s accelerator and incubator programs. Eventually, she moved her laboratory into a small building off Papermill Drive, and just a couple of years later they’re growing again.

“We have 12 employees, and hope to double that by the end of 2024,” she said. “This is a space of growth for us. We will be hiring for all sorts of roles and believe we have a lot to offer to applicants.”

The careers at SkyNano are competitive, and high-paying, and help attract talent from all over the country.

“Knoxville is now a hard-tech destination, and I couldn’t say that when SkyNano first moved here in 2017. A lot has changed, and the community is so supportive,” she said.

At the new, 22,000-square-foot location, Douglas is hoping to increase production capacity through automation. She also hopes to build a mobile reactor, which could be equipped by major players in the energy sector, like the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and DOE.

In support of Douglas and the new facility, many organizations and leaders shared kind words about Douglas’ impact on the East Tennessee entrepreneurial community.


  • Tom Rogers, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), University of Tennessee Research Park;
  • Lindsey Cox, CEO, Launch Tennessee;
  • Deborah Crawford, Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Economic Development, University of Tennessee, Knoxville;
  • Joe Hoagland, Vice President of Enterprise Relations and Innovation, Tennessee Valley Authority; and
  • Chris Saldaña, Director of the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office, United States Department of Energy.

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