Formed by the partners of Nashville-based venture firm Solidus, VI has offices in both Nashville and Oak Ridge. Scott Ewing, a former Navy aviator and intelligence officer, is a principal and managing director based in Oak Ridge.
In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, VI President Vic Gatto described the new initiative as a “novel approach to spinning things out” of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the University of Tennessee’s entities in the eastern part of the state, Y-12 National Security Complex, and East Tennessee State University.
Gatto, who is also a partner in Solidus and its related Solidus-TNInvestco, described himself as an “impatient entrepreneur” who is “never (totally) satisfied.” Nevertheless, he said that he believed VI was where it needed to be after almost a year in existence.
“We want to get it (our model) right in East Tennessee first,” then grow it into other parts of Tennessee, he said. He used the words “repeatable” and “systematically” to describe the approach that VI is developing.
The VI initiative in this region is one of four that Solidus is undertaking across Tennessee. Others include the Jumpstart Foundry in Nashville and Seed Hatchery in Memphis.
VI was launched with the first technology being licensed from ORNL. After one year, VI has nine different technologies for which it has pursued funding like a Small Business Innovation Research grant. VI has won two, lost three and awaiting word on the other four.
“The pace of change is at times slow,” Gatto said in describing the cultures of large research enterprises. “We need to prove to others that it can be done” in a different way.
He also believes that matchmaking is an important element in changing the culture. “We must help people understand each other,” Gatto said.
As he approaches the East Tennessee initiative, Gatto compares Knoxville to another college community – Boulder, CO, one of the frequently cited strong areas for entrepreneurship.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for Knoxville to become a major center of innovation,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Commercial Appeal had a recent article on Solidus’ Memphis initiative that is also posted today. Venture Nashville Connections had a recent post on the Jumpstart Foundry initiative in Nashville that can be found at http://www.venturenashville.com/app-deadline-april-2nd-jumpstart-foundry-will-forge-up-to-10-new-ventures-cms-768.