By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
The race is on, so to speak, with the finish line established as a date, not a distance.
Week 1 for the third edition of the autoXLR8R business start-up program, now headquartered at Tech 2020 in Oak Ridge, is in the books.
Nine of the 10 teams spent three days here last week, participating in their inaugural training, hearing from industry leaders, and touring some of the area’s top assets such as the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The teams will return later this month and be here for the final stop on their multi-city “Demo Road Show” August 28. Otherwise, each start-up will be working independently from its home base of operation.
“This year, about 80 percent of the program will be conducted remotely using online tools and distance learning technology,” Shawn Carson, Tech 2020’s Director of Venture Development, told us in an earlier post on teknovation.biz. He’s the lead facilitator for the accelerator, supported by Jack Sisk, a long-time General Motors guy.
“This (approach) opens-up our reach to start-ups across the state, region and internationally,” Carson explained at the time. “The technology also makes it possible to have close relationships between peers and mentors without the barrier and costs of geography.”
Having attended Tuesday’s kick-off event and a portion of Wednesday’s training session, we were struck by how seasoned most of the entrepreneurs are. The stereotype for a start-up founder is Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, individuals who launched their businesses at an early age. In the case of this year’s autoXLR8R, many of the entrepreneurs showed shades of gray in their hair.
Another interesting takeaway from last week’s launch session were two themes that were repeated throughout the program – the importance of regional collaboration, not just across county boundaries but across state borders, and the importance of focusing on the supplier base.
The collaboration theme was underscored by the participation of the leaders of three neighboring state automotive associations – Ron Davis (Alabama), Catherine Hayes (South Carolina), and Rick Walker (Georgia) – along with representatives from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD), University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Tennessee Tech University.
“The spirit of collaboration is in full display today,” Ted Townsend, ECD’s Chief of Staff, observed in his keynote presentation. “This (program) is too important not to happen.”
As far as the focus on suppliers, both Davis and Hayes emphasized how important they are.
“All of us are going to compete for the next OEMs,” Hayes said, adding, “We have a thriving (supplier) ecosystem in the Southeast.” It is technologies such as those being pursued by the autoXLR8R teams that will help keep the supply base on the proverbial cutting edge.
Davis cited a workforce challenge that suppliers face that is not frequently discussed, but one that could impact the ability to not only supply parts to OEMs in the south but those in Mexico. It is the availability of truck drivers.
The participating teams are:
- CASCI, a start-up in Aguascalientes, Mexico, that is developing a new automatic guided vehicle to deliver material in manufacturing operations. (Entrepreneur: Ricardo Valenzuela)
- CBA of Knoxville that is developing a data analytics tool to be used to monitor production processes in automotive manufacturing. (Entrepreneur: Josh McMillan)
- Drive & Live, an Italian start-up that is developing an app to monitor drivers for drowsiness and other impaired driving conditions. (Entrepreneur: Emanuel Fierimonte)
- IVRTrain of Cookeville that is focused on producing immersive virtual simulations to develop physical training for the operation of vehicles in manufacturing plants. (Entrepreneur: Ravi Venkataraman)
- OptoLogistics, also from Knoxville, that is developing software to optimize logistics in the automotive manufacturing industry. (Entrepreneur: Mustafa Varzaneh)
- The PT Solution of Chattanooga that is a personal transportation service designed for metro areas and campuses. (Entrepreneur: Jim Brewer)
- Sleep on Trucking from Fayette, AL, that is developing a device that levels and stabilizes the sleeping quarters of a semi-tractor to make it easier for a driver to sleep. (Entrepreneur: Daniel White)
- The Smart Seat from Louisville, KY, that has an application designed to remind drivers of the presence small children and pets about to be left in an automobile. (Entrepreneur: Donald Suiters)
- SRM of Murfreesboro that is developing hub motor technology. (Entrepreneur: Jim Brewer)
- Twitch Technologies of Guyton, GA that is developing a device and method utilizing a new alphanumeric keyboard and novel system for manually inputting alphanumeric information into data processing equipment. (Entrepreneur: Dennis Page)