UTRF congratulates all six startups that participated in Startup Day, a pitch competition held during Innov865 Week 2021. UTRF is proud to be a founding member of the Innov865 Alliance, a collaborative effort for developing, supporting, and promoting Knoxville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Startup Day is an annual event organized by the Innov865 Alliance that displays the entrepreneurial scope and talent across East Tennessee. During the “Shark Tank-style” event, startups pitch their companies to win up to $10,000 in cash prizes. Of the six companies who presented at Startup Day, three were created to commercialize UT technologies, showcasing the high-quality innovation coming from the university.
Three of the UTRF-licensed companies that pitched were Endeavor Composites, led by Founder and CEO Hicham Ghossein; Sentinel Devices, represented by CEO and Technical Lead Forrest Shriver; and Summit Performance Testing, pitched by CEO John Sorochan. The other three participants included David Wood, Director of Engineering of SkyNano; Brandon Bruce, Co-Founder and CEO of Uncat; and Bruce Ramshaw, Founder of CQ Insights.
The first of the UTRF-affiliated companies to pitch was Sentinel Devices LLC. Sentinel Devices’s licensed technology can provide enhanced cybersecurity protection for critical industrial infrastructure. This technology was developed by Dr. Fan Zhang and Dr. Jamie Coble, professors in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. In 2020, UTRF filed a patent application for this technology and awarded the research group a Maturation Grant to help further develop the technology.
Summit Performance Testing LLC is formed by Distinguished Professor Dr. John Sorochan and Dr. Kyley Dickson, both from the program of Turfgrass Science and Management at the UT Institute of Agriculture. Summit Performance uses patent-pending technology to assess the safety and performance of various sports surfaces, including measuring the impact of a playing surface on an athlete’s footwear. The device performs comprehensive measurements of a surface’s deceleration, acceleration and cutting traction potential.
Endeavor Composites was the third UTRF-affiliated company to pitch during Startup Day. The startup was created by Dr. Hicham Ghossein, who invented the UTRF-licensed technology alongside UT-ORNL Governor’s chair Dr. Uday Vaidya. The technology uses a specialized mixer system for a hydroentanglement process that has the capacity to disperse long carbon fiber that creates defect-free non-woven mats. The startup, which was part of ORNL’s Innovation Crossroads, prides itself on being a zero-waste alternative for carbon fiber and composite manufacturing.
Three entrepreneurs/investors judged the annual pitch competition. The judges included Jordan Mollenhour of Mollenhour Gross, Sue Malone of Strategies for Small Business, and Tricia Martínez of Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator. During the event, the three judges discussed strengths and areas of growth for each startup on stage with one of the event’s co-hosts, Chris McAdoo, Director of Strategy and Engagement of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.
The event also featured “Glow,” a video produced by PYA, an Innov865 Alliance member, about UTRF startup licensee 490 BioTech which won the Judge’s Choice award at Startup Day 2020. 490 Biotech has developed a bioluminescent technology that shows changes in human cellular health, allowing accurate assessments of a cell’s reaction to particular drugs and thereby potentially reducing the time for pharmaceutical drug development. In the video, UT alum Dan Close, the company’s Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, discussed the startup’s long, challenging journey to overcome the impossible.
“UTRF is so proud to have had three startups represented in this year’s Startup Day pitch competition and 490 BioTech, a UT startup and 2020 Judge’s Choice winner, featured in a compelling video from PYA,” says UTRF Vice President Maha Krishnamurthy. “I am thankful to the Innov865 Alliance and the community for supporting our startups. Each of these companies truly exemplifies the diversity of innovation coming out of the university.”