The University of Tennessee Research Foundation is proud to support a culture of entrepreneurship across the University of Tennessee System. In keeping with its mission, UTRF wants to help move ideas to the marketplace to benefit the people of Tennessee and beyond.
UTRF is a Founding Member of the Innov865 Alliance, a coalition dedicated to developing, supporting, and promoting the Knoxville region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Each year, the group hosts Innov865 Week, a week-long celebration of all-thing entrepreneurship. This year featured 20 events related to investing, innovation, higher education, and supporting innovation.
UTRF is a proud supporter of Knoxville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said UTRF President Maha Krishnamurthy. “We have recently launched UTRF’s Venture Launch Program and Accelerate Fund to strengthen our support for UT innovators in bringing their innovation to market. It is exciting to see that two of the six pitches at startup day were UTRF startups!”
The main event of Innov865 Week is Startup Day, a pitch competition and networking event where six local startups pitch for cash prizes before a judges’ panel and a live audience. This year, UTRF innovator Alex Stiles, Founder of Vitriform3D, took home the $7,000 Judges’ Choice Award. Vitriform3D harnesses glass waste with a patent-pending method to 3D print synthetic stone from 95% recycled glass.
We’re always glad to see UT inventors on stage at Startup Day – even better when they take home the coveted Judges’ Choice Award like Stiles did this year,” said Vice President of UTRF Kusum Rathore. “From being accepted into the Innovation Crossroads program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to bringing back glass recycling to Knoxville, UTRF could not be prouder of Vitriform3D’s accomplishments.”
During the week-long celebration, UTRF also hosted a virtual lunch and learn about its Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) Program. Rathore discussed the purpose, responsibilities, and benefits of UTRF’s EIR Program and chatted with veteran entrepreneurs and newly appointed EIRs Bob Vanderhoff and Ryan Ginder. In the program, Vanderhoff and Ginder work with UTRF startups by offering consulting services, helping with due diligence on potential investments and assisting with strategic thinking and networking.
It’s a new program for UTRF,” said Vanderhoff. “Becoming an EIR was an opportunity to make a difference. When you think about your career, you always know there were people along the way who were very helpful in helping you be successful, so I looked at this program as an opportunity for me to give back.”
During audience Q&A, Ginder offered advice to up-and-coming entrepreneurs, emphasizing that “no one is born knowing how to create a business” and explaining how he joined the EIR program to help other entrepreneurs after going through the same process himself.
Being in the academic environment, I would – many times – see good ideas die in the lab. It takes a lot to take an idea out of that lab environment and translate it into a real product with real-world impact,” said Ginder. “I wanted to help other folks as they go through that journey.”