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Latest TTDC grants meant to vault Tennessee
startups beyond 'Valley of Death'
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Leslie Wisner Lynch

Eight startup tech firms have each won $50,000 Tennessee Technology Development Corporation (TTDC) proof of concept grants to help the companies advance toward commercialization, TTDC announced today.

News of the total $400,000 in tech-maturation grants from TTDC was welcomed by 4D Medical Systems (Oak Ridge), Foundation Instruments (Collierville), LED North America (Oak Ridge), Nutraceutical Discoveries (Knoxville), Phenotype Screening Corp. (Knoxville), University of Tennessee Research Foundation (two awards, Knoxville), and Venture Incite (Oak Ridge, with Y-12 National Security Complex).

Founders of the winning firms told VNC the grants will help them refine software, go to market more aggressively, achieve scale, advance manufacturing and-or achieve other goals. For VNC comments from the winners, click here. For TTDC project descriptions, click here.

Odds of the winning firms receiving future capital investment are probably increased by participation in the program, said TTDC President Leslie Wisner Lynch. "Each grantee will be offered custom education and training programs in order to improve commercialization outcomes," and TTDC "will also assist each company in finding qualified business advisors/mentors and sector-specific expertise in order to assist in the development of new products, services and business opportunities in Tennessee," she explained, adding that "as the technology matures, the innovator also receives critical support in business development so that he/she is able to present a compelling business plan for the technology that will ensure follow-on capital in advance, or immediately following, conclusion of the tech maturation award."

James Stover

The TTDC grants help prepare the startups to survive "the Valley of Death," preparing them to win federal innovation or technology transfer funding (SBIR/STTR) and-or Angel or venture-capital investment, said TTDC VP-Operations James Stover."This is the natural progression," he added. In 2009, he noted, the grants program attracted only 15 applicants, of which six won awards. All six were then still seeking to license intellectual property from the state's universities, and all are currently expected to receive follow-on investment and produce Tennessee jobs within roughly three years, he said.

TTDC allowed applications in this round from startups affiliated with for-profits, in part because the nonprofit found that "a number of companies were leaving our state (to Huntsville, Louisville, Atlanta, RTP, etc.) to find capital infusion specifically for technology development," Stover continued.

Grant recipients announced today were clustered in West and East Tennessee; only Oak Ridge-based Venture Incite has Middle Tennessee links, having been cofounded by the Solidus TNInvestco fund.

Applicants must be affiliated with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Tennessee Board of Regents, the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, the University of Tennessee System, Vanderbilt University and-or the Y-12 National Security Research Complex.

A Vanderbilt spokeswoman said she was unable to determine on deadline for this story whether or not any applicants for the TTDC grants were affiliated with Vanderbilt. A TTDC spokesman said the eight winners were among 29 grant applicants.

Stover said, "Based on our $3b federally-funded research base," Tennessee has capacity "to sustain a level of funding in the $1 million range annually, in which I would foresee a three-phase program: support for (1) translational and applied research (proof of concept); (2) development of innovations prior to company formation (pre-licensing), and (3) development of early-stage companies...(post-licensing)."

In May, "TTDC will host the Tennessee NEXT Conference, formerly known as our TN Innovation and Venture Showcase," Stover noted.

The event will showcase "the next generation of university/research institution technologies that are poised to potentially received tech maturation funds. In addition, CEOs of twenty-four (24) high-potential early stage businesses in four breakout rooms (Life Science/Healthcare, Technology/Electronics, Digital Media/Entertainment, and Alternative Energy/Sustainability), nominated and recruited by TTDC’s Tennessee Enterprise Network (TEN), will pitch for the opportunity to win up to $25,000," Stover explained. VNC

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Tags: Bioworks Memphis, economic development, incubation, maturation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, SBIR, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, STTR, Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, TTDC, Vanderbilt University

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