Roughly $500,000 in Tennessee Technology Development Corporation grants have been awarded to teams developing technologies that may be commercialized.
The fact that TTDC is proceeding with awarding the money to support six high-potential projects is a clear signal TTDC is emerging from its work within a broad alliance that succeeded earlier this year in creating the state's new TNInvestco venture-capital program.
Cromwell sounded as though he'd gotten his second or third wind, during an interview Friday with VNC.
Among other things, he said that while the TNInvestco push, which was led by Gov. Phil Bredesen's economic-development and revenue commissioners, was a major opportunity that had to be addressed, he's now focused on a host of other TTDC programs that will now be reviewed, tweaked, dropped or pushed forward, with guidance from the TTDC board of directors.
Cromwell (at left) seemed particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of identifying further opportunities to increase access to capital for Tennessee's undercapitalized seed- and early-stage ventures sector. As Administration officials have also previously noted, Cromwell said he and others see opportunities for stakeholders to collaborate in creating a "continuum" of capital-formation resources that would help close existing gaps in the venture-capital ecosystem.
Far "upstream" in that ecosystem is funding for development-stage ventures, and addressing gaps in that portion of the stream is the function of the technology-maturation and proof-of-concept grants that are now being released.
The six grant-winning teams are linked to the University of Tennessee, the UT Health Sciences Center, Tennessee Tech, the University of Memphis, St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, Middle Tennessee State University and the Y12 Security Complex at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Cromwell yesterday confirmed the selection of award recipients, listed below, and noted that grants winners funds will soon be disbursed to winners. The grantees receiving a total $502,975 are:
► Cancer testing – Nashville-based Insight Genetics and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital's Dr. Stephan Morris are partnering to develop an extraordinarily sensitive assay to detect mutations in the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene, which mutations can drive particularly aggressive cancers. The develop will enable physicians to intervene more quickly, with more precision in selection of treatments. The market for cancer dialnosis in patients is estimated at more than $7.4 billion. In 2007, Insight Genetics established a presence in the Cumberland Emerging Technologies incubator in Nashville. CET is jointly managed by Cumberland Pharamceuticals, Vanderbilt University and TTDC. Josh Nichols, Ph.D. is listed as Insight's contact. $100,000.
► E-car motor – Dr. Charles Perry (at right) of Middle Tennessee State University and Dr.Ali Alouani of Tennessee Tech at Cookeville are developing a prototype electric hybrid motor that could be used to retrofit non-electric vehicles, at a target price of $3,000 per kit, and promisig a potential doubling of mileage, when installed. No change in the retrofit auto's drive train is required, they say, adding that the technology might conceivably become the core of an entirely new vehicle. $50,000. Perry is a former IBM engineer and holds the MTSU Robert E. and Georgianna West Russell Chair of Manufacturing Excellence.
► Infusensor – A University of Memphis-based project to enable physicians to monitor levels of anesthetic propofol in patients' blood and monitor the progress of anesthesia, improving patient post-op recovery and safety, while reducing costs. The grant will support development of electromechanical detection cells and feedback systems. Principals: Erno Lindner (University of Memphis) and Dr. Edward Chaum, UT Health Sciences Center, Memphis. $100,000.
► Fuel-cell advance: Fuel-cell membrane technology costs a lot, but a new inexpensive ion-exchange membrane being developed by Prof. Jimmy Mays at the University of Tennessee - Knoxville, is said to cost only 7 percent of current membrane technology, represented primarily by Nafion®, which Mays says generates $200MM per year in sales. Mays cites among potential commercialization partners Asahi Chemical Company, BASF, DuPont, 3M, and Dow Chemical. "Revolutionary" and "disruptive" are the key words, here, apparently. Refinement of Mays' production processes and adaptation for a wide array of applications are in prospect. Mays' product is a "novel cross-linked polycyclohexadiene (PCHD) membrane," not the more expensive and less "green" hydrocarbon monomer. $67,224
► Foam – Polystyrene foam is versatile and ubiquitous, but its production is energy-intensive and enviro-unfriendly. Dr. Dayakar Penumadu at University of Tennessee - Knoxville has come up with a more rapid, less costly and less toxic process that could lead to new applications of the material, as well lower capital outlays for manufacturers. The grant will support studies of scale-up and commercialization factors. $85,751.
► Pro-Ox Nano – One of the strongest materials in existence, high-purity carbon nanotubes are in high demand for reinforce grinding wheels, cutting tools and metal composites and producing electrically conducting polymers and flexible heating elements. The tubes also reinforce automobile body panels and bullet-resistant body armor. The TTDC funds will support Oak Ridge, Y-12 National Security Complex, and Tech 2020 in a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with an industrial partner in Tennessee to establish a privately-owned lab in Oak Ridge and perform product-related nanomaterials R&D. Dr. Roland Seals of the Y12 National Security Complex is listed as the lead fellow in this work. $100,000.
In addition to having gotten past the birth-pains of TNInvestco, the resumption of TTDC's funding projects reflects the fact that a State administrative hangup that indirectly slowed payments to the winners and other TTDC contractors for months this summer, has apparently now been resolved, and should present no further problems during the balance of TTDC's latest round of state funding, which is understood to run through June 30, 2010.
By that point, nearly a year from now, TTDC has previously projected it will need replenishment of its funding from government or private-sector sources.
TTDC's operational plan, now being reviewed, called for expending the equivalent of its state grant of $5.2 million by the end of its contract with State Economic and Community Development (ECD). Under that scenario, TTDC would have about $400,000 on hand at the end of the current contract extension, which is roughly the amount TTDC had on-hand prior to signing its ECD contract.
James Stover, Ph.D. (at right), TTDC's director of capital formation, told VNC, “This [tech maturation] program is a competitive funding opportunity intended to sustain promising technology ideas that are not mature enough for commercialization. It is anticipated that these funds will enable the research that is needed to lead to the development of new products, services and business opportunities in Tennessee. These grant awards should leverage previous research awards, focus on proving key concepts that could reduce the technological risk for future investors, and demonstrate the ingenuity of researchers at our state’s leading institutions”.
Stover is the primary staff person supporting TTDC's Tennessee Strategic Research Board, which, along with the board of TTDC, supported the tech maturation grants program. Prior to joining TTDC last year, Stover was a healthcare analyst with Square1 Bank in San Diego, and previously was a senior research fellow in medicinal chemistry at Scripps Research Institute-California.
He earned his doctorate in Chemistry at Vanderbilt University, in 2006, and his bachelor's in biochemistry at the University of Virginia, in 2001. ♦