KNOXVILLE — A new technology business incubator at the University of Tennessee will serve as the keystone of efforts to develop and commercialize new technology while spurring new business growth.
The incubator, which officially opened today in a ceremony coinciding with a meeting of the university’s Board of Trustees, is a 15,000-square-foot facility that will provide both space and business assistance to a number of companies.
The project — built in partnership with Knox County, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Knoxville Utilities Board, the state of Tennessee and the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) — is designed to build on UT’s culture of innovation, especially as seen through the university’s partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
“Through this partnership, we have made it easier for technology developed in our labs and classrooms to find a home in the marketplace,” said UT President John Petersen. “In doing so, we benefit not only our researchers, but entire state by fulfilling our strategic goals in creating jobs and cultivating the state’s innovation industry.”
Companies will house their operations and business offices in the incubator space, and may be able to move other elements of their businesses there, too, including design work and some very light assembly, according to Fred Tompkins, president of the UT Research Foundation. The foundation is now selecting companies for the new facility.
“Our potential tenants have a great deal of flexibility in the use of their space,” Tompkins said. “No two companies will have the same needs, and it is vital that we have a facility that can adapt.”
In many cases, the founders of technology companies have unmatched technical expertise, reflected in the new products or technologies they develop. They may not, however, have training or experience in the business fundamentals that play a major role in taking groundbreaking new technology to market.
“President Bush understands that the role of government is to create an environment where entrepreneurs can flourish and where jobs are created,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Sandy K. Baruah. “EDA is proud to be a partner with the University of Tennessee to open this high-tech business incubator that will grow technology-based businesses and create higher-skill, higher-wage jobs for the region.”
The incubator, built for $2.5 million, will provide much-needed business advice and assistance to the tenants through a partnership between the research foundation and the Center for Entrepreneurial Growth (CEG), part of Technology 2020. CEG manages other local business incubator facilities and has the tools and expertise to help the tenant companies grow.
The opening of the incubator coincides with a number of initiatives at UT with significant potential to develop technology that may one day be housed in the incubator facility. The university’s partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, as embodied in four new joint institutes, is becoming a global leader in a number of fields.
The $11.6-million UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Biological Science (JIBS), now under construction at ORNL, will be home to a fast-growing center of bioenergy and biofuels research. It will join the UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Computational Science, the first state-owned building completed on a national laboratory campus. Both are positioned to take advantage of each institution’s strengths in innovation.
Over the next few years, the $45-million UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Advanced Materials, which will be housed on the UT campus, and the UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Neutron Sciences will put UT and Oak Ridge in a global leadership position in the development of new materials that hold potential in fields from transportation to biomedical applications.
As new technology by UT researchers emerges from these joint institutes, having a campus-based business incubator helps to ensure that when the time is right, they will reach their commercial potential — and remain in East Tennessee.
“The data show that where businesses start, businesses stay,” said Tompkins. “UT is poised to move forward ever faster in the coming years, and this puts the university ahead of the curve in keeping our homegrown talent here.”
Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale concurred: “This is one more step in taking technology developed at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory and making private sector jobs. That’s what economic development is all about here in Knox County.”
Jay Mayfield (865) 974-9409, email@example.com
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