ORNL, UT’s Spark Cleantech Accelerator partner to support entrepreneurs

Entrepreneur-fellows in Innovation Crossroads will complete the Spark Cleantech Accelerator, a 12-week program offered by the Spark Innovation Center at the University of Tennessee Research Park.

Entrepreneur-fellows in Innovation Crossroads, a Department of Energy Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, will complete the Spark Cleantech Accelerator, a 12-week program offered by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Spark Innovation Center at the UT Research Park.

“By combining the resources of Innovation Crossroads and the Spark Cleantech Accelerator, we are building a stronger program for entrepreneurs,” said Dan Miller, program lead for Innovation Crossroads. “Entrepreneurial ecosystems depend on relationships among early-stage companies. This new collaboration — a first between our two programs — is an intentional effort to grow Knoxville’s entrepreneurial community.”

Innovation Crossroads recently welcomed seven entrepreneurs to the lab for its seventh cohort. The program supports startup founders focused on clean energy and advanced manufacturing technologies through a fellowship that includes a personal living stipend, health insurance and travel allowance, cooperative research and development funding to collaborate with technical experts at ORNL, and comprehensive mentoring to build a sustainable business model.

The Spark Cleantech Accelerator is an early-stage business accelerator that offers a comprehensive set of services to support promising cleantech companies including training, mentoring and opportunities to make connections with representatives from regional government agencies and industry. Since beginning operation in 2020, Spark has helped nearly 20 companies secure more than $50 million in total funding through grants, equity and revenue; create more than 50 jobs in the Knoxville area; and support more than 25 student interns.

Now, the accelerator has accepted six startups in its second cohort; the combined effort with Innovation Crossroads will support 13 companies in total, most of which are new to East Tennessee.

“The partners in our local entrepreneurial ecosystem already work really well together,” said Lilly Tench, director of the Spark Cleantech Accelerator. “We are helping develop companies that we hope will stay in our region and strengthen our communities. Knoxville is a growing destination for clean energy innovation, and we’re working to maximize what’s possible for these budding entrepreneurs.”

Innovation Crossroads is funded by DOE’s Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office, Building Technologies Office, Office of Science, Office of Electricity and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The Spark Cleantech Accelerator is supported with funding from DOE, UT Knoxville, the City of Knoxville, the Truist Foundation, the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council and Launch Tennessee.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.