The Spark Innovation Center is the UT Research Park’s focus on entrepreneurship development and commercialization of regional technology-based startup companies. Knoxville was recently rated as the #16 cleantech hub in the country according to Saordah Enterprise Partners, and Spark is a significant contributor to that effort. Spark offers what selected tech startups typically need; available and reasonably-priced laboratory space, prototyping shops and top-level mentorship in business model development, financial planning, and investor readiness. We have demonstrated our ability to support successful startups through securing outside funding and key strategic partnerships and have grown into two prominent programs, our two-year incubator program and our 12-week cleantech accelerator.
In the first two years of operation, Spark companies have achieved the following:
Total Funding Acquired
$18 million in grants (non-dilutive)
$15.6 million in equity investments
$1.2 million in recurring revenue
26 Total full-time employees
10 Contract employees
10 Internships supported
“Growing a clean tech hub in Knoxville helps us all in a variety of ways. It's, first of all, a declaration of our commitment to building a sustainable global future. But on the local level, it also builds our community and boosts Knoxville's economy. More innovation means more talent, equals more jobs, and the City of Knoxville is proud to support our innovation ecosystem and to do our part in the fight against global climate change by supporting Spark.”
Early-stage tech companies must identify a clear need in the marketplace, ensure solid product/market fit, and often build a working prototype before engaging with initial customers. Depending on their business model, they might also need to scale up significantly to meet customer demand. This often requires several years and outside capital from investors or government agencies.
In our two-year incubator program, the Spark Innovation Center provides:
- Small top quality laboratory space;
- Business model development and introductions to early-stage investors;
- Connections with top researchers at UT who can help companies with their technology solutions;
- Introductions to other entrepreneurial service providers in the region, ensuring that Spark clients have the benefit of all available support and connections; and
- Making connections with established companies in the Research Park and throughout the region, providing clients with opportunities to help bring potential solutions to the challenges faced by these companies.
The Spark Innovation Center works closely across the entire Midwest and Southeast regional startup communities helping make sure that the region can grow and retain its very best entrepreneurial startups.
The Spark CTA was created in partnership with Evergreen Climate Innovations (previously Clean Energy Trust) and other partners to support early stage cleantech businesses and drive commercialization of their technologies in Tennessee and throughout the Midwest and Southeast.
In our 12-week program, we offer:
- Stipends to help defray travel/living costs and to support business and technical milestones,
- Prototyping services through the University of Tennessee’s Center for Materials Processing,
- Mentoring One-on-one support from our experts in business, market analysis and positioning, and IP/ patent strategy, product design, engineering, prototyping, testing, material selection, tooling design, and manufacturing,
- Connections with customers, investors, strategic partners, suppliers, and universities and national laboratories,
- Training Workshops and one-on-one support, including individual meetings with DOE SBIR/STTR staff, and
- Partnerships with organizations such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the University of Tennessee, the City of Knoxville, and members of the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council.