UT’s Spark Cleantech Accelerator Partners with ORNL to Support Entrepreneurs

The new group of entrepreneur fellows in Innovation Crossroads, a US 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’s 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 between 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 supports promising clean tech companies with a comprehensive set of services 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 combined funding through grants, equity, and revenue; created more than 50 jobs in the Knoxville area; and supported more than 25 student interns.

This year the accelerator accepted six startups for its second cohort. The combined effort with Innovation Crossroads will support a total of 13 companies, most of them new to the East Tennessee region.

“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, and Office of Electricity in addition to 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.