August 2000

CEG to help new companies market Lab’s technologies

Aspiring entrepreneurs with ORNL technologies have a place to go for advice and other assistance on their long journey to the marketplace. The Center for Entrepreneurial Growth had its formal opening on July 12 at its headquarters in Commerce Park.

The center is a partnership between UT-Battelle and Technology 2020, which will operate the center. The CEG will focus on forming new companies based on technologies developed at ORNL.

ORNL Director Bill Madia called the partnership “an innovative way to use cutting-edge science at the Lab to produce jobs and wealth for Tennessee.”

ORNL Director Bill Madia regards a “big check,” bearing his equally large signature and supported by Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development Director Jan Haerer, for $100,000 toward a fund to help commercialize Lab technologies.
“Our mission at ORNL is to produce great science that will benefit people’s lives. What we are doing today is making it easier to move state-of-the-art technology from the laboratory to the marketplace,” Madia said.

David Beall of the Lab’s Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development says the CEG will be a place for entrepreneurs to get help in starting their own businesses. Each case, he says, will be handled according to its particular needs.

“We (the tech transfer office) listen to their story,” says Beall. “The center makes a step-by-step evaluation. If they choose to do so, they may enter into an agreement with the entrepreneur. That’s anything from creating a business plan to providing office space to performing market research.

“The process varies,” Beall says. “Everyone’s a little different.”

Beall says the entrepreneur must handle the real tasks, such as writing the business plan. “It has to be theirs,” he says, “but we help them by reviewing and critiquing their work.”

The same you-have-to-do-it-yourself theme applies to acquiring venture capital.

“We show them how to go about raising capital. They have to do it, but we make the introductions.”

Entrepreneurs have other resources, including the recently formed Technology Business Alliance, which comprises the former Venture Exchange Forum, Information Technology Business Association, Inventor’s Forum and the East Tennessee Entrepreneurial Network.

UT-Battelle is providing $1 million in financial support to the CEG over the next five years, which includes funds from UT-Battelle’s corporate fee and licensing revenues. UT-Battelle is providing an additional $100,000 to establish a CEG commercialization fund that will be used to help commercialize ORNL technologies.

The CEG represents a re-emphasis on technology transfer and a more hands-on approach to getting Lab technologies to the public.

Technology 2020 President and CEO Tom Rogers said, “Our region has some of the world’s best science. What we have never done well is make it easy for scientists to develop their ideas in the marketplace.”

In fact, says David Coffey, former fusion energy researcher and state representative, turning government lab technologies into private enterprises was once discouraged outright.

“There was uneasiness across the country. You were taking public property,” he told the large crowd at the ceremony. “We got over that.”

Coffey said that ORNL was “in the heart” of the technology boom that’s driving the current economic prosperity, and that the entrepreneurs are assuming some risk in setting out on their own.

“Technology helps everybody,” he said. At the same time, he noted, there will be some failures.

“What you’ll see, he nonetheless predicted, “is that this quantum leap is going to open so many opportunities, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? will be passé.”

Exhibitors at the CEG ceremony were Machine Kinetics, TurboWave, NucSafe, ImTek (the MicroCAT mouse scanners), Sarcon Microsystems and Digital Multimedia, all spin-offs of Oak Ridge technologies.

Other development programs under UT-Battelle include a business “incubator,” where new companies can receive office space at discounted prices while starting out, and a “technopreneurship” program, developed with the Tennessee Technology Development Corp., in which Lab technologies will be licensed to UT graduate students.—B.C.


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