The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Knoxville continues to foment a green industrial revolution

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IMG 3713Spark CleanTech Accelerator participants join Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon during an Aug. 31 awards ceremony. Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

Knoxville celebrates sustainable technology startups from across the country

KNOXVILLE — Leaders of start-up green businesses specializing in services and products ranging from carbon reduction to cleaning products and piping wrapped up some warp-speed lessons Aug. 31.

At the conclusion of the three-month Spark CleanTech Accelerator the leaders of environmentally sustainable businesses from across the country took home some awards and got a strategic pep talk from Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon.

“I’m very committed to all things green and sustainable,” she said. “Orange and green are complementary colors." She spoke of making Knoxville a “clean tech hub,” not just for Tennessee but internationally. She envisioned “a cleaner Knoxville and a cleaner world.”

The program regularly held at the University of Tennessee Research Park at Cherokee Farm helps businesses working on environmentally sustainable technologies gain investors, network with universities and receive training from mentors.  The program gets funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, the city of Knoxville, Launch Tennessee and the University of Tennessee Research Foundation

“Eligible technologies will primarily focus on solutions, preferably hardware, that address climate mitigation, resilience and natural resource conservation including but not limited to bioenergy, buildings, energy efficiency, vehicles, fuel cell, advanced manufacturing technologies, grid modernization technologies, carbon capture, and related fossil energy innovations,” according to the program’s website.

Tom Rogers, the president and CEO of the University of Tennessee Research Park, the event’s host, said in an interview it was the third such event.

Rogers said the event drew companies from Houston, Philadelphia and other cities, as well as some in Tennessee. He said several of the out-of-town businesses are considering making Knoxville a “permanent home.”

“I want the park to be the place where the best clean tech companies come,” he said. “Our region has some of the best technology resources.”

Jhana Porter of the company Frakktal said the event was her first time in Knoxville. Her company works on plant-based and more biodegradable alternatives to PVC for uses like flooring. She said her alternatives would last less time in landfills and reduce reliance on petroleum.

“It’s a beautiful city,” she said of Knoxville. She said that her time at the Accelerator was “an unbelievable experience,” adding the mentoring was what stood out the most for her.

“Nothing but a home run for us,” said Edward Chan, CEO of Groundstar. His company, as stated on Linkedin, works with climate adaptation, carbon capture and CO2 as feedstock. In his interview he spoke of flooding in Pakistan and Kentucky and a drought in the West. He said “more severe events that you don’t anticipate” will happen if people and companies don’t act.

Another participant was Ryan Ginder of Windfall, a company that recycles durable materials, including old wind turbine blades. He received a doctorate from UT in mechanical engineering.

“It has been immensely helpful,” he said of the Spark CleanTech program.

Two other Accelerator participants were also on hand at the event: Kay Baker of Green Llama, and Dave Castley of RAEV (Ride an Electronic Vehicle), which involves pay-per-use electronic vehicles.

The Spark Cleantech Acceleration program also includes prototyping services through the University of Tennessee’s Center for Materials Processing and partnerships with organizations such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the city of Knoxville and members of the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council.

Call Ben Pounds at (865) 441-2317, email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow him on Twitter @Bpoundsjournal.

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