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TTAC brings needed infrastructure to faculty, researchers, startups

Tennessee Tech University’s Dr. Charles Van Neste has a National Science Foundation grant to support his research, but he still needs additional resources to prove his concept and take it to the next level. 

“We are basically trying to turn the soil into an electrical power transmission line, removing the need for wires between a generator and load,” Van Neste said.

Now, Launch Tennessee is working to make support for research like this more streamlined and accessible. 

From lab to market
With the commercial potential of this research, Dr. Van Neste knew he wanted to create an entrepreneurial spinout company to build a platform for deploying the technology, which has resulted in the licensing of his technology to a startup, called Terra Watts. He and Terra Watts founder Dr. Kaitlyn Suarez, who started as a research collaborator with Van Neste, are now working to get additional funding to further develop and demonstrate the technology’s potential. 

Recently, Dr. Suarez has joined the Activate Fellowship in New York, which aims to empower scientists to reinvent the world by bringing their research to market, though she hopes to come back to Tennessee and work with the university after the fellowship.

The Tennessee Technology Advancement Consortium
Now, LaunchTN is piloting a new program that aims to make it easier to get the kinds of resources needed for faculty, researchers, and founders like Dr. Van Neste and Dr. Suarez to start, grow, and keep their businesses in the Volunteer State. 

The Tennessee Technology Advancement Consortium is a pilot project working to provide commercialization and technology transfer support for The University of Memphis, Tennessee State University and Tennessee Tech University. 

The new collaboration aims to foster innovation, democratize access to commercialization support for novel technologies, and streamline commercialization of university-based innovations across Tennessee.

“We are committed to making the translation of world changing technologies and research from lab to market more accessible for startups and universities alike — for faculty and founders to navigate the tech transfer process and to de-risk and incentivize technology commercialization for participating universities,” LaunchTN Technology Advancement Manager Charles Layne said. 

Needed infrastructure
When Dr. Suarez first started Terra Watts, there was not much infrastructure in place to support the translation of Dr. Van Neste’s research from lab to market. 

Notably, there was limited technology transfer infrastructure to support the licensing of Tennessee Tech technology. 

“It would have been invaluable to have had access to low-cost startup representation during this process, and to have startup licensing advice,” Dr. Suarez said. “What Terra Watts is aiming to do as a startup is different from the traditional technology transfer process of licensing to industry.”

In addition to democratizing access to technology transfer support for Tennessee universities, TTAC also aims to promote a culture of innovation so that university administration, faculty, and researchers are working together from the point of invention with the goal of getting more technologies from lab to market in the most frictionless way possible. 

“I could’ve gone the conventional route, but the academic community is rethinking its approach to innovation and research for the sake of research,” Dr. Suarez said. “Now is the time to get out there and bring your research to life.” 

How to get connected?
If you’re a Tech faculty member or someone interested in TTAC, contact TTAC Executive Director Michael Aikens – maikens@tntech.edu for more information.

Innovator Day
Join us for Innovator Day at Tennessee Tech University on Feb. 9. Get more information and RSVP.


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