Oak Ridge-based General Graphene $8.7 million closer to proof of concept

by Shelley Kimel, News Sentinel

Imagine holding your car on a sheet of plastic wrap. Now, make that plastic wrap 1 million times thinner and you’re close to the size and strength of graphene.


Jason Richards/ORNL Ivan Vlassiouk, a researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, holds silicon wafer on which a layer of graphene is deposited. His findings about manufacturing graphene have been licensed by General Graphene, an Oak Ridge startup.

Vig Sherrill’s Oak Ridge startup, General Graphene, licensed from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Texas in 2014 the technology to manufacture the advanced material in an affordable manner that would widen its use in everyday products.

Graphene, which is made of a sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagon design Sherrill likens to “atomic chicken wire,” is harder than diamond, but flexible; 200 times stronger than steel, but only one atom thick; and has 1,000 times the current carrying capacity and is 20 times more thermally conductive than copper. It’s also one of the most expensive materials in the world.

“Imagine having tires that only weigh two to three pounds; airplane wings that weigh a hundred pounds; and clothing that becomes bulletproof based on the fact that its made out of graphene,” Sherrill says. “That’s the potential of graphene.”

General Graphene plans to make those products a reality through cheaper, faster production of the material using those licenses combined with its proprietary technology

The company in November received an $8.7 million investment from a consortium led by Knoxville-based Angel Capital Group and one syndication partner to help in its quest.

It’s the largest investment in Angel Capital’s history and one of the largest Series A financing rounds in the Southeast region, says CEO Eric Dobson, himself a “recovering entrepreneur” and founder of Knoxville-based TrakLok.

What’s exceptional, however, is that 95 percent of the funding came from within the state — mostly Nashville and Knoxville. The ability to completely fund startups locally increases the chance they’ll stay, grow and create jobs here rather than looking elsewhere, Dobson said.

Sherrill will use the funds to produce the company’s first prototype over the next two years. He expects to see consumer applications within 10 years.

He is quick to give credit to Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s licensing team and particularly researcher Ivan Vlassiouk, who helped create the technology he is commercializing.

“Our approach represents a major step toward the goal of cost-effective industrial roll-to-roll graphene manufacturing,” Vlassiouk says. “We appreciate General Graphene’s entrepreneurial vision and expertise in transitioning our scientific research to the commercial marketplace.”

The entrepreneur and researcher continue to work together, and earlier this year a team including Vlassiouk found another use for graphene as a filter in an energy-efficient desalination process.

Researchers see applications for the material — either as sheets or a powder — in flexible electronics, lightweight and safe materials for the auto industry, more efficient batteries and solar panels or as an additive to other materials to improve their strength, in 3-D printing composites for example.

The possible uses for graphene beyond what we know today are unimaginable, Sherrill says, but also unobtainable because the material is currently too expensive to produce widely.

“Right now you can only get graphene the size of a deck of cards (for about $1,000). It’s not enough to do anything with except experiment and even then not very much. Our first prototype proof of concept will produce stuff about the size of a piece of paper for less,” Sherrill says.

Eventually General Graphene will produce sheets of the material by the square meter, further reducing the price by an order of magnitude. When that happens and the material is more available, research will really take off, he says.

“Go back 60 years and ask what were the uses of plastic before plastic was invented?” he says. “It’s amazing. This is Jetsons kind of stuff.”

The Time Is Now. Seven Pitchers, One Chance to Win Cash and Make Dreams Come True.

Your cheat sheet to the startups taking the stage at Startup Day, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 19. at the Bijou Theatre. More
information and a full agenda are available at


Additerra Additerra offers a Web application and e-commerce platform to custom manufacture, price and distribute parts quickly, based on 3-D files uploaded by customers. The company, based at Technology 2020, provides prototyping and production services with 3-D printing. “Knoxville is a very exciting place to be right now for advanced manufacturing,” said founder Will Sames. “I’ve personally had previous development projects fail due to long lead times and high costs on custom parts. Our business is solving that problem.”

Website: https://additerra.com/

RadiantWear RadiantWear offers a line of clothing for women undergoing treatment for breast cancer. The tops use various fasteners to provide discreet access for various medical tests and follow-up care. “My mother, Linda Henderson, created the first top for me last year when I was going through radiation therapy for breast cancer,” said founder Marva Solt. The top “removed the psychological hit of having to put on a hospital gown every day,” Solt said. The design is now patented and they’re looking to expand the line for other types of patients.

Website: https://radiantwearclothing.com/

SimPath Simpath will commercialize technology from Oak Ridge National Laboratory to reduce the time researchers spend on work other than “true science” by providing quick, reliable, DNA synthesis and assembly. “My desire to start a company that does DNA synthesis and assembly was created by another desire: to have a meaningful impact in science,” said founder Rob Moseley, who is also pursuing a PhD. “I plan to show how important DNA is and how helping researchers be more productive can improve all of our lives.” The company was also one of 13 contenders at the recent Vol Court pitch contest.

FunLpro Technology Is a patented closure system that eliminates spills and messes when pouring chemical fluid products by integrating a pouring spout within the product’s container cap. The company has partnered with KenJo Lubricants to include the FunLpro on motor oil products in KenJo stores across Tennessee. A second agreement will see FunLpro sold separately in all truck stop locations where IdleAir has operations.

Founder: Bryan Crosby

Website: http://funlpro.com/

SpareTime Entertainment SpareTime Entertainment is the next iteration of Baracksdubs — a series of YouTube videos featuring musical mashups with President Barack Obama singing popular songs — that creator Fadi Saleh has grown to nearly 1 million subscribers over the past three years. To turn that hobby into a business, Saleh developed a proprietary content search and management system, Optimus, to search for video clips on the Web and speed up his editing process. Now that platform can go further, building remixes from a variety of entertainment types and eventually letting users create their own. Saleh successfully took the idea through the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s Media Works digital media accelerator earlier this year.

Founder: Fadi Saleh

Website: https://www.youtube.com/user/baracksdubs

RDI LLC RDI LLC provides an optical technology platform capable of measuring motion, vibration and displacement not visible to the human eye in real time. Originally used in baby monitoring, the company has expanded to critical infrastructure and manufacturing machinery.

Founder: Jeff Hay

Website: http://www.rdi-technologies.com/

Anyroam Anyroam looks to increase connectivity in the research and education community through the eduroam service. The service provides Wi-Fi roaming services that will securely accept a user’s local logon credentials at other partner organizations.

Founder: Philippe Hanset

Website: https://www.eduroam.us/

It’s Almost Time! The Excitement is Building for Startup Day 2015!


Startup Day Pitcher Bryan Crosby talks about FunLPro on WVLT, a new product he will be introducing during Startup Day, Thursday, November 19. Crosby is one of seven pitchers competing to win $5,000.

Knoxville’s third annual Startup Day, an event to celebrate Knoxville’s entrepreneurial spirit, will be held Thursday, November 19 at the U.S. Cellular Stage at The Bijou Theatre in downtown Knoxville.

Startup Day includes fireside chats with Knoxville’s most outstanding entrepreneurs and investors and new this year, a pitch competition between seven startups, competing for a $5,000 cash prize. The first Traction Award will be presented to a Startup Day alum that’s made the most progress over the past three years.

More than 400 attendees participate in the event including: business leaders, entrepreneurs and startups, investors, young professionals and community leaders.

International Entrepreneur and CEO, Alchemists Collective, Angel Gambino
City of Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero
Jon Shieber, Senior Editor, TechCrunch and CrunchBase
Click here for a complete list of speakers, startup competitors and Traction Award nominees.

Where: U.S. Cellular Stage at The Bijou Theatre, 803 S. Gay St., Knoxville, TN
When: Thursday, November 19, 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Startup Day 2015 showcases Knoxville as a destination for startups and entrepreneurs. It is presented by a steering committee that represents the region’s entrepreneurial assets and support network: The University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Lab, Launch Tennessee, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, Tech 2020, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, and The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

To learn more, visit http://knoxvillestartupday.com/.

UTRF Launching a New “Tennessee Venture Challenge” Initiative

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

The University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF), a Startup Day sponsor, has just announced details for its second “Tennessee Venture Challenge” (TVC).

The business plan competition, first held in 2014, is designed to encourage students, researchers and those from the TVC-760-x-380community to create new, high growth businesses that are based in whole or in part of intellectual property created within the UT system.

“UTRF exists to help ensure that the inventions of UT faculty, staff and students have a strong commercial pathway,” Stacey Patterson, UTRF Vice President, said. “The ‘Tennessee Venture Challenge’ is one of the tools we are using to not only make that happen, but also accelerate the time to market for these technologies.”

Companies can register to be part of the TVC through December 10 by completing the Intent to Compete Form and the TVC Participant Form. Before doing so, Patterson advises individuals to carefully review the eligibility criteria.

The start-up must be a legally established company seeking to develop a product or service based in whole or in part on intellectual property created within the UT system. The obligated technology must comprise an integral part of the start-up’s business focus. The start-up does not have to be located in Tennessee.

With the exception of grants through the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, the new venture cannot have revenues that exceed $50,000 in the prior 12 months. If so, they are excluded. The $50,000 limit also applies to equity capital, but not to funds provided by founders or friends and family.

Applicants are encouraged to form teams that must consist of two to four people with one of the members committed to playing a leadership role in the new venture. “If an applicant is deficient in an area, we will let them know what needs to be corrected to be eligible to participate,” Patterson said.

The TVC will have its kick-off event beginning at 4 p.m. January 26 at the UT Business Incubator. After those festivities, the inaugural workshop in a six-session series participants will begin. After the first four workshops, the participants will be cut to a handful of companies that will participate in a semi-final competition March 8. That event will produce a set of finalists who will compete to be selected the TVC winner in a finale set for March 25.

UTRF is working with regional partners to organize the workshop series. While the sessions will be instructed live in Knoxville, participants at other UT locations around the state can participate via videoconferencing.

“We strongly encourage that all participants in the TVC participate in the sessions,” Patterson said, adding that each team should plan on having at least one representative present at each workshop.

For more information, click here.

And the Nominees Are…Meet The Entrepreneurs Vying for the Traction Award


Traction Award nominees Harvey Abouelata and Uta Preston talk startup strategy at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) during November’s First Friday preview.

Three Knoxville area entrepreneurs and Startup Day alums are vying to be the recipient of the first ever UT Federal Credit Union (UTFCU) Traction Award during Startup Day 2015, Thursday, November 19, 2015 on the U.S. Cellular stage at The Bijou Theatre. Doors open at 1:45 pm with the program beginning at 2:30 pm.

The UTFCU Traction Award recognizes an alum who has made significant progress, gaining the most ‘traction’ since presenting a Startup Day Power Pitch.

Knoxville’s Startup Day , which began in 2013, promotes new ideas and businesses in the East Tennessee region. In addition to the UTFCU Traction Award, this year’s event includes seven pitchers competing to win a $5,000 cash prize sponsored by BOBA.

Meet the Traction Award nominees:

HARVEY ABOUELATA, ARiES Energy An alternative energy solutions company launched in 2011 by Harvey Abouelata, ARiES Energy takes customers through a process of evaluating, reducing and producing while leveraging savings that provide the greatest economic impact. Since its launch, ARiES has installed the first proton power gasification system at Wampler’s Farm Sausage; signed a contract for Sevier Solid Waste’s waste to energy gasification system; and installed multiple commercial, residential and off-grid solar systems, including a 1.73 MW community solar project agreement underway for Appalachian Electric Coop. Doubling in sales every year, expanding from four to nine full-time employees, ARiES’ recent merger increases the company’s buying power and bonding capabilities, further enhancing the success of an evaluation process that includes monitoring customer habits and feasibility studies.

BOB BRADLEY, NewsBreak Media Networks What started out as an outlet to provide news and advertising on over-the-pump television screens at Knoxville-area gas stations in 2009, has since grown to include a proprietary software to introduce new revenue streams through merchandising. NewsBreak Media Network’s growth is the brainchild of President/CEO Bob Bradley, a 2014 Knoxville Startup Day alum who became an investor in the company in 2011. He’s since taken the start-up digital company to national prominence. NewsBreak is now a fully integrated, smart merchandising platform that converts fuel-only customers to multi-product purchasers with expected growth to include 200 convenience stores by the fourth quarter of this year, up from 88 at the end of 2014 and 32 at the end of 2013. Earlier this year, NewsBreak opened its first site in Santa Clara, California, a major change from locations primarily in Tennessee.

UTA PRESTON, Little Fishkopp When Uta Preston founded her German-inspired kids clothing brand Little Fishkopp, she had a simple vision of bringing safer, sounder and more stylish sleep to babies across the globe by producing eco-friendly clothing that lasts. In just a few years, Preston’s vision has spun into a business that sells worldwide, proving that while she may have “little fish” in her company name, business is booming on a big fish scale. A 2013 Startup Day alum, Preston sells locally at two prominent vendors in Knoxville – Bliss and Twig – and she’s bringing more vendors onboard in 2016.
Boasting a robust online business, Little Fishkopp is found in nurseries worldwide. She’s also expanded beyond lightweight and standard sleep bags to include infant bodysuits and toddler T-shirts.

Additional activities during Startup Day include three Fireside Chats featuring international entrepreneur Angel Gambino; and several local investors and innovators.

For more information, knoxvillestartupday.com.



Believe in Yourself Knoxville (and Why Startup Day Matters)

by: Jonathan Sexton, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center


Jonathan Sexton

Knoxville is so full of talent, creativity, and ideas. I’ve always THOUGHT I knew that. Being raised a musician here exposed me to that early on, singers, songwriters, poets, painters, craftsmen (and women) of so many kinds. I also thought for most of my life that’s what creativity was: Art. And it is. But Startup Day taught me that Knoxville’s Creative Capabilities were so much more than that, and so much bigger than I ever imagined.

Let me explain. My first work in the local startup scene was in Startup Day 2013. Knoxville Entrepreneur Center was brand new, and I was a volunteer mentor fresh off a few years of launching a startup in Nashville. KEC and Tech 2020 wanted to celebrate KEC’s inaugural two accelerator programs. It was the first event in the area to celebrate entrepreneurship. 300+ people showed up, 13 very nervous teams took the stage and it was a great event. But looking back it wasn’t the music, food, attendance, glitter, lights, or speakers that made the first Startup Day important.

The inaugural Startup Day mattered because it was the beginning of a new chapter in the life of our city.

A rebirth. We don’t live in the same Knoxville that we did in November 2013, which is a beautiful thing, but what’s more beautiful is what’s still to come for Knoxville.

Here are the top 3 reasons I’m excited to be in my industry (working with startups) in THIS town (Knoxville) for the next 5 years:

Startup Culture: Two years ago, I was often asked a simple question. “We have startups in Knoxville?” Now, the only thing that has changed is the punctuation. I hear someone say it all the time: “We have startups in Knoxville!!!” It’s a big change, and the startups here span the spectrum. Advanced Manufacturing, Material Science, Media, Automotive, MedTech, Music, 3D Printing… you name it, we’ve got it. And we have experts in the industry to support it. Literally hundreds of startups and infrastructure to support it, no matter the stage of your company. Knoxville is one of the most comprehensive innovation hubs in country, the roots of that go back further than Startup Day, but Startup Day started telling the story. We are a humble bunch in this region, more concerned with doing the work than talking about the work. But it’s time to talk about the work, to celebrate the work, and to BRAG about the work that entrepreneurs in this area are doing. It’s world class. Thanks to Startup Day for teaching me that.

We live in a community of collaboration: Startup Day was originally a KEC and Tech 2020 event. Immediately afterward ORNL, UTRF, The Anderson Center, PYA, LaunchTN and more stepped up wanting to take this event to the next level, and thank goodness they did. Not because it made for a better Startup Day every November, but because of the lasting relationships that have been built that add value to our startup community the other 11 months of the year. Collaboration between Entrepreneurial Support Organizations is at an all-time high. The Kauffman Foundation recently acknowledged this effort with a $25K grant for Knoxville to build software to streamline the effectiveness of our comprehensive support ecosystem. In terms of collaboration, the last 2 years have brought 10 years of progress. For that I am grateful to the event and all my community partners.

Traction: The first Startup Day was about 13 companies launching. Now those companies and many more have gone on to do great things. One of the 13, Aries Energy, was just acquired by a bigger company for a large sum of money, hopefully the first of many. ProNova is reinventing cancer treatment. Local Motors printed the world’s first 3D-Printed Car. EventBooking, Closeup.fm, and Audiohand are reinventing the music industry. ORNL and UTRF have collaborated on over 1,000 new patents in the last few years. NewsBreak Media installed their product in nearly 1,000 locations, and raised multiple rounds of funding. Arkis and 490 just got huge SBIR grants. Little Fishkopp has customers all over the world buying children’s clothing products. Any Roam is installed on 350 Universities. SpareTime Entertainment is reaching hundreds of millions of people on YouTube.

And this is just the beginning. There are so many more positive things happening in our area, and one day I’ll get to those too. But if you read nothing else, read this:
It’s all happening here and more is coming. So believe in yourself Knoxville, your creativity and your ideas will define the next generation of our great city. And when we look back down from the top of that mountain, I believe we’ll look back at Startup Day as the key moment when we started celebrating the brilliant and creative minds of our entrepreneurs, and that is why Startup Day Matters.

TechSmarrt Wins Fall 2015 Vol Court Pitch Competition

TechSmarrt, a team of UT students, beat twelve competitors to win the fall 2015 Vol Court Pitch Competition. The student team pitched software they developed for use in industry and pharmaceutical applications.

Eva Mutunga, Christine Ajinjeru, Adeola Adediran, and TechSmartt-teamAkinola Oyedele—all doctoral candidates with UT’s Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education—along with David Keffer, professor of materials science and engineering, and Orlando Rios of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, developed the software, which streamlines the process of interpreting structures of materials.

While the current process requires hours on a supercomputer, TechSmarrt’s software enables the same information to be produced in seconds. The software runs on a laptop, further expediting the process of materials discovery.

Read more here.

Fireside Chats Feature International Entrepreneur; Regional Innovators and Investors

Startup Day 2015 will host three Fireside Chats with the highlight being international entrepreneur and executive of Alchemists Collective Angel Gambino.

Angel Gambino

Angel Gambino

Featured Fireside Chat: A native of Detroit who moved back to her hometown from London to join others committed to reigniting economic growth in the city, Angel Gambino will share how an entrepreneurial spirit and passion can reignite cities like Knoxville.

Angel Gambino has founded and developed digital media companies that floated on the stock market and sold in high profile trade sales including the $850 million AOL TimeWarner acquisition of bebo.

Tech Crunch’s Jon Shieber will moderate Angel Gambino’s discussion.

Additional Fireside Chats: Investors Eric Dobson, PhD with Angel Capital Group; Grady Vanderhoofven with Meritus Ventures LP and Kristina Montague with The JumpFund will join Bob Bradley with NewsBeak Media Networks for a Fireside Chat discussion on how entrepreneurs can gain capital investments in an environment that is risk averse. “Hungry for Success but Starving for Capital” promises honest dialogue on Knoxville’s aversion to risk.

“Three Technologies that will Change the World: Made in East Tennessee” will close out the Fireside Chats, featuring discussion with some of East Tennessee’s primary innovators sharing insight into why this region is fertile ground for innovation.

The Fireside Chat is moderated by Beth Papanek with the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education and participants include Adam McCall with TennEra; Vig Sherrill with General Graphene and discussion from Craig Blue with the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation.

Info: knoxvillestartupday.com


Knoxville entrepreneurs vying for cash on Start Up Day

By: Shelley Kimel, Knoxville News Sentinel

Some of Knoxville’s top entrepreneurs are paving the way for faster cures for complex diseases, turning a surprise viral video hit into an enterprise that could “transform the content genre,” and developing technology to monitor our nation’s infrastructure in real-time — and those are just a few of the business ideas that will compete to win a $5,000 prize Nov. 19 at Start Up Day 2015’s pitch competition.

Now in its third year, Start Up Day is focused on Knoxville’s next generation of entrepreneurs, and encouraging community involvement and support for new ventures. This is the first time a cash prize has been offered.

startup_Additerra_26376755_ver1.0_900_675East Tennessee’s successes are being noticed on a national scale, said Tom Ballard, chief alliance officer at Pershing Yoakley & Associates and a member of the Startup Day Steering Committee. Ballard recently returned from a White House forum on regional innovation.

“What struck me about the forum was our region had more representation than any other region, and it was people from the West Coast and East Coast. We had more stories to tell about examples of things we were doing here than any other region,” Ballard said.

The event is also growing in size — last year the organizers had to turn guests away after the room filled to capacity — and the steering committee moved it this year to the Bijou Theatre, which can accommodate hundreds more attendees.

Read more at the Knoxville News Sentinel here.


Seven Pitchers, One Chance to Win: Who Will Claim the $5,000 Prize?

They’re gearing up for their big pitch and a once in a lifetime opportunity.

SD Logo-on transparency for web trimmed (1) (1)Seven East Tennessee startups pitch their innovative businesses on the U.S. Cellular Stage at the Bijou Theatre on Thursday, November 19, 2015, competing to win a $5,000 prize.

Meet the pitchers:

Marva Solt, founder of RadiantWear LLC, creates patent-pending clothing for women going through radiation treatment for breast cancer.

Fadi Saleh, founder of SpareTime Entertainment, makes millions laugh by curating and remixing familiar video content into hilarious entertainment.

Will Sames, founder of Additerra, an E-Commerce Platform developed for Direct Business to Business Sales and designed to permanently change the way customized parts and products are purchased.

Bryan Crosby, co-founder and CEO of FunLPro Technology LLC, produces a patented closure system for fluid containers that provides a lengthy, extendible, and directional pouring spout within the closure system itself.

Philippe Hanset, founder of ANYROAM LLC, a company that provides Wi-Fi roaming service for the research and education community called eduroam.

Rob Moseley, founder of SimPath, a proprietary assembly technology that reduces the time researchers spend on monotonous tasks, increasing the time needed to spend on true science.

Robert Wilson, working with RDI LLC developing a patented technology platform capable of measuring motion, vibration, and displacement not visible to the human eye.

Cheer on the pitchers at the Bijou. Tickets are free; registration is required, knoxvillestartupday.com/register.