Curtain Comes Down on “Innov865 Week” with Panel Discussion at ETEC

Source: | Kailyn Lamb | October 10, 2021

In the final event for “Innov865 Week,” Tricia Martinez, Managing Director of the “Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator,” led a panel on how to attract those businesses here. The occasion was the regular weekly meeting of the East Tennessee Economic Council on Friday.

The panel topic – “Attracting Industries of the Future to East Tennessee” – featured: (1) Randy Boyd, President of the University of Tennessee system; (2) Jeff Lyash, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); and (3) Thomas Zacharia, Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The event was held both virtually and in person.

Martinez started the panel by defining industries of the future as “emerging technologies that will have the greatest impact in advancing the competitive position of the United States and addressing the biggest challenges we face as a nation and world.”


With that preface, her first question of the panelists was their thoughts on why these new industries should come to East Tennessee. As usual, low cost of living, quality of life, resources, and beautiful scenery were on the list, but Boyd added that these are things that help draw another important element of business: the workforce.

“There’s no place in the world where there’s a large pool of skilled, unemployed people,” he said. “The idea of going to a place where there’s a lot of talent that’s available to hire is not a possibility. So, you want to go to a place where talent will come.”


Zacharia added that the technology resources available here, particularly at ORNL, are not available in other places.

Panelists also discussed some gaps in the region, such as access to resources like broadband. Lyash also said the region needs to change the perception of East Tennessee, which already has several successful entrepreneurial stories.

Boyd agreed, adding that he thinks the new Techstars accelerator will help to boost the perception of the region. People who apply but are not accepted to the program may still be willing to move, he said, adding that even people without companies now may keep the region in mind because of the accelerator.

Bringing companies to the region is one goal of the Techstars accelerator, not only of the three organizations that are sponsoring it, but of the community, Zacharia said.

“I think this is, in some sense, bringing the community together, putting a stake in the ground, and giving it visibility to something that we all know,” he said. “We want to tell our story to the successors of Techstars.”


Lyash stressed that growing the region means driving opportunity to underserved communities in Tennessee. He added that East Tennessee is still one of the poorest areas of the country on average.

“As leaders, we should all keep this effort front of mind as we go through this,” he said. “We want to build business. We want to build innovation. We certainly want to attract talent, but even as we’re doing that, we should be trying to lift these communities.”

As a call to action for the upcoming accelerator, Boyd said that one of the most important things for new businesses is finding a mentor. He encouraged audience members to become mentors, even if they didn’t think their business was successful.

“Sharing your mistakes can be more valuable than sharing your successes,” he said.