Opinion: Tennessee Must Restore Matching Funds to Grow Innovation Economy

Source: Knox News Sentinel | Anna Douglas, Guest Columnist | March 20, 2021

If the program is not restored, job-creating tech startups across Tennessee will be forced to look at relocating to a more fertile growth environment.

Gov. Bill Lee has championed startup support and small businesses, but he is failing these same communities by eliminating a program for tech-based small businesses in his proposed budget for the second straight year. State legislators who support small business and startups in Tennessee should restore Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Matching Fund awards, which incentivize small businesses and talent to stay and grow in Tennessee.

I know how SBIR/STTR funds and matching dollars from the state can help startups. My business growth was fueled with the help of such funding.

I’m co-founder and CEO of the Knoxville-based startup SkyNano. Our technology is based on my Vanderbilt Ph.D. research on low-cost production of highly valuable carbon nanotubes from CO2. We received funds from the U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the National Science Foundation and the state of Tennessee, among others. Forbes named our co-founders to its “30 Under 30” innovators list, and R&D100 Magazine named us to its list known as the “Oscars of Innovation.” We recently moved into the Spark Innovation Center at the University of Tennessee’s Research Park at Cherokee Farm.

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