Author Archives: Ralph Berry

Fourth Annual Summer of Acceleration Kicks Off in Memphis

Entrepreneurs from Memphis and across the U.S. participate in accelerators focused on
regional industries of strength; Memphis Demo Day on August 15

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (May 21, 2019) – Memphis entrepreneurial partners Start Co., Epicenter and ZeroTo510 today announced the 10 startup companies participating in their accelerator collaboration known as the Summer of Acceleration, now in its fourth year.

The Summer of Acceleration is a 100-day intensive, hands-on educational program that speeds the development of high-tech, high-growth startup companies, focused on four regional industries of strength: smart city, medical device, supply chain and logistics and home services.

“We’re excited to host the Summer of Acceleration for its fourth year, giving these individuals the opportunity to learn from other leaders, connect them to potential customers, and grow their skill sets and knowledge,” said Eric Mathews, CEO and founder of Start Co. “We’re proud to be the only market in the country that offers this kind of accelerator experience to entrepreneurs.”

During the Summer of Acceleration, Start Co. will provide centralized programming for core accelerator curriculum, such as building a business model, customer discovery, and sales pipeline development to all participating startups. In turn, each accelerator partner will provide its cohort with industry-specific programming and connections to mentors and potential customers. All teams will co-locate at Start Co.’s downtown space throughout the summer.

Seed investments into the participating companies are made by Epicenter, the region’s entrepreneurial hub, through its Formation Fund. In addition, Epicenter will connect accelerator participants to community-wide resources, including a growing angel investor community and executives-in-residence who support represented industries.

The 2019 Summer of Acceleration startups are:

ZeroTo510 Medical Device Accelerator specializes in developing and commercializing medical devices that typically utilize the FDA’s 510k regulatory pathway. Now in its 8th year, ZeroTo510 assists medical device inventors in developing their idea into a prototype, crafting a plan to gain FDA Clearance, and then launching into the marketplace. Founded by Memphis Bioworks, the program has been named one of the top 25 accelerator programs in the country for the last four years by the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project. ZeroTo510 had a record number of applications for the 2019 cohort, with applications from around the world and device innovations in a broad spectrum of specialties, such as diagnostics, pediatrics, orthopedics, cardiovascular, and diabetes. This year’s cohort:

  • Winter Innovations, from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, is creating solutions that address areas of orthopedic surgery. The first product, EasyWhip, is a patent-pending surgical needle that improves the speed and accuracy of the critical “whip stitching” step performed in orthopedic reconstruction procedures, like ACL or rotator cuff surgery.
  • Oracle Health, from Tampa, Fla., is developing a miniature implantable smart stethoscope to continuously monitor heart sounds in patients at high risk for heart failure in order to prevent adverse events and hospitalization.
  • DiaTech Diabetes Technologies, from Florida State University, creates innovative technology for diabetes patients worldwide. DiaTech’s first product is a new infusion set for insulin pumps that provides real-time alerts for insulin delivery failure at injection sites.
  • Azimuth Sleep Solutions, from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, is simplifying the use of CPAP machines. Their first product is a patent-pending CPAP mask design, one that is small, strapless and is precision-fit to the patient’s own teeth and nose, and delivers air precisely and comfortably into the upper airway during sleep.

Sky High Civic Technology Accelerator, is designed to fit within the greater Smart Memphis effort by partnering with the City of Memphis information services team and Innovate Memphis. This accelerator is seeking civic and smart city technology-based startups to solve problems and create efficiency in the transportation, crime and public safety space. In addition to the three teams going through this accelerator program, two post-revenue companies, HealthNote and LawnTap, will be working with the City of Memphis and Innovate Memphis in their newly established early adopter program.

  • Moment AI (Memphis, Tennessee) is a Smart City technology company that focuses on increasing driving safety through the detection of medical events. Using machine learning and autonomous transportation, Moment AI is working to make roads and passengers safer.
  • PAT (Memphis, Tennessee) is an augmented reality cloud storage platform designed to help designers, animators and architects bring their 3D models to life, by converting models into holograms, and then sharing them through the web.
  • Parka Solutions (Atlanta, Georgia) is a location-based marketing API that allows brands and retail stores to send rewards, offers, and content to people as they travel through transportation apps (Uber, Lyft, Bird, Lime, etc.). Parka is creating the first native advertising platform for the digital transportation ecosystem.
  • Health Note (Houston, Texas) is an AI platform helping to improve patient encounters, by gathering pre-visit information and creating a doctor’s note. Health Note allows physicians to optimize time by confirming information instead of wasting time exploring and documenting.
  • Lawntap (Atlanta, Georgia) is an on-demand and automated service for lawn care maintenance. Their hands free Smart Lawn sensor constantly monitors lawn height, allowing homeowners and municipalities to cut costs and increase efficiency.

Sparkgap Logistics Accelerator, powered by Start Co. and Epicenter, connects startups investigating in logistics solutions in intelligent packaging, supply chain visibility, supply chain data analytics, and gives access to expertise and potential customers across the dense and diverse logistics industry in Memphis. This year’s team, which will be joined by later-stage companies engaged in year-round programming in the fall, is:

  • Easymove (Chicago, Illinois) is a mobile app which connects local truck and van owners with people and businesses who need reliable, trusted moving and delivery help at an affordable, flat cost.

“The Summer of Acceleration is a critical piece of the tech innovation pipeline and deal

flow here in the region,” said Leslie Lynn Smith, president and CEO of Epicenter. “During the summer of acceleration period and afterward, our goal is to connect these new companies with the customers, capital and talent they need to grow sustainably and hire here in Shelby County.”

In addition to industry programming, female founders in all accelerators can elect to participate in Start Co.’s parallel Upstart track, which will provide complementary networking and mentorship opportunities for women entrepreneurs.

Accelerator programming launched on May 6. The Summer of Acceleration will culminate on Aug. 15 with Demo Day, the startups’ opportunity to pitch their innovative ideas to investors, share their insights with the greater entrepreneurial community, and network with community leaders.

Partners and sponsors for the Summer of Acceleration include Launch Tennessee, American Airlines, Archer Malmo, AutoZone, IBM, Baker Donelson, Mosaik, The Marston Group, ServiceMaster and more.

About ZeroTo510:
ZeroTo510 Medical Device Accelerator specializes in commercializing medical devices that typically utilize the FDA’s 510k regulatory pathway. Now in its 8th year, ZeroTo510 is recognized as the nation’s premier accelerator for entrepreneurs pursuing the FDA approvals and business development in the medical device category. Applications for the 2019 cohort came from around the world and covered a broad range of categories, such as diagnostics, pediatrics, orthopedics, cancer and drug delivery, to name a few. Founded by Memphis Bioworks, the program has been named one of the top 25 accelerator programs in the country by the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project. More information is at

About Start Co.:
Start Co. is a nationally recognized nonprofit 501(c)(3) venture development organization based in Memphis, Tennessee, that relentlessly builds founders and companies, promoting entrepreneurship for everyone with a focus on digital startups. Start Co. is a member of the Global Accelerator Network and aims to advance Memphis’ economic growth through entrepreneurship. The organization is supported by partners including American Airlines , Archer Malmo , Baker Donelson , The Marston Group, Mosaik Solutions and IBM. More information can be found at

About Epicenter:
The Memphis region has a connected and collaborative entrepreneurship ecosystem led by Epicenter, the nonprofit hub of the greater Memphis entrepreneurial movement. Using a systems approach, Epicenter drives strategy and measures impact among a network of economic development, academic, corporate, and government partners to increase support to new and existing tech startups, creative and community-based businesses, student entrepreneurs, and others across industries and stages of growth. Epicenter and its partners connect these entrepreneurs to programming, capital, customers, and talent in order to create a just, inclusive, and growing economy that accrues to all Memphians. More information is at

Executive Director of Memphis Bioworks Foundation Retires

Epicenter tapped to lead local life sciences innovation planning and execution

Memphis Bioworks Foundation today announced that after nearly 18 years as its president and executive director, Steve Bares, PhD, has stepped down and retired from the Bioworks leadership role, which he has served since the organization’s creation in September 2001. During his tenure, the organization created numerous initiatives, programs and organizations that have firmly established Memphis as a premier community for entrepreneurship and business development in the life sciences industry.

Bares’ retirement had been in the works for more than a month and awaited various board approvals to ensure seamless and successful transitions of initiatives and programs in which he has played a leadership role. He will remain Board Chairman of the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering (MASE).

“The accomplishments of Bioworks under the leadership of Steve are commendable, and the Memphis life sciences community and entrepreneurial community overall have benefitted as a result of his work,” said Joseph R. “Pitt” Hyde, III, Chairman of the Bioworks Foundation Board. “Many of the initiatives of Bioworks were brought to a state of financial independence under Bioworks and then spun off, creating a lasting legacy. We are pleased that Steve will continue as MASE Board Chairman, and we are working to help ensure that any transition of various programs within and outside of Bioworks is successful to benefit the forward progress of life science entrepreneurship in Memphis.”

“I would like to thank Pitt for the trust and confidence he has placed in me over the last 18 years,” said Bares. “Pitt, all the donors, the Bioworks board and the Bioworks team have all made this a productive, rewarding and enjoyable position to hold. I am very proud of our work. The time, however, after 18 years has come where I need to step away from the ongoing pressures and time commitments of the Bioworks leadership. I do so knowing that the life sciences entrepreneurial initiatives in Memphis, both within Bioworks and within other not-for profit, hospital and corporate organizations, are strong and under the guidance of excellent leadership.”

Over the last year, Epicenter, the region’s entrepreneurship hub, has convened collaborative planning sessions with stakeholders, including Memphis Bioworks and subsidiaries, as well as the Hyde Family Foundation, with the goal of developing a collaborative strategy to further elevate and grow the regional life sciences innovation economy. With Dr. Bares’ retirement, Memphis Bioworks Board Chairman Hyde has tapped Epicenter to continue to lead the evaluation of current and new industry opportunities and partnerships to maximize local economic growth.

As part of the evaluation, Epicenter is working with long-time Bioworks CFO Brandon Wellford, who has assumed the role as Executive Director, to transition organizational leadership of Bioworks ZeroTo510 program to Epicenter, in order to more closely align the organizations with the broader tech and capital resources in the ecosystem.

“Clearly, the work that the Memphis Bioworks team has accomplished over the last 18 years has set the foundation for the life science ecosystem that exists today,” said Leslie Lynn Smith, president and CEO, Epicenter. “Ecosystems naturally evolve, and as Dr. Bares retires, Epicenter and our partners are working together to ensure medical and health technology companies continue to grow and thrive here in the Memphis region.”

During Bares’ tenure, Bioworks has had a measurable impact on the Memphis community, including initiatives and programs that were created to fill a need, incubated, and then spun out into independent, sustainable organizations. Highlights of these accomplishments include:

  • More than 1,000 jobs created since 2007, and nearly 400 medical device, life science, technology and agriculture entrepreneurs served.
  • The formation and continued operation of Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering (MASE), the first STEM Charter School in the state of Tennessee. More than 400 STEM students have graduated from MASE, which is currently one the 13 SCS Reward schools (top 5%) in grades 6-12.
  • The formation of the ZeroTo510 Medical Device Accelerator program, now in its eighth year and recognized for four straight years as one of the top 25 accelerator programs in the country by the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project. More than 100 companies have participated in the Bioworks network of services, accelerators programs, pre-clinical and investment services.
  • Led the formation of Innova, now one of the nation’s most respected seed- and early-stage venture funds, which has invested more than $60M in startup companies, attracting more than $70M in external capital.
  • In partnership with the Greater Memphis Chamber Chairman’s Circle, formed Epicenter as the hub of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, which spun off as an independent organization in 2017.
  • Partnered with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture to form AgLaunch and its various accelerator, incubator, farmer network and ag innovation programs and initiatives. AgLaunch was spun off as an independent organization in 2018.

About Memphis Bioworks Foundation:
Memphis Bioworks is the Mid-South’s go-to organization for creating companies, jobs and investments in the Life Sciences; working with entrepreneurs, companies, universities, researchers, investors and governments to help take ideas from concept to market. A visionary community leader, Memphis Bioworks has a well-established record of sparking new levels of economic vitality by investing in entrepreneurs, building state-of-the-art labs and facilities, incubating companies, and training the next generation of workers. ZeroTo510 was launched as a program of Bioworks in 2012. For more information, visit

About Epicenter:
Epicenter exists to connect, support, and expand the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the greater Memphis area. We aim to serve entrepreneurs, creators, and organizations who are committed to helping businesses thrive in our city, and we are committed to building a vibrant, inclusive economy through entrepreneurship. For more information, visit


Entrepreneurs Flock to Memphis for Summer of Acceleration

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (May 15, 2018) – Memphis entrepreneurial partners Memphis Bioworks Foundation, Epicenter and Start Co. today announced the 12 startup companies participating in their accelerator collaboration known as the Summer of Acceleration, now in its third year.

The Summer of Acceleration is a 100-day intensive, hands-on educational program that speeds the development of high-tech, high-growth startup companies, focused on four regional industries of strength: Home Services, Medical Device, Supply Chain and Logistics, and Ag Technology and Innovation.

During the Summer of Acceleration, Start Co. will provide centralized programming for core accelerator curriculum, such as building a business model, customer discovery, and sales pipeline development, to all participating startups. In turn, each accelerator partner will provide its cohort with industry-specific programming and connections to mentors and potential customers. All teams will co-locate at Start Co.’s downtown space throughout the summer.

Seed investments into the participating companies are made by Innova Memphis, an early-stage investor founded by Memphis Bioworks that is focused on funding high-growth companies in the bioscience, technology, and ag innovation fields. In addition, Epicenter, the entrepreneurial hub in the region, connects accelerator participants to community-wide resources, including a growing angel investor community and Executives-in-Residence who support represented industries.

The 2018 Summer of Acceleration startups are:

Launch Delta Home Services Accelerator, powered by ServiceMaster and Start Co., supports tech-based startups working to disrupt or replace existing home service technologies. The companies may work in the areas of internet of things (IoT) and smart home data, customer service platforms, platforms for delivering service and the home services supply chain. In addition to ServiceMaster and Innova Memphis, Hatcher+, an early-stage venture capital firm, invests in these startups. These companies will have a dedicated space in Ground Floor at ServiceMaster. This year’s teams are:

  • Pest Pulse – A smart device that attaches to snap traps (primarily for rodents) and permanently monitors them for activity.
  • Please Assist Me – A mobile platform that allows users to come home to groceries in the fridge, a tidy house, laundry completed, and more.
  • ServiceBot – A next generation software tool to manage home service businesses and automate most back office and customer service functionality.
  • SecondKeys – A platform that helps homeowners, landlords, tenants and vendors find reliable maintenance workers.
  • LawnTap – An app that automates the lawn care process, allowing lawns to take care of themselves through lawn sensors.
  • eCINCHal – A subscription box service that will automate your home maintenance needs.

Start Co. also operates Sky High, which focuses on game-changing Edtech solutions that seek to solve education problems in Memphis and accepts applications year-round on a rolling basis. Doyenne360, a packaged, scalable STEM kit providing consistent, quality STEM curriculum, hands-on activities, and enables technology, will also participate alongside the summer accelerators.

“Accelerator graduates tell us that the co-location of our programs and the interdisciplinary core education they obtained created cross-collaborations and opportunities for their startups that wouldn’t exist otherwise,” said Eric Mathews, CEO and founder of Start Co. “We’re the only market in the country that offers this kind of accelerator experience.”

ZeroTo510 Medical Device Accelerator, founded and operated by Memphis Bioworks Foundation, specializes in commercializing medical devices that take advantage of the FDA’s 510k regulatory pathway. Now in its seventh year, ZeroTo510 is recognized as the premier accelerator for entrepreneurs pursuing the FDA approvals and business development in the medical device category. Applications for the 2018 cohort came from around the world and covered a broad range of categories, such as diagnostics, pediatrics, orthopedics, cancer and drug delivery, to name a few. The program has three times been named one of the top 25 accelerator programs in the country by the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project.

  • Spiritum – This team from Little Rock, AR, has developed a fully integrated endotracheal tube securement device designed to prevent unplanned extubations (a patient pulling out their breathing tube), with the potential to save hospitals hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in preventable medical expenses.
  • Dark Horse Technologies – Developed at North Dakota State, this team looks to bring a total ankle replacement (TAR) to market. The Bison TAR design (patent pending) has very important features that enable substantial improvements in components shape, materials and fixation methods for higher quality and increased life span in comparison with current TARs.
  • Hera Health Solutions – From Georgia Tech, this team is focused on the development of a biodegradable contraceptive arm implant that will eliminate a painful and invasive removal procedure associated with current contraceptive implant technology.
  • Fairway Biomed – Developed by a surgical oncologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Fairway Biomed’s LIVO is a surgical tool to improve bleeding control problems in solid organs, specifically the liver. By better controlling bleeding in liver surgery with the LIVO, inter operative bleeding risks will be mitigated, and more patients will be eligible for liver resection.”

“Medical device innovation is complicated to navigate, and we believe that ZeroTo510 and Memphis are the ideal combination for success,” explained Chris West, president of ZeroTo510. “Building on the foundation of the Summer of Acceleration, we are then able to focus on putting our ZeroTo510 entrepreneurs at the center of our robust medical device ecosystem that is home to experts in regulatory affairs, pricing/reimbursement, manufacturing, prototyping, product development, legal affairs, hospital decision making, and many other highly specialized aspects of taking a medical device from idea to market.”

As Epicenter works with system partners to transition all entrepreneurial programming to include year-round training and support for startups and scale-ups, it is focused on recruiting and serving an inaugural cohort of scaling supply chain and logistics companies this fall. This summer, Epicenter will host Truckish and its two founders, who will participate in the summer accelerator programming and receive one-on-one support, connections, and industry-specific curriculum from local experts and mentors. Truckish provides plug-and-play hardware for trucks to collect and sync location and vehicle performance data with its cloud-based platform.

A fourth partner, AgLaunch, a joint initiative of Memphis Bioworks Foundation and Tennessee Department of Agriculture, operates a year-long, phased acceleration program that supports the growth of agricultural technology and innovation startups. Rather than offering concentrated programming in the summer, AgLaunch365 follows the growing seasons of the Mid-South region and leverages a strong regional farmer network to test and validate new technology. The next phase of AgLaunch365 will begin accepting applications in May.

In addition to industry programming, this year, female founders in all accelerators can elect to participate in Start Co.’s parallel Upstart track, which will provide complementary networking and mentorship opportunities for women entrepreneurs.

“The evolution and refinement of this accelerator collaboration reflects the evolution of our local entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Leslie Smith, president and CEO of Epicenter. “While these early-stage programs are a critical piece of our support system for entrepreneurs and recruitment of talent and ideas to the region, as a community, we’re also we’re planning year-round, dynamic, milestone-driven programs that support growth-stage companies. Together with additional programs such as CO.STARTERS and portfolio engagement – which connects accelerator graduates with capital and customers – we’re ensuring the continuum of support serves entrepreneurs in various stages and industries.”

Accelerator programming launched on May 7. On May 8, the entrepreneurial ecosystem welcomed the Rise of the Rest Tour, led by AOL co-founder Steve Case. The tour highlights emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems that are outside of coastal markets like Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York. The day concluded with a pitch showcase at Clayborn Temple, where eight local startups competed for a $100,000 investment from Revolution Partners, and a $100,000 match from Innova. Soundways, a Start Co. accelerator graduate and participant in the 2016 Summer of Acceleration, won the competition.

The Summer of Acceleration will culminate on Aug. 16 with Demo Day, the startups’ opportunity to pitch their startup ideas to investors, share their insights with the greater entrepreneurial community, and network with community leaders.

Partners and sponsors for the Summer of Acceleration include Launch Tennessee, American Airlines, Archer Malmo, AutoZone, IBM, Baker Donelson, Mosaik, The Marston Group, ServiceMaster and many more.

Memphis Bioworks Testifies by Invitation at the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy, and Trade hearing titled, “Restoring Rural America: How Agritech is Revitalizing the Heartland”

Statement of Peter Nelson
On Behalf of Memphis Bioworks Foundation and its AgLaunch Program
House Small Business Committee
Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade
For the Hearing On
“Restoring Rural America: How Agritech is Revitalizing the Heartland”
February 15, 2018

Good morning and thank you Chairman Blum, Ranking Member Schneider, and members of the Subcommittee for the opportunity to share with you some thoughts regarding this important topic. My name is Peter Nelson, and I am the Vice President of Agricultural Innovation at Memphis Bioworks Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on assisting early-stage life science companies grow their businesses by supporting and funding entrepreneurs and building critical components missing in a region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This work as included incubating and supporting agricultural ventures for over a decade and providing thought leadership in the sector. My entire career has been focused on creating new ways for farmers to connect with technology and value-added opportunities and this is my passion. In my role at Memphis Bioworks, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to serve as President of AgLaunch, a joint initiative with Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

By creating the AgLaunch partnership, we have matched a regional player in life science technology commercialization with an extensive food and agriculture network, ensuring AgLaunch’s work is substantiated by farmers and provides benefit to both the urban and rural communities.

AgLaunch envisions a transformed regional agriculture and food economy centered around farmers, innovation, and equity. It was conceived as part of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s Rural Challenge in 2012 and specifically named in the 2016 Governor’s Rural Task Force recommendations focused on economic development. Supported by a diverse group of partners including Tennessee Farm Bureau and land grant universities, AgLaunch’s mission is to attract, create, and grow agtech startups, facilitate the development of new agriculture and food value-chains, and build collaborative farmer networks, with a commitment to intentional inclusion.

While AgLaunch is anchored in western Tennessee, the agricultural leadership in the state understand that the problems and opportunities in this area are simply too important to not consider the regional impact of AgLaunch’s work. This includes a particular focus on Memphis and the Mid-South Mississippi River Delta region, a five-state area that includes counties in Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee.

The Memphis and Mid-South Mississippi River Delta region is characterized by its highly productive agricultural system, first-class logistics capabilities, and a large number of food and agricultural companies. This region is also a home to chronic poverty, population decline, health disparities, and limited opportunity. The global agricultural innovation revolution is offering the ability to rethink how Tennessee and its surrounding region organizes assets to create a leading innovation ecosystem for food and agriculture.
As this Subcommittee addressed in its last hearing on this topic in October 2017, there is increasing interest and investment in the development of new agricultural technologies and the creation of new startup companies to bring innovations to market. This interest is driven by the need to feed a growing population, changing food consumption patterns, increased pressure on natural resources, and the dramatic reduction of the cost of enabling technologies such as genomic sequencing and big data.

Farmers have traditionally been at the forefront of developing & implementing new innovations and technologies. These early innovations addressed direct needs on the farm and created solutions that could worked economically and efficiently. Over time, the role of the farmer in adopting new technologies for their farms has been one of “customer” rather than “partner.” Currently, there is a large amount of new technology, much of it unproven, that gets presented to the farmer, and an increasing disconnect between those creating new innovations and the farming community. As was stated in the October 2, 2017 Memorandum to the Members of this Committee, “The most important player in the agtech industry is the most likely to be ignored as new technologies are developed, which has led to extraordinarily low rates of technology adoption by farmers.”

It is this disconnect between those who are creating new innovations and farmers that is dramatically lowering the probability of success for new agricultural ventures, which is in turn giving investors pause and slowing down the rate of adoption of these new innovations on the farm. The “Farm Centric Innovation Model” championed by AgLaunch is changing the agricultural investment thesis into new ventures and ensuring that farmers are part of the development process much earlier.

AgLaunch has initiated a 3-phase startup program called AgLaunch365, which leverages the farm-centric philosophy developed to propel agtech firms. Phase I concentrates upon developing the company’s business model and initiates the customer discovery process. Phase II allows teams to complete their minimal viable product and prepare for spring field trial plans with designated farmer partners through the AgLaunch Farmer Network. Phase III provides the participating startups with direct access to AgLaunch’s network of innovative farmers to actually “ground-truth” those products or services.

The value proposition for the startup to participate in AgLaunch programming is access to technology-embracing and curious farmers through the AgLaunch Farmer Network, which allows the startup founders to acquire direct, unbiased feedback and incorporate those observations, ideas, or modifications into the development of their product. Participating farmers get access to new technology and an opportunity to participate in way in the growth of the new innovation. The AgLaunch approach provides better alignment between those innovative firms and their potential to become a commercial success.

Since the creation of the program, dozens of companies have received support some of which are featured on our website at: All of the AgLaunch startups have received valuable insights and feedback from members of the Farmer Network and many are pursing active partnerships with those producers.

A good example of the power of the AgLaunch Farmer Network is a startup company called AgVoice, which has a voice recognition technology for agriculture that simplifies crop scouting and other recordkeeping efforts and was validated through the AgLaunch Farmer Network. The validation process included answering simple questions like: “Will the technology work in the cab of a tractor or combine when it gets noisy?”, “Will the ear piece stay on your ear when you’re in the middle of scouting a hot cotton field?”, and “Will the lexicon be robust enough to record all the farm practices necessary and will the records be accurate?” The results of this real-world field trial generated data and farmer testimonials used to raise further investment and attract additional customers. The participating farmers were rewarded with opportunities for equity and distribution rights in the company, furthering engaging the farmer in the success of the startup.
The AgLaunch Farm Centric Innovation model and Farmer Network does not work without early stage capital sources that are aligned with AgLaunch’s approach. AgLaunch has worked to assemble several tools that can be leveraged and replicated in order to provide early-stage capital to agtech companies in the program. These include:

1. Working with Tennessee Department of Agriculture, AgLaunch is piloting a cost share program for farmers to get reimbursed for hard costs associated with on-farm trials of pre-commercial technology vetted and assisted through the AgLaunch program.
2. Supporting Memphis Bioworks’ venture capital firm, Innova Memphis with an AgTech fund specifically focused on early stage investments in rural-based innovative agricultural startups.
3. Encouraging the efforts in Tennessee of Launch Tennessee, a statewide entrepreneurial organization, and Life Science Tennessee to create an SBIR/STTR cost share program, as well as support applicants in the surrounding states that have similar programs.
4. Creating a network of other agricultural venture investors that have an interest in agricultural innovation and connecting them directly with farmers and the field trial network to better understand the AgLaunch pipeline.

AgLaunch programs are scalable to other regions, and key learnings are distributed through various initiatives to ensure that the Farm Centric Innovation Model has maximum impact.

The October 2, 2017 memorandum states that “agricultural regions are competing to be the next great innovation hub, which has spurred rural revitalization.” In many cases, agtech startups directly benefit from being located in regions closer to their customer base: the farmer. In so doing, they are building small businesses in rural areas and delivering innovation and technology solutions to a sector that needs it to remain competitive in a global marketplace. AgLaunch is positioning Tennessee and the surrounding region to be a leading innovation hub, while also sharing key learnings to other states and regions through various initiatives to ensure that the Farm Centric Innovation Model has maximum impact towards changing the investment thesis for agtech and accelerated adoption rates of technology.

We believe in the role of a farmer as a partner in innovation, not just a first customer and this philosophy will change the current agricultural investment thesis. This will create more successful startups and bring forward solutions that more efficiently address real-world agricultural problems. Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you again for inviting Memphis Bioworks Foundation to share with you the AgLaunch story and the work we have undertaken and look forward to addressing any questions that the committee members may have.

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center Partners to Build Research, Entrepreneurship, and Commercialization in Biosciences

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (November 13, 2017) – The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) in Memphis, Memphis Bioworks Foundation, and TriMetis Life Sciences today announced the establishment of a partnership focused on research, discovery, entrepreneurship, and commercialization in biosciences and technology at the university. At the heart of the partnership are the joint university appointments of Steve Bares, PhD, president and executive director of Memphis Bioworks, to focus on building research through entrepreneurial endeavors, and Phil Cestaro, president and CEO of TriMetis Life Sciences, to focus on building research through business development in the private sector.

“Research and discovery that can lead to new products in the health sciences are critical parts of the UTHSC mission,” said Ken Brown, JD, MPA, PhD, FACHE, executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer at UTHSC. “This new partnership with established experts in commercialization, business development, industry relationships and capital investments will help us better develop the path from research to commercial success.”

UTHSC Chancellor Steve Schwab, MD, echoed Dr. Brown’s comments. “We expect this partnership to facilitate the movement of research discoveries to marketable products,” he said.

The partnership will leverage the proven strengths of Memphis Bioworks and its subsidiary organizations and programs, TriMetis Life Sciences, ZeroTo510, and INNOVA, to the benefit of the research, discovery, and potential business development out of UTHSC.

In his new appointment as associate vice chancellor, Research and Entrepreneurship, Dr. Bares will work with the organization to help build out the pathway to entrepreneurism, with a focus on both capitalizing on existing research by professors and students, and setting a foundation for future research and discovery. He will also, through targeted programming, expand access and expose UTHSC faculty to experienced educators and researchers, who have successfully translated discoveries in academia to commercial ventures.

“UTHSC has the potential to be a national model for research commercialization, directly connecting research to economic impact in the community,” Dr. Bares said. “Expanding the interplay between research and commercialization will focus on both taking research to market and on attracting additional faculty and research that is drawn to a successful commercialization model. My goal with this appointment is to help faculty get more of their research out of their lab, which can attract additional research and talent, which can lead to national recognition and investment for the university.”

In his appointment as associate vice chancellor, Research and Business Development, Cestaro will focus on the development of external research opportunities with pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device companies, matching the UTHSC strengths, resources, services, and technologies to those outside the organization, and exposing UTHSC to the world. Cestaro will also assist the University of Tennessee Research Foundation with the management of the statewide Clinical Trials Network of Tennessee.

“Exposing these research capabilities to the medical device, pharmaceutical, and biotech industries provides the services, expertise, and business acumen to position our organizations nationally,” Cestaro said.

“This is an exciting time for UTHSC research and innovation,” said Steve Goodman, PhD, UTHSC vice chancellor for Research. “We are growing basic, clinical, and translational biomedical research, which has as its central goal the production of better therapies and cures for human disease. The addition of Steve Bares and Phil Cestaro to the Office of Research Leadership Team allows us to enhance the UTHSC entrepreneurial culture that leads faculty to appreciate how to translate their important discoveries to innovative therapeutics and devices.”

UTHSC to Lease TriMetis’ State-of-the-Art GLP Facility

In addition to the joint appointments of Dr. Bares and Cestaro to UTHSC, the relationship is further developed with the lease of the TriMetis Laboratory facility by UTHSC. In the arrangement between TriMetis and UTHSC, TriMetis is leasing the building to UTHSC and UTHSC is providing space back to TriMetis for its current and future business.

“TriMetis and UTHSC have been working together for more than four years, and this only enhances our relationship. It is ideal for TriMetis. We are able to continue to provide and enhance the Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) and non-GLP research services to our customers, strengthen our ties with the university and, at the same time, provide the university access to capacity in the facility,” Cestaro said. “This type of arrangement is exactly what was envisioned with the construction of the TriMetis facility. It also enables the TriMetis sales team to not only recruit business appropriate to TriMetis, but to expand our offerings to include research and services available through UTHSC.”

According to Dr. Bares, this expanded relationship with UTHSC is just one example of Bioworks’ focus on expanding relationships that further integrate its areas of expertise with institutions of higher education locally and across the country, with the business community, and with the medical community.

About the University of Tennessee Health Science Center

As Tennessee’s only public, statewide, academic health system, the mission of UTHSC is to bring the benefits of the health sciences to the achievement and maintenance of human health, with a focus on the citizens of Tennessee and the region, by pursuing an integrated program of education, research, clinical care, and public service. Offering a broad range of postgraduate and selected baccalaureate training opportunities, the main UTHSC campus is located in Memphis and includes six colleges: Dentistry, Graduate Health Sciences, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. UTHSC also educates and trains cohorts of medicine, pharmacy and/or health professions students — in addition to medical residents and fellows — at its major sites in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville. Founded in 1911, during its more than 100 years, UT Health Science Center has educated and trained more than 57,000 health care professionals in academic settings and health care facilities across the state. Visit

About TriMetis

TriMetis is a preclinical services company helping medical device, pharmaceutical, and biotech companies and academic institutions advance their research through specialty laboratory and consultation services. In addition to its state-of-the-art GLP laboratory, TriMetis provides access to consulting services and human bio specimens to support research. Its consultants have extensive expertise in clinical and pre-clinical research, business strategy and development, medical writing, protocol development, quality assurance and training, and project management services. Visit

AgLaunch365 Announces New Startups In Farm-Centric Platform

Three Teams in Phase I of AgLaunch365 Will Focus on Customer Discovery and Business Model Development; Phase II Applications Due November 15

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (November 2, 2017) —  AgLaunch365 has accepted three new agtech startups into Phase I of its farm-centric innovation platform. AgLaunch365 provides startups with the tools needed to integrate with farmers to create and implement sophisticated field trial protocols and prepare for funding by aligned capital sources. Phase I teams will receive intensive business development support and customer discovery assistance. Teams will have access to leading accelerator programming, the AgLaunch Farmer Network, the Cultivator Mentor Network, and to AgLaunch’s partnership with Farm Journal Media, among a range of other services.

This 6-week program will be delivered through remote programming and in-person sessions held in Memphis. It will culminate at the Farm Journal AgTech Expo in Indianapolis December 11-13, 2017 (

“We are excited to support these three innovative teams who are committed to solving problems for the agriculture industry,” said Pete Nelson, President and Executive Director of AgLaunch. “Following the Phase I business development and customer discovery, these entrepreneurs will be better prepared to launch their products in the field with our extensive group of farmers during 2018.”

Phase I teams are:

  • DryMAX, based in Minnesota, is commercializing a low-energy, low-heat radio wave process for drying grain that keeps grain integrity and maximizes nutrition delivery. (
  • EarthSense, based in Illinois, has developed TerraSentia, an ultra-compact, autonomous, easy-to-use robot with multiple sensors and embedded data collection and analytics software for plant phenotyping. They are working with the seed industry and crop R&D partners to test and optimize TerraSentia. (
  • Rabbit Tractors, based in Indiana, is developing an autonomous, mobile, multi-purposed, swarm-capable and high-ground clearance farm-production tractor for all pre-harvest activities. (

“Tennessee and the surrounding Mid-South region is becoming known as a leader for field testing and trialing new technologies and innovations in agriculture,” said, Commissioner Jai Templeton, Tennessee Department of Agriculture. “We are pleased to be able to facilitate that process to grow the overall agtech sector.”

AgLaunch365 teams are eligible for investment from a key AgLaunch partner, Innova and its USDA-certified Rural Business Investment Company fund, a $31 million fund backed by eight Farm Credit banks.

AgLaunch is a joint initiative of Memphis Bioworks Foundation and Tennessee Department of Agriculture. Innova was founded by Memphis Bioworks Foundation.

AgLaunch365 focuses on helping entrepreneurs find success by providing agriculture expertise, incubator resources, and a strong global ag specific network. Paired with the natural resources of Tennessee and the surrounding Mid-South region, AgLaunch365 has the power to help launch startups into successful businesses.

AgLaunch365 consists of three phases of support that closely align with a typical growing season. In Phase I, teams develop their business models and gain access to the Cultivator Mentor Network from October through December. Phase II participants begin in January and refine their product or technology to be “field ready” for on-farm trials with AgLaunch365’s Farmer Network beginning in the spring. Phase III teams work directly with growers in the region to test their innovation in the field during the growing seasons.

Applications to participate in Phase II can be found here: for Phase II is November 15, 2017.


About AgLaunch™ 

AgLaunch attracts, creates, and grows agtech startups, facilitates the development of new agriculture and food value-chains, and builds collaborative farmer networks in the Mid-South, with a commitment to intentional inclusion. AgLaunch is a joint initiative of Memphis Bioworks Foundation ( and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture ( AgLaunch365 is a farm-centric innovation platform for agriculture designed to calibrate support with the specific needs of agtech startups and the agricultural industry. AgLaunch365 is made possible through partnerships with Start Co., Farm Journal Media, Archer Malmo, and Baker Donelson.

R3 – Rockets, Robotics, & Arithmetic at Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering

MEMPHIS, Tennessee, October 18, 2017 – R3: Rockets, Robotics, & Arithmetic, an after-school STEM program for grades 6th – 12th, has launched at Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering (MASE).

R3 participants will receive daily (Monday-Thursday) STEM instruction in preparation to compete in regional and national competitions including VEX Robotics, Lego Mindstorm, First Robotics, SeaPerch Underwater Robotics, TARC Model Rocketry, and NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge. In addition, participants will be given the opportunity to travel in the summer to see how STEM works in the real world. The summer trips to places like the Discovery Park of America, Nissan and GM factories and the US Space and Rocket Center are designed to allow students greater exposure to STEM disciplines.

Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering (MASE), in partnership with the 21st Century Community Learning Center, is hosting this comprehensive program of academic support to provide underserved youth an educational experience that focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. By exposing students to unique scientific learning opportunities grounded in project-based learning and competitions, R3 participants will have the technological sophistication and broad foundation to compete in any post-secondary setting, and be productive citizens of a global community.

R3: Rockets, Robotics, & Arithmetic is still accepting applications. Approximately 25 students will be accepted per grade level. Space is limited. Applications are accepted at, or in person at Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering main office.

R3: Rockets, Robotics, & Arithmetic is a free academic program to children of Memphis residents in public, private, and home-school institutions. Food is provided to all participants at no cost to parents.

About 21st CCLC

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program is authorized under Title IV, Part B of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The 21st CCLC program provides federal funding for the establishment of community learning centers that provide academic, artistic and cultural enrichment opportunities for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools, in order to meet state and local standards in core academic subjects such as reading, math and science. This program is also intended to offer students a broad array of activities and to include families and the community in the educational process.