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Qcells Expansion Puts Focus on Georgia Tech’s iWorks Program

Offering connects employers and community leaders
with resources to drive economic development success

The good news: Northwest Georgia is slated to get a big economic development boost following a major announcement and planned company expansion that promises to create 3,500 new jobs. The challenge: In this still-tight job market, where’s a company to start?

When the company in question is Dalton-based solar-panel manufacturer Qcells, which has a 1,000-employee Dalton expansion set to begin manufacturing in August and a second expansion bringing 2,500 employees to Bartow County in 2024, a logical place to start is Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute.

Specifically: iWorks.

The organization – technically named Igniting Workforce Opportunities and Reinforcing Knowledge and Skills – operates in Northwest Georgia and launched in 2017 out of former Gov. Nathan Deal’s High Demand Career Initiative (HDCI). That initiative brought together the University System of Georgia, Technical College System of Georgia, K-12 school systems in Georgia, and the private sector to help fill workforce gaps in high demand fields like advanced manufacturing in the northwest part of the state.

Leigh Hopkins, iWorks project manager and CEDR senior project manager

“We see ourselves in a facilitator role making connections,” said Leigh Hopkins, the iWorks project manager and senior project manager for Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR).

iWorks is a program of CEDR, which is housed in the Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Tech’s comprehensive economic development unit. iWorks is able to connect the dots in Northwest Georgia because CEDR has been working on projects including strategic plans and workforce development there since 2012. For example, iWorks recently sponsored a job fair, where 106 people found employment, including several who went to work at Qcells.

“We also had a webinar in November called After the Ribbon Cutting, that addressed what happens after these big announcements like the one from Qcells are made,” Hopkins said. “How is the community supposed to find people to fill the jobs that are coming?”

It’s an important topic for the region of about 700,000 people, and just one reason the iWorks board includes representatives from local manufacturers such as Qcells, economic and workforce developers, technical college representatives, and others, who work in concert to help deliver a growing and educated workforce to the region. One key to ensuring that new industry and new expansions can be successful.

Candice McKie, CEDR project manager

“iWorks is a trusted partner and conduit in helping our member companies and organizations work together to address common issues,” said Candice McKie, CEDR project manager. “We have the ability to have all of the key players in one room to discuss some of the same shared workforce challenges, and to be able to relay that information to the development authorities, the chambers, and the school systems, instead of having to go to those groups individually.”

Lisa Nash, the senior director of human resources; environmental, health, and safety; and general affairs at Qcells, echoed McKie’s sentiments.

“Being a part of iWorks puts at my fingertips the tools that I need to understand the region,” Nash said, explaining why she is so committed to the organization’s mission. “As an HR professional in this labor market, I have to understand what everyone else is doing. I need to know what other company is expanding, what other company is maybe not doing so well, what’s going to impact our labor market, and what’s happening from a wage perspective.”

iWorks gives her a place to learn all of that in one monthly meeting.

“iWorks understands the industry and they understand this region, and the needs of the business leaders in order to be successful,” Nash said. “Being a part of iWorks gives me a bird’s eye view of what I need or what countermeasures I need to put in place to be prepared for obstacles or challenges.”

While iWorks is many things, it isn’t a problem solver, she said. “They give you the ideas and the connections for you to solve your problems, for you to be able to come up with resources, they connect you with so many resources.”

Some of those resources are the webinars iWorks has facilitated. In addition to After the Ribbon Cutting, the organization as focused on topics such as affordable housing, another key component of a successful workforce, and nontraditional hiring, which includes successful second-chance programs for people who have been released from prison.

“What we hear from manufacturers is that they’re beating their heads against the wall trying to find employees,” said Hopkins. “We’ve found that people who come from a second chance background, people who are really targeted with employment opportunities, are much more successful and the employers are better able to retain them than folks who just fill out an application.”

iWorks also puts together tours of manufacturing facilities, including Qcells, for area high school students, who may not know what they want to do after graduation. “Just getting exposure to industry has been very helpful for the students,” says Hopkins.

Other programs include Be Pro Be Proud, an initiative led by the Cherokee County Office of Economic Development that introduces high school students to a variety of industries through a hands-on mobile lab. iWorks sponsored the mobile workshop’s visits to 10 high schools across the region. “We had a total of 963 students visit the mobile workshop, and 86% of those signed up to receive information and career opportunities that are related to their industry of interest,” said McKie.

iWorks is also working to help expand Project Purpose, a summer program that connects high school students to companies in the area.

The goal of all these programs is to help local companies and those that are moving into the region find the well-trained workforce they need. And while the work just got 3,500 times harder, the iWorks board is excited about the expansion of Qcells.

John Zegers, iWorks board co-chair and GaMEP’s NW Georgia regional manager

“It’s important for our board to stay flexible and fluid,” said John Zegers, co-chair of the iWorks board and Northwest Georgia regional manager for the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership. “That flexibility allows us to move where the need is and where the trends go. I think the makeup of our board is perfect for that, because we’re all on the front lines, we know what’s going on, and we’ll be able to keep our group relevant for what’s needed out there.”

Despite her extremely busy schedule as the Dalton expansion barrels toward August, Nash says she isn’t about to give up her seat on iWorks’ board.

“iWorks is committed to connecting education and the workforce so that we have a sustainable workforce for the future of manufacturing,” she said. “They’re starting younger and younger getting these kids interested in industry. I think iWorks does a really good job of balancing the current workforce and the future workforce.”

Learn more about the science of solar power and ways Georgia Tech researchers are helping build clean energy infrastructure in the state in $2.3B Qcells Solar Power Investment Holds Major Potential for Georgia.

 

Manufacturing Leaders

New executive coaching and team building services from the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership can help firms grow the leaders they need

When a program’s purpose is to help manufacturers improve their performance in the global market, it pays to be on the lookout for solutions to problems as they pop up. The latest solution is executive coaching and team building services from the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP).

Andy Helm, GaMEP senior project manager

“About four years ago, we were developing the organizational excellence assessment, where we would help companies see where their strengths are and where their shortcomings are,” said Andy Helm, a GaMEP senior project manager. “What we found on a regular basis, was that our clients rated themselves and we rated them fairly low in the leadership category. There was this ‘aha’ moment, where we realized if we’re going to help our companies, we need to be able to provide consulting services around leadership.”

This aha moment led GaMEP staff on a journey to evaluate different leadership development methodologies and devise a strategy that would make the most sense for their manufacturing clients.

“We found two education partners who generate, develop, and maintain leadership curriculum,” Helm said. “One is the Gallup organization. The other is Development Dimensions International (DDI). Both of those organizations have been around for decades, they’re research based, and very well respected. We sent a cohort of our employees to both of those companies to get certified as instructors. I’m a DDI certified instructor, and I’m also a Gallup certified coach.”

World-class leadership development combined with expertise in manufacturing, is what sets GaMEP’s training apart for manufacturers.

“Our value-added proposition for our clients is that we are now able to take best-in-class leadership development and combine that with our manufacturing expertise to provide a unique solution for manufacturers,” Helm said. “You can find various leadership services that are excellent, but they don’t have that manufacturing insight that we offer. On the other side, there are a lot of manufacturing experts, but not many of them could claim world-class leadership development offerings. We bring those worlds together.”

The programs offer training for all levels of leaders from frontline managers to the C-suite. HON, the office furniture manufacturer in Cedartown, Georgia, recently took advantage of the new offerings for some of the company’s leadership. The training was so helpful, HON has scheduled two more sessions.

“it’s helped our leaders to get on the same page of how we want to treat our members, how we want to build the culture here,” said Darrell Burns, the member and community relations manager at HON. “We had some of the senior leaders and some mid-level leaders to go through it.”

The feedback was excellent, Burns said. Participants called the program engaging, important, interesting, and even fun. The next sessions will involve both current and future leaders at the company.

“Some of the topics that we teach are communication, coaching, building and sustaining trust, and emotional intelligence,” said Helm.

Emotional intelligence — the ability to manage your own emotions as well as those of your team — is the foundation for much of the new training. Research shows that people with a high level of emotional intelligence are more confident and better able to lead their teams into greater productivity and job satisfaction.

In fact, studies have shown that “emotional intelligence is more important to your success at work than your IQ and your technical skills,” Helm said. “We teach techniques that move the needle.”

Another offering is the CliftonStrengths Assessment, which measures 34 different talents in the areas of strategic thinking, influencing, relationship building, and executing.

“The first benefit of the CliftonStrengths Assessment is self-awareness,” Helm said. “The further along we are in our careers, the fewer surprises we have. If you take this assessment when you’re 25 years into your career, you’re probably going to see a lot of confirmation and say, ‘oh, that makes sense. I agree with this and wish I would have known it sooner in my career.’ In contrast, think of two or three years into your career, you might not know what you wanted to do. This would have been an amazing tool to give you insight into some things that you might want to look into because you’re gifted in certain areas.”

Improving leadership can improve productivity, growth, and the bottom line for manufacturing firms and more. And now, GaMEP has the tools to help do just that.

Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership Receives EPA Pollution Prevention Grant

$350K grant to help Georgia manufacturers reduce pollution and increase efficiency and competitiveness

The Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s (GaMEP) mission is to enhance the global competitiveness of manufacturers in the state. A new $350,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will help the GaMEP — a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute — do just that for food and beverage manufacturing and metal fabrication and manufacturing. The Pollution Prevention (P2) grant provides funds to train manufacturers in ways to stop pollution before it starts. The project will be a focus of the GaMEP’s Energy & Sustainability Services (ESS) team of engineers. Sandra Enciso, senior sustainability project manager, will lead the project team.

Sandra Enciso, GaMEP’s energy and sustainability project manager

A pollution prevention approach can reduce both financial and environmental costs of doing business. Key P2 practices include green substitution and improving efficiency, two areas firmly in GaMEP’s wheelhouse.

“A big practice is what we call a green substitution,” said Randy Green, GaMEP’s group manager for energy and sustainability. “Let’s say there’s a cleaner or disinfectant they use in the food industry or they’re using it to clean or prep metal. Helping them replace that with a biodegradable, environmentally friendly cleaner or solvent or solution can positively impact the environment.”

A second focus area is efficiency.

“If you can reduce the amount of raw material or other material that you throw away to make one product or reduce the energy it takes to make that product you have less environmental impact,” Green said.

Randy Green, GaMEP’s energy and sustainability group manager

The EPA has five manufacturing-focused national emphasis areas for the P2 program: food and beverage manufacturing and processing; chemical manufacturing, processing, and formulation; automotive manufacturing and maintenance; aerospace product and parts manufacturing and maintenance; and metal manufacturing and fabrication. GaMEP elected to focus on the two chosen emphasis areas for this grant because previous work the group has done in both industries provides insight into the P2 needs of these manufacturers in Georgia.

“We felt like we could have the biggest impact in these areas, because we have the largest potential base of clients,” Green said. And the first step is to reach out to that client base, he added.

“Our first efforts will really be outreach, trying to identify who has expressed interest in participating in this program with us and then to look at where they’re located so we can create some synergy in cohorts,” Green said.

The group will also be trying to reach communities that have suffered environmental injustice.

“The most polluted areas in the country tend to also be in the areas of greater poverty,” Green said. “People in lower income groups are exposed to more toxins and more pollution than people who live in more expensive areas. We must cross-identify where these manufacturers exist in the communities that have the greatest need for pollution reduction.”

Forming groups of manufacturers focused on P2 also helps to ensure the work continues. Green calls it a form of positive peer pressure.

“We can meet as a group and create some collective momentum for doing this, so that people aren’t working on things like this alone,” he said. “I like the analogy of school. If you get your kids in the right peer group, the peer group will create a certain amount of pressure for grades or performance or other things that you’re trying to achieve. It creates some efficiencies, too. We can go once into the region and invite everybody to come together and share information.”

But efficiencies for GaMEP staff aren’t the only benefit — or even the most important one. The benefits to the companies themselves are far greater.

“The general result of P2 work is reduced cost,” Green said. “Manufacturers can also get out of having to keep permits with EPA because they’ve replaced the hazardous chemical with something they don’t have to report. So, there can be fewer issues and costs associated with environmental compliance and better performance.”

It’s important that manufacturers understand the benefits of participation, he said, because it isn’t always clear that there’s an upside to environmental work.

“The EPA has an enforcement component, a little bit like the IRS,” Green said. “They can show up and really cause a lot of grief for a business. But in general, in this program, the EPA is really focused on creating a positive outcome for industry. They recognize that we need jobs, we need manufacturing. But we need them to be as environmentally friendly as they can be.”

Learn more about the Pollution Prevention Cohort Program here.

Georgia Tech Professor and Team Create Tool to Reduce Burn Risk in Surgeries

Jackson Medical co-founders, Kamil Makhnejia, chief operating officer (left), and CEO James Rains, a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)
Jackson Medical co-founders, Kamil Makhnejia, chief operating officer (left), and CEO James Rains, a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)

Any surgical procedure comes with a degree of risk for patients. But there’s also stress for the surgical team who must adhere to strict protocols and procedures to ensure positive safe patient surgical outcomes.

Among the worries: accidentally burning a patient or operating room staff or setting fire to the surgical table draping. Although rare, burns can happen from the heat generated by fiber optic light cables that illuminate endoscopes and camera cables surgeons use during operations to see what’s happening internally.

James Rains, a professor in Georgia Tech’s Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, has developed a device to minimize that risk.

Rains is co-founder and CEO of Jackson Medical, an Atlanta-based medical device company that launched in 2016. Its flagship product, GloShield, is a flexible, ceramic fitted heat shield that covers the end of the light cable, which can get as hot as 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Whenever you want to look inside the body, you need to illuminate it. You need to provide a light source inside the body via a scope,” Rains said. The risk is present in the surgical field when equipment is assembled and disassembled, leading to a detached and exposed light cable.

GloShield is a flexible, ceramic fitted heat shield that covers the end of light cables used in surgical procedures. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)
GloShield is a flexible, ceramic fitted heat shield that covers the end of light cables used in surgical procedures. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)

Current protocols call for someone on the surgical team to hold the cable or keep it from the patient’s skin or material can catch fire.  But those protocols aren’t always strictly followed as Rains and his team found when observing bladder and abdominal surgeries in metro Atlanta.

The Jackson Medical team’s observations and understanding of those risks was further underscored through interviews with more than 1,000 clinicians and practitioners across the country.

The GloShield device is designed with a flexible neck connected to a cap that fits snugly over the end of the light cable. The polymer used to create the devices remains cool to the touch. The cap flips up to allow the cable to reconnect to the scope when necessary.

“Surgeries are complex, and there are so many decisions that need to be made and so many tasks that need to be addressed by the surgical team,” said Kamil Makhnejia, another co-founder and who serves as the company’s chief operating officer. “There’s charting and taking care of the patient to ensure there’s proper equipment and specimen handoffs among team members during the entirety of the surgical procedure.”

It takes less than six seconds for the heat generated by a light cable to melt through a surgical drape or burn a patient, Makhnejia said, explaining that the device has been used in more than 100,000 surgeries to date.

“It’s not a matter of if something is going to happen, but when,” Rains said, adding that even though the risks remain low, medical professionals want solutions that reduce as many of those risks as possible and establish peace of mind. “During a surgical procedure, while you’re trying to juggle so many different things — we want to provide a layer of safety so that clinicians can keep their focus on patient outcome.”

That is the right approach said Dr. Howard Herman, an Atlanta surgeon in otorhinolaryngology, a surgical subspeciality of the head and neck, who has used GloShield in his operations.

“There are a lot of risks in surgery, and you try to minimize those risks,” said Herman, who has been a practicing surgeon for 29 years. “The beauty of this solution is that it mitigates the risk. To me, it should become part of the standard of care.”

GloShield devices have flexible necks connected to caps that fit over the end of light cables surgical teams use. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)
GloShield devices have flexible necks connected to caps that fit over the end of light cables surgical teams use. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)

The Jackson Medical team developed and refined the GloShield prototype at the Global Center for Medical Innovation, a Georgia Tech affiliate, which helps startups in the medical device space through all stages of their lifecycle, ranging from prototype to commercialization.

Jackson Medical is also a portfolio company of the Center for MedTech Excellence. A program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, the center supports and addresses the unique needs of early-stage medical device technologies.

“We often use the words disruption and innovation quite liberally, yet companies are far from both,” said Nakia Melecio, the Center for MedTech Excellence’s director. “When I think of the team at Jackson Medical, their technology is not only disruptive, but also a novel solution for most, if not all, surgeons to protect patients from burn injuries with a commonly used surgical tool.”

Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Donna Ennis to Co-lead GA-AIM Project

Long-time Georgia MBDA Business Center director to focus on building community engagement to support artificial intelligence in manufacturing effort

When the Georgia Institute of Technology received a $65 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration in September 2022, it was clear that changes would have to be made to support the huge grant.

Donna Ennis, co-lead of GA-AIM

One top-level change involves Donna M. Ennis, C.P.F., who led the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Georgia Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Center for 18 years. Now, Ennis will co-direct the Georgia Artificial Intelligence Manufacturing Technology Corridor (GA-AIM), as it implements nine projects around the state that are funded by the record-shattering grant. Aaron Stebner, associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Materials Science and Engineering will co-direct GA-AIM with Ennis, and Thomas R. Kurfess, executive director of the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute will serve as advisor to the project.

GA-AIM will support a statewide initiative to combine artificial intelligence and manufacturing innovations with transformational workforce and outreach. The grant will increase job and wage opportunities in distressed and rural communities and among historically underrepresented and underserved people. The focus on artificial intelligence in manufacturing is interesting to Ennis, who, as the leader of the Georgia MBDA Business Center, launched a national summit for minority-owned manufacturing enterprises in 2016.

“I thought that was an underserved and overlooked area in the minority business community,” she said about the start of the National MBE Manufacturers Summit. “It’s the only summit of its kind. Minority manufacturers and corporations come for matchmaking meetings, education, and to experience new technology.”

Her experience with minority communities, which was recently honored by the Greater South Fulton Chamber of Commerce with its Partnership Award, also dovetails well with her new position, which will focus on community engagement.

“I was focused on minority businesses for years,” Ennis said. “But we have other communities that also need to be served. I’m excited about being able to work with all of our programs within the Enterprise Innovation Institute and some that are not in our group, to figure out how we engage communities from K to gray.”

With so many different audiences and communities to engage, Ennis is charged with creating opportunities that lead to meaningful connections that will truly get folks involved and wanting to participate.

“Donna’s experience building community for the Georgia MBDA Business Center and her knowledge of manufacturing in Georgia made her the obvious choice to co-lead GA-AIM,” said David Bridges, vice president of the Enterprise Innovation Institute. “This project is an important step in the equitable development and deployment of innovation and talent in the state. I’m excited to see her moving the project forward for Georgians.”

Ennis’s first mission is to develop a community engagement model that will be used around the state from Atlanta to Augusta to Macon to Southwest Georgia to bring businesses, communities, and people on board. She anticipates a model that can then be replicated for other projects in the future. And that’s just the beginning.

“We’re very entrepreneurial at the Enterprise Innovation Institute,” Ennis said about her enthusiasm for this new project. “We like making something from nothing, and GA-AIM is the perfect opportunity for us to showcase our innovative thinking.”

Partnership Launches Workforce for Tomorrow with Inaugural Cohort

ATLANTA — The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (Partnership) is proud to announce the launch of the Workforce for Tomorrow Rotational Fellowship (WFT), a first-of-its-kind opportunity designed to mold fellows into the next wave of leaders within the state of Georgia.

It will serve as the flagship program of the Partnership’s workforce development pillar. WFT further supports the Partnership’s mission of driving growth and innovation forward while building connections between the public and private sectors.

The first cohort of Workforce for Tomorrow participants
The first cohort of Workforce for Tomorrow participants (from l-r) LaDerrius Williams, Phillip Abidoye, Sruthi Kumar, Iesha Baldwin, Isabelle Barnett, and Noah McQueen. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)

“Workforce for Tomorrow presents an amazing opportunity for early career professionals to explore career paths and engage in a mission-driven initiative that benefits the public and private sectors,” said Clarence Anthony Jr., the Partnership’s Workforce Development manager. “I could not be prouder of and more impressed with the quality of fellows and employers who are a part of our inaugural launch.”

Fellows will complete two six-month rotations at two different organizations (one in the private sector and one in the public sector) within the same industry. Over the duration of WFT, fellows will receive full-time compensation and work experience. WFT fellows are also provided career development and exploration opportunities during the program, as well as mentorship from their site hosts and the Partnership’s Workforce Development team.

“This program is structured in a way that includes the participation of both private and public sectors and accommodates diverse people with a wide range of experiences and academic backgrounds,” said Phillip Abidoye, one of six individuals selected for the first cohort of WFT fellows. “WFT is unique and different from other programs that I have participated in.”

Panelists presenting
Panelists discussed the components of successful workforce development at the Workforce for Development kickoff event. (From left) Kerel Fryar, Truist Bank; Cleveland, Ga. Mayor Josh Turner; Heather Maxfield, TAG-ED; Donna Ennis, Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute, and Ira Pearl, Cox Enterprises. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)

The program is open to undergraduate and graduate degree holders with less than five years of professional experience. Fellowship applicants must currently reside in Georgia or have an interest in relocating to Georgia.

“I learned about the fellowship through one of my mentors,” said Iesha Baldwin, another of the fellows in the first cohort. “WFT is based in my home state of Georgia, so it is giving me the opportunity to return home and be closer to family.”

The first cohort of WFT fellows — Abidoye and Baldwin, along with Isabelle Barnett, Noah McQueen, and LaDerrius Williams — have been matched with employers in advanced manufacturing and logistics, sustainable energy, and information technology and sustainability. The inaugural class of fellows will work with the following employers (Abidoye’s placement is being finalized):

  • Iesha Baldwin – Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute and Freudenberg NOK
  • Isabelle Barnett – Georgia Tech Supply Chain & Logistics Institute and Freudenberg NOK
  • Sruthi Kumar – Cox Enterprises and Georgia Tech Strategic Energy Initiative
  • Noah McQueen – Microsoft and the Atlanta Beltline
  • LaDerrius Williams – Cox Enterprises

“I have never seen a fellowship that so clearly advocates for mentorship and advocacy for its employees,” Barnett said. “I am really excited to work with Georgia Tech and Freudenberg NOK – I truly can’t imagine a better partnership.”

The fellowship formally launched December 1, with a kickoff event at Microsoft Atlantic Yards in Atlanta. The event featured a keynote presentation from Georgia State Sen. John Albers as well as a panel discussion between public and private sector partners to discuss the role of workforce development and public-private partnerships in economic growth.

“We are so excited to welcome our fellows with this cohort,” said Michelle Guthrie, Cox Enterprises’ human resources leader. “We are very excited to bring new talent into our organization who can bring their own innovative perspectives to what we do every day.”

Georgia Tech to Launch Sustainability-Focused Technology Initiative at the Advanced Technology Development Center

Norfolk Southern commits $750,000 to the Institute to support development
of sustainability technology entrepreneurs and startups in Georgia

ATLANTA — Norfolk Southern Corp., one of the nation’s leading transportation companies, is making a significant commitment to Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) to create a new initiative for entrepreneurs in sustainability-focused technology.

Head shot of Josh Raglin
Josh Raglin, Norfolk Southern’s chief  sustainability officer.

The ATDC Sustainability Technology Program will formally launch in January 2023. Atlanta-based Norfolk Southern’s gift will provide the initial funding to support the current and future sustainability-related startups in ATDC’s portfolio.

The gift of $750,000 will support the initiative for three years. It is the eighth industry-focused vertical of its kind at ATDC, including two others announced earlier in 2022 — one in robotics and automation, the other in supply chain logistics.

“Norfolk Southern and Georgia Tech are teaming up to support forward-thinking innovation around sustainability. Together, some of the brightest minds in Georgia and the business community can continue to make sustainable progress for our nation’s supply chain and economy,” said Josh Raglin, chief sustainability officer for Norfolk Southern.

The sponsorship furthers the company’s strategic goal of integrating sustainability into daily operations while helping its customers achieve their sustainability goals. “Through our collaboration with ATDC and the incubator’s sustainability vertical, we will join with students and entrepreneurs in the business of a better planet as they transform their revolutionary ideas into actionable and successful business models,” Raglin said.

The gift will support one-on-one coaching via a dedicated ATDC startup catalyst who will manage the sustainability vertical and work to build the pipeline of innovators from across Georgia who are in this space and scaling disruptive technologies to bring to the marketplace.

The funds also will support a sustainability-focused curriculum and other resources specialized to those entrepreneurs’ needs as they go from ideation to commercialization.

“ATDC has a history of supporting startups with sustainable tech innovations including Suniva, Emergy, and Quest Renewables,” said John Avery, ATDC director.

ATDC’s startup portfolio already includes 12 companies in the sustainability space, but Avery said there is a wider opportunity for Georgia entrepreneurs.

With Norfolk Southern’s sustainability focus, Georgia Tech’s research innovations in that area through centers such as the Strategic Energy Institute, and ATDC’s ability to leverage those resources and its record in scaling successful technology companies, Avery said Georgia is primed to grow that sector.

The state is home to 34 companies on the Fortune 1000 list, many of which have set their own sustainability goals. Fifteen of those companies are headquartered in Atlanta, which ranks third in the country for the number of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the city.

What’s more, sustainability innovations can have wider impact across a number of industries that are important to Georgia in addition to transportation and logistics, such as agriculture, and renewable energy, Avery said.

“With Norfolk Southern at the forefront of sustainability innovation and its support of our dedicated sustainability vertical at ATDC, we are doubling down on one of the biggest opportunities for startups and innovators today and pursuing a very important corporate and societal goal,” he said. “We can become a hub for all of these sustainability entrepreneurs and their innovations and grow this ecosystem in Georgia by helping to launch viable companies across the state.”

About Norfolk Southern
Since 1827, Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE: NSC) and its predecessor companies have safely moved the goods and materials that drive the U.S. economy. Today, it operates a customer-centric and operations-driven freight transportation network. Committed to furthering sustainability, Norfolk Southern helps its customers avoid 15 million tons of yearly carbon emissions by shipping via rail. Its dedicated team members deliver more than 7 million carloads annually, from agriculture to consumer goods, and is the largest rail shipper of auto products and metals in North America. Norfolk Southern also has the most extensive intermodal network in the eastern U.S., serving a majority of the country’s population and manufacturing base, with connections to every major container port on the Atlantic coast as well as the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes. Learn more by visiting www.NorfolkSouthern.com.

About Georgia Tech
The Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is a public research university developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition. The Institute offers business, computing, design, engineering, liberal arts, and sciences degrees. Its nearly 44,000 students representing 50 states and 149 countries, study at the main campus in Atlanta, at campuses in France and China, and through distance and online learning. As a leading technological university, Georgia Tech is an engine of economic development for Georgia, the Southeast, and the nation, conducting more than $1 billion in research annually for government, industry, and society.

About the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC)
The Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), a program of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, is the state’s technology startup incubator. Founded in 1980 by the Georgia General Assembly which funds it each year, ATDC’s mission is to work with entrepreneurs in Georgia to help them learn, launch, scale, and succeed in the creation of viable, disruptive technology companies. Since its founding, ATDC has grown to become the longest running and one of the most successful university-affiliated incubators in the United States, with its graduate startup companies raising $3 billion in investment financing and generating more than $12 billion in revenue in the state of Georgia. To learn more, visit atdc.org.

Engage Celebrates 10th Cohort of Entrepreneurs

Five years after its founding, the first-of-its-kind
innovation program is still going strong

Engage celebrated two milestones – five years since its founding and the introduction of the 10th cohort of enterprise technology startups – in October with its Executive Reception. The reception, held at Cox Enterprises, featured close to 300 people including executives from Fortune 500 companies, startup founders, and investors.

Engage began in 2017 as the first-of-its-kind collaborative innovation program and venture fund to connect startups with leading corporations. It’s a formula that still works today, with active involvement from corporate behemoths including Delta Air Lines, The Home Depot, Invesco, and others that are giving tech entrepreneurs a place at the table.

Discussion by Engage founders, from left, Blake Patton, Marty Flanagan, and G.P. “Bud” Peterson, moderated by Metro Atlanta Chamber President and CEO Katie Kirkpatrick.

To kick off the event, Engage founders and board members Marty Flanagan, president and CEO of Invesco, G.P. “Bud” Peterson, president emeritus of Georgia Tech, and Blake Patton, managing partner of Tech Square Ventures, discussed the program’s origin and the way they deliberately set out to meet the needs of both the tech startups and the corporate community.

“What startups really need is access to customers and markets,” said Patton. “And so that’s what we built the concept of Engage around.”

And the corporations, what do they need that Engage can offer?

They need new ideas and the nimbleness of startups. “I think Engage has done a very nice job of identifying the innovation needs of the companies that are participating and then matching that with the entrepreneurs who are being creative and innovative in the community,” said Patton.

Since its founding, Engage has mentored and invested in 10 startup cohorts, a total of 75 companies. Its portfolio companies have inked 116 customer contracts signed with corporate partners. Engage startups have raised more than $2.7 billion in capital after graduating from the program and employ more than 3,000.

Rachel Carpenter, co-founder and CEO of Intrinio, a financial technology startup from the second Engage cohort, hosted a discussion about enterprise data transformation and ways startups can work with major corporations on that, with Donie Lochan, the managing director, chief technology officer, and global head of technology for Invesco, and Chuck Adkins, senior vice president of information technology at Intercontinental Exchange (ICE).

Keynote speaker Alex Taylor, chair and CEO of Cox Enterprises and Engage Board member, discussed the ways Cox is working with startups. The company has signed 12 contracts with Engage startups, including one with Engage graduate Help Lightning to solve a problem brought on by the pandemic.

“Cox Communications has millions of customers around the country,” Taylor said, explaining that technicians of his company’s cable subsidiary could not go to customers’ homes during the pandemic. In normal times, customers would buy the hardware from Cox and install the television modems and other devices with the technicians’ help.

Now, packets are being sent remotely.

“Not a lot of these people are trained engineers, so they don’t often do it right. When there’s problems, we can’t go into their homes and help them,” Taylor said.

Cox worked with Help Lightning, an Engage portfolio company that uses augmented reality video that enables the cable company to better serve its customers — during the pandemic through today.

“It’s a field services tool. A field services tech is out front of a customer’s home with an iPad. There’s a visual interface, and the customer is holding up the phone, showing the technician what they’re looking at,” Taylor said. “The technician is walking the customer through a two-way interaction when they can’t physically be present.”

Following Taylor, Nammy Vedire, Engage’s director of platform and operations, announced the recipient of the Executive Champion Award, given to corporate partners who exemplify and help accomplish Engage’s mission. The award was presented to Jaimie Clark, head of innovation at Catalyst by Wellstar and the director of innovation and venture strategy for Wellstar Health System.

“Jaimie met with several of our corporate executive teams, understood best practices, and incorporated them into the WellStar Catalyst program, which is this conduit to bring innovation to every corner of the Wellstar Health System,” Vedire said. “In doing so, in the last 12 months, Jaimie has helped five of our startups sign pilots, of which three have now converted to multi-year contracts. That’s an incredible effort.”

Daley Ervin, Engage’s managing director, who was celebrating his last Engage cohort before leaving the position, was also presented with an award to mark his service with Engage since 2018.

To wrap up the evening, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens — a Georgia Tech alum — spoke about his commitment to the city’s tech startup ecosystem. To illustrate the importance of the community, he introduced the city of Atlanta’s first Senior Technology Advisor Donald Beamer.  “He will be an ambassador for this ecosystem that helped catapult Atlanta. He will lift up the startup community and be able to answer the questions of venture capitalists,” Dickens said.

Founders of the cohort 10 companies.

Engage’s cohort 10 companies include:

  • Civic Eagle: Gives policy professionals the tools to more effectively monitor, report, and collaborate on policy work.
  • Coginiti: A collaborative intelligence company that democratizes access to data, fosters collaboration, and supports building, reusing, and sharing data and analytic assets.
  • Manifest Climate: Provides businesses with the tools, data, and support they need to identify climate risks and opportunities, track trends, and build competency around climate action.
  • NameCoach: Uses artificial intelligence-enabled software to solve one problem that can help businesses promote inclusion, belonging, and rapport — name mispronunciation.
  • Qualytics: Delivers confidence in data with real-time automated anomaly detection and remediation to help improve the accuracy of enterprise decision making.
  • Tribute: A micro-mentorship platform enhances team collaboration, learning, and productivity in hybrid workplaces.
  • Workera: This skills intelligence platform is redefining how enterprises understand, develop, and mobilize talent to drive innovation.
  • Wripple: An agency services platform that matches enterprises to individual freelancers and project teams.

About Engage

Engage is a first-of-its-kind innovation platform comprising category-leading corporations in the Southeast that have joined forces to support startups building the future of enterprise. Engage is designed to promote innovation through a network of connections between startups, corporations, university researchers, and the venture community.

Engage’s corporate partners include Chick-fil-A, The Coca-Cola Company, Cox Enterprises, Delta Air Lines, Georgia-Pacific, Georgia Power Foundation, Georgia Tech, Goldman Sachs, The Home Depot, Honeywell Connected Enterprise, Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), Inspire Brands, Invesco, Invest Georgia, UPS, and Wellstar Health System. These corporate partners, along with Tech Square Ventures and the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), provide tools, hands-on support, and resources that help startups develop go-to-market strategies, open doors faster, and transform strategies into action. For more information, visit engage.vc.

Georgia Tech Entrepreneur Pursuing Greener Energy

Sila Nanotechnologies receives $100 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy for battery technology

Entrepreneurs and those who support and nurture them must be tenacious visionaries, possessed with the ability to predict the future. Leaders at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s ATDC and VentureLab demonstrate these skills again and again as they select companies for their programs that hold the promise of changing the world.

Gleb Yushin, a professor in the School of Materials and Engineering and co-founder and chief technology officer of Sila

One such company, Sila Nanotechnologies, an engineered materials company focused on improving energy storage, went through the program a decade ago. Still, Gleb Yushin, a professor in the School of Materials and Engineering and co-founder and chief technology officer of Sila, remembers the impact the experience had on his company.

“I wanted to start a business focused on using materials science to make a global impact, but I had no business expertise,” Yushin said. “So, the support and guidance I received from ATDC and VentureLab were remarkably useful for me. They helped instill confidence in me and my vision of building a battery materials company that would dramatically increase Li-ion energy density with silicon anodes and other material technologies.”

The confidence they instilled, plus the mentors who worked with him on the business side – an area way outside his comfort zone at that time – were the most important parts of working with the entrepreneurship programs, he said.

A rendering of Sila’s new Moses Lake facility

Those early interactions – along with years of hard work and top-notch science – paid off in a huge way for Sila. Recently, the company was awarded $100 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. The funds, plus private investments, will be used to build out Sila’s new 600,000-square-foot facility in Moses Lake, Washington, where the company will scale manufacturing of its silicon anode materials. Sila anticipates enough production to power 200,000 electric vehicles by 2026.

“It’s so exciting when one of the VentureLab companies makes good,” said Keith McGreggor, director of VentureLab. “It’s why we all do the work we do. Gleb and his partners are changing the world with their battery technology that’s cleaner, less expensive, and more efficient. It’s great to see that rewarded.”

The reward is a result of years of research and work into the science of battery manufacturing, Yushin said.

“We invented a new drop-in battery with replacement silicon-based composite materials that are not only remarkably robust and stable, but also didn’t need to change the way batteries are made. In other words, we made our materials compatible with all the battery manufacturing processes and steps that were used in the past and will likely be used in the future,” Yushin said.

The latest round of funding and the government grant will allow Sila to scale manufacturing and Mercedes-Benz is ready when Sila is. The automaker will use Sila’s anode materials to power its G-Class series electric vehicles, beginning in 2025. The new batteries will deliver a 20% to 40% increase in energy density in their electric vehicles (EVs), which will both increase range and enable faster charges at the same time.

Sila is also working with WHOOP, the health and fitness wearables company, whose devices contain Sila batteries, which deliver roughly a 20% increase in battery energy density with a 33% reduction in device size, he said.

“When working on our anodes, we built the best, most reliant performance solutions to be resilient against supply chain issues,” Yushin said. “The blueprints of Sila’s first auto-scale factory will be used for replicating other silicon-anode material factories in the U.S. and abroad, making the company a major global player in most-advanced green energy technologies. But anode materials are just the beginning. We have a pipeline of other drop-in replacement, supply-chain resilient technologies at different stages of their developments to push the battery performance to new heights.”

About Sila

Founded in 2011, Sila is a next-generation battery materials company with the mission to power the world’s transition to clean energy. Sila shipped the world’s first commercially available silicon anode for lithium-ion batteries in 2021. Sila’s materials drive battery performance enhancements in consumer electronics devices and will power electric vehicles starting with the Mercedes-Benz G-Class series. Committed to American leadership in clean energy production, Sila is scaling its technology at its manufacturing facility in Moses Lake, Washington. Major investors include 8VC, Bessemer Venture Partners, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Coatue, In-Q-Tel, Matrix Partners, Sutter Hill Ventures, and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc.

National Institutes of Health Awards MapHabit $2.9M SBIR Grant

ATLANTA — The National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, awarded a $2.9 million Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Fast Track Phase II Grant to MapHabit, a health technology company that helps memory-impaired individuals and caregivers improve independent function.

The three-year, non-dilutive grant will provide funds for the research and development of a Caregiving Training Program (CTP), which will foster personalized education to family caregivers for optimal person-centered care strategies and train them on equally important self-care techniques, MapHabit said.

Matt Golden, MapHabit CEO

Co-founded in 2018 by Matt Golden and Stuart Zola, MapHabit is a member company in the Advanced Technology Development Center’s (ATDC) Signature portfolio of startups. Its interactive, habit-building, education and cognitive engagement platform uses an integrated, visual mapping system to improve the quality of life for individuals who need additional cognitive support.

Including this award, MapHabit has received $6.5 million in non-dilutive grants and raised an additional $2 million in external investor capital since its founding. The company said this most recent award will extend its cash runway into 2025.

The MapHabit technology provides users critical tools to better accomplish their daily life activities, while simultaneously providing oversight and peace of mind to the entire support circle, including care managers and providers.

Caregiving is commonly acknowledged as one of the most stressful, under-recognized, under-paid, and under-supported jobs. The new CTP will offer key innovative features to enhance the caregivers’ own quality of life and directly support them in their role, which in turn will result in reduced cost burdens to them in all types of home and community-based care settings, the company said.

“There are 53 million caregivers in the United States and most of us have been thrown into this role without pay, without education, and without a coach to help guide them on what could be next,” Golden, the company’s CEO, said.  “Many of these are overextended sandwich caregivers, which are those who care for younger children and support their aging parents.”

While many resources exist for professional care staff, family caregivers have been left out of the discussion, Golden said. “This SBIR focuses on empowering those caregivers with tools to improve quality of life and independence for both the individual and the caregiver.  That is very important to us.”

Some of the features of the new CTP include self-paced learning that starts with understanding the caregiver’s knowledge and skill level; interactive live coaching sessions; easy to use caregiver-centric dashboards to share information, and social networking capabilities to promote social support and community building. The technology also uses a gamification approach to enhance training engagement and a social network system to help caregivers better manage their stress.

“Self-care is crucial for the person supporting someone with a neurocognitive disease. They often do not care for themselves and become sick themselves, putting both parties at risk,” Golden said. “Many non-spouse caregivers work jobs and they typically need to reduce hours or leave the workforce entirely. Moreover, family caregivers take the burden on themselves and don’t ask for help, and this leads to burnout.”

SBIR and a sister effort, Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR), are highly competitive programs that encourage U.S. small businesses to engage in federal research and research and development with the potential for commercialization.

As part of its curriculum, ATDC’s SBIR/STTR Catalyst Connie Casteel helps its portfolio companies understand and secure federal funding through those programs. In 2021, ATDC startups received $17.4 million in SBIR/STTR grants. Year-to-date in 2022, ATDC companies have recorded $14 million in awards.

“The ATDC SBIR/STTR program has been critical to help us identify funding opportunities and provide us much needed scientific reviews ahead of complicated government submissions,” Golden said. “The help of Connie Casteel and (ATDC Senior Startup and Deep Tech Catalyst) Nakia Melecio over the three-year period has helped us polish our submissions and ensure proper messaging to the target government organization.”