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Exterior photo of Zeanah Engineering Complex from the Southside of the building
The Mid-South Innovation Corps Hub will allow UT to further expand its entrepreneurial mindset and offerings to advance the region’s economic competitiveness.

Nine institutions are forming an inclusive innovation corridor connecting the mid-South region.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is a founding member of the National Science Foundation’s new Mid-South Innovation Corps Hub, a regional coalition of nine diverse tech-forward universities.

The hub will prepare and support talented entrepreneurs, spur new high-growth companies, and promote inclusive economic development and prosperity, transforming metro areas in the mid-South into thriving innovation centers.

The hub will launch in January 2023 and will help the region maximize its innovation economy potential through at least 2028.

“Using our resources and partnerships to create new technologies, new ventures, and new jobs is exactly what a modern land-grant university should be doing,” said Chancellor Donde Plowman. “UT is known around the world for our world-class science and engineering research expertise. I’m excited about building on these strengths to empower talented entrepreneurs as they create new products and services to make life and lives better for the people of Tennessee and others all around the world.”

UT plans to strengthen the state’s innovation economy by creating and sustaining vibrant high-tech companies and the community ecosystems in which they thrive, increasing the number of academic innovators who think and act like entrepreneurs, and enhancing economic development by contributing to the success of industries that are important to Tennessee’s future.

In fiscal year 2021, UT reported research expenditures that totaled $316 million, UT researchers generated 137 invention disclosures, and the university supported the creation and growth of more than 30 promising high-tech ventures. UT’s largest research portfolio is in advanced energy, where the university consistently ranks sixth in the nation for US Department of Energy funding.

In addition to UT, founding members are hub lead Vanderbilt University, George Mason University, Jackson State University, Meharry Medical College, Tennessee State University, the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, and the University of Virginia.

“We are delighted to join with our partners to grow Tennessee’s innovation economy,” said Deborah Crawford, UT vice chancellor for research. “UT aims to support and grow hundreds of high-tech ventures over the next five years, and the Mid-South Hub will be critical to our success.”

The effort received broad bipartisan support from Tennessee’s federal legislators, including Senators Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty and Representatives Tim Burchett, Jim Cooper, and Chuck Fleischmann.

In the near future, members plan to gather for a summit to build the five-year vision for the hub’s inclusive innovation corridor.

“This project will help all of the partners supercharge the path from innovation to product and help meet our mission to enhance the welfare of our state through the continuum of education, innovation, and translation of these innovations to society,” said Matthew Mench, dean of the Tickle College of Engineering and UT’s faculty lead for the hub.

“The corridor supports UT’s efforts to further nurture and grow our entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Marc Gibson, associate vice chancellor for research. “With this partnership and the acceleration of groundbreaking translational research into new ventures, we will collectively enhance the state’s standing as an innovation and commercialization center.”

Established in 2011, NSF’s I-Corps program is designed to support the commercialization of new technologies that grow from discoveries in fundamental science and engineering. Since its inception, more than 1,900 NSF I-Corps teams have participated in the program.


Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,