Tech 2020—a nonprofit organization that counts Pro2Serve, a technical and engineering services firm, as one of its early success stories—announced last week that it is winding down operations after more than two decades.
Facing increased financial pressures, the Tech 2020 Board of Directors voted Tuesday, January 26, to begin an orderly process to wind down their operations, a press release said. The organization has been focused on technology-based economic development activities in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region.
Tech 2020 once had 12 to 15 employees or more, but it is now down to less than five full-time employees, said Tom Ballard, past Tech 2020 chair and longtime Executive Committee member who was on the founding board. The organization has one building at Commerce Park in south Oak Ridge and manages a second building, an entrepreneurial center, for the City of Oak Ridge.
Tech 2020 was established in 1994 in Oak Ridge with significant grants from BellSouth, now part of the AT&T enterprise, and others, the press release said. The organization’s initial focus areas were telecommunications and entrepreneurship. One of its early creations was Digital Crossing Networks LLC, which is located in downtown Knoxville.
Pro2Serve is another success story, Ballard said. The company went from a home office to the Tech 2020 building to headquarters in the National Energy Security Center in the Oak Ridge Science and Technology Park at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The company now has more than 350 employees.
Barry Goss, Pro2Serve chairman and chief executive officer, has attested to the impact that Tech 2020 had on him, Ballard said.
“Tech 2020 has truly been an innovator, not only in this region but also across the nation for more than 20 years,” said Teri Brahams, Tech 2020 chair. “The board believes this strong advocacy role for entrepreneurship has made a lasting impact on our community and helped spawn a much more robust ecosystem than the one that existed in 1994. We want to see how that legacy of service can be continued through other organizations.”
Tech 2020 manages the Oak Ridge Entrepreneurial Center, a building that is owned by the City of Oak Ridge. It’s not clear yet what will happen to that building—or even the Tech 2020 building itself, or other assets, officials said. Ballard said the Tech 2020 building is the property of the organization, but there are “certain provisions related to that building’s disposition if Tech 2020 is dissolved.
“We’ve got to spend time determining all the aspects of that,” Ballard said.
Officials don’t want the winding down of the organization’s operations to detract from its accomplishments. Some of Tech 2020’s programs could become part of other organizations, Ballard said. Those include programs for access to capital, entrepreneurial success, and autoXLR8R, a nine-week mentor-driven start-up accelerator program focused on technologies applicable to the automotive industry.
Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson is on the Tech 2020 board, and he said is keeping “close tabs” on what’s happening, including with the city-owned building.
“We’ll look at the building and determine directions,” Watson said.
The Entrepreneurial Center building will probably come back under city control, but there are tenants in there now—he estimated it’s about three-quarters full—and the city needs more information, Watson said.
“We’ll just take it slowly and methodically,” he said.
When they approved the unanimous recommendation from Tech 2020’s Executive Committee last week, the board asked that the wind-down process include an exploration of options to transition programs and staff to other organizations.
“The decision was not an easy one, but it was made by the board after careful evaluation of options for the organization,” Brahams said. “We were the only organization focused on entrepreneurial support when we were established, but the landscape has changed dramatically since then. We believe the region can best be served with fewer entities competing for limited financial resources.”
The Executive Committee was charged with overseeing the wind down, engaging temporary resources as needed to help with the process, the press release said. The Executive Committee is also tasked with bringing a plan back to the board for final approval. The process is expected to take at least 60 to 90 days.
When the University of Tennessee and Battelle Memorial Institute partnered to bid on the management contract for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tech 2020 conceived a new subsidiary called the Center for Entrepreneurial Growth, or CEG. The latter’s mission was clearly focused on helping ORNL and UT commercialize more of their inventions by helping local entrepreneurs, the press release said.
Later, when then Governor Don Sundquist established the Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, Tech 2020 served for several years as the administrative arm of the organization that does business today as Launch Tennessee.
The CEG program was also expanded through contracts in Chattanooga, western North Carolina, and southeastern Kentucky.
During the past few years, Tech 2020 has faced increasing financial pressures, the press release said. Part of the reason can clearly be attributed to the economic times. Another factor has been the emergence of a more robust local entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“All of these developments have been good for the region, but they have impacted the roles that Tech 2020 has historically played,” Brahams said. “We are confident that important aspects of these roles will continue in a positive way as the ecosystem adjusts to this change.”
Other organizations cited on the Tech 2020 website as having received help from the organization include Fiveworx, Protein Discovery, and NuSirt Biopharma Inc.
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