Sorochan wins UT Research Foundation Award

John Sorochan of the UT Department of Plant Sciences, center, accepts a $25,000 award from the UT Research Foundation for winning the Tennessee Venture Challenge. Sorochan plans to use the funds to launch his proposed research spinoff, QuickSod.

Two-thirds of Contest Finalists were UTIA Inventors

One of the Institute’s Four Pillars is to excel in delivering discoveries. That's just what happened when UTIA scientists made up four of the six finalists in the UT Research Foundation’s Tennessee Venture Challenge. We’re proud of that achievement and especially proud that UTIA turfgrass scientist John Sorochan was both the overall winner and recipient of the Crowd Favorite Award.

The competition evaluated the viability and promise of business plans for university research spinoffs and the importance of the problems they solve.
Sorochan, who is an associate professor and distinguished scientist with the Department of Plant Sciences, presented a business plan for QuickSod. Sorochan received $25,000 for the overall prize and $5,000 for the Crowd Favorite Award. He says he will use the money to establish QuickSod as a business and fund the first prototype for testing this summer. The business model, which he developed with Ryan Kemp, a third-year UT law student, would enable sod producers to decrease time to harvest and increase yield. Their proprietary growing medium allows for harvestable sod in 12-16 weeks, compared to the 52-120 weeks expected with traditional methods. This allows for at least twice the production in the same amount of time. In addition, QuickSod’s turfgrass is lighter weight, allowing for more sod per truckload and giving it a longer shelf life after harvest.

Finalists in the competition included:
  • Palsar, LLC — A company improving food processing methods and reducing food wastage. Their technology will accurately capture the time required for different stages of seed germination, greatly reducing the chance of error and saving the customer time and energy. The concept was pitched by Vinay Mannam, a recent Ph.D. graduate of the Department of Food Science and Technology and based on a patent application representing the work of associate professor Federico Harte, Mannam and professor John Wilkerson and technicians David Smith and Stacy Worley of the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science.
  • ResourceIO — A company providing software tools to aggregate, analyze and create action plans for greenhouses and other confined agricultural operations. Their products combine innovative sensors, expert algorithms and elegant user interfaces to increase yield. The work is based on a technology developed by John Wilkerson.
  • Fertility Focus, Inc. — A company improving fertility rates in beef and dairy production. The business plan was pitched by professor Lannett Edwards of the Department of Animal Science and based on licensed technology developed by her and and professor and department head Neal Schrick.