Will it float? Knoxville startup Innovasan Corp. wins award in annual competition

Will it float? Knoxville startup Innovasan Corp. wins award in annual competition

November 23rd, 2014 by Mitra Malek in Business Around the Region

Emcee James Chapman is silhouetted in front of props illustrating the event's Outdoor Recreation & Sustainability theme.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

Float winners

* Best outdoor/sustainability track: Chattanooga Sports Leagues

* Best business track: The Baby Flat

* Best overall: Innovasan Corp.

Tommy Travers makes a pitch for Chattanooga Sports Leagues, awarded Best Outdoor/Sustainability Track in Co.Lab's annual Will This Float competition for startup businesses.

Tommy Travers makes a pitch for Chattanooga Sports...

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

Business development manager Jeff Hubrig Jr. makes a pitch for Knoxville-based Innovasan Corp., a clean technology company that develops solutions to treat biological and pharmaceutical fluid waste.

Business development manager Jeff Hubrig Jr. makes a...

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

The Baby Flat founder Paul Gardner makes a pitch for his portable diaper-changing board and was awarded Best Business Track.

The Baby Flat founder Paul Gardner makes a...

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

The images would turn your stomach, so we won't lay them out here.

But Innovasan Corp. has dealt with them for six years and developed technology to make them a little easier to bear -- if only because you know they'd never end up in your town's water treatment plant.

"Medical treatment facilities around the world lack an affordable, safe option for disposing of their infectious fluid waste," said Jeff Hubrig Jr., Innovasan's manager of business development.

In 2016, the Knoxville company plans to bring to market machines that treat liquid medical waste, cleaning it up through ion infusion (getting rid of blood born pathogens, for example) and wet oxidation (to denature pharmaceutical compounds, for example).

"We have a vision to provide clean and safe water everywhere by eliminating fluid waste pollution at its sources," Hubrig said. The technology also could work for agricultural runoff and industrial waste.

Innovasan last week won Co.Lab's overall award in the business accelerator's annual Will This Float competition. It was the contest's fifth year, aimed at giving 10 startups three minutes each to make their case for viability and profitability. Winners got cash and business service prizes. The judges decided on a winner within about 15 minutes. The nature of the contest is quick. Applications are due about a week before pitch day, and Co.Lab doesn't labor over vetting the particulars of entrants' proposals.

"It's by design: throw it up there, and see where the magic happens," said Mike Bradshaw, Co.Lab's executive director.

It seems to work, having spawned Chattanooga success stories such as Granola, RootsRated, SupplyHog and Variable.

The event had two other winners Tuesday: Lookout Mountain-based The Baby Flat in the general business category and Chattanooga Sports Leagues in the outdoor/sustainability category.

The Baby Flat was born from frustration, founder Paul Gardner said. His invention is a hard surface, covered in cloth, that folds to the size of laptop screen. It fits over the arm rest in a car or mini van, so parents can change a baby's diaper.

Chattanooga Sports Leagues is a "social sports organization" that would transform outdoor fields into "one-stop-shops" for adult sports leagues and include places to grab a beer, founder Tommy Travers said. They could hold six sports in under eight acres, "creating a social epicenter," he said.

Co.Lab, the nonprofit organization formally known as The Company Lab, got 35 applications this year. Two were from outside the Chattanooga area: Knoxville and Michigan -- although Knoxville is often considered a partner to Chattanooga when viewed from venture capital's national stage.

Innovasan isn't a startup in the traditional sense. It launched as a research operation in 2007 and got $300,000 in grants from the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Army to help develop disposal systems in austere environments, Hubrig said. Just six months ago, the company shifted from research to the commercial stage, he said. It's seeking $3 million in funding. Innovasan's first pitch was just a few weeks ago, when it won Life Science Tennessee's Venture Forum, taking home $5,000.

"The issue we are trying to address as a company has no border," Hubrig said. "Water contamination is a universal problem. Water is not a renewable resource. Human practices right now are not sustainable."

Contact staff writer Mitra Malek at mmalek@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406.