By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

edaTwo of Knoxville’s more seasoned entrepreneurs were on center stage yesterday when a top official of the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) visited the region.

Bill Malkes, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Gridsmart Technologies, Inc., formerly known as Aldis, and Tommy Thomas, Chief Technical Officer of Third Dimension Technologies, had the opportunity to discuss their technology-based start-ups during a visit by Matt Erskine, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development and Chief Operating Officer of EDA.

Erskine’s visit was coordinated by Grady Vanderhoofven, Co-Founder and Fund Co-Manager for Meritus Ventures. The Assistant Secretary asked him to organize a small discussion as a result of EDA’s recent award of a $250,000 seed capital planning grant to a consortium organized by Tech 2020.

Vanderhoofven and Ken Woody of Innova Memphis are the Co-Principal Investigators and Co-Project Directors for the grant.

Both Malkes, whose company counts Meritus among its investors, and Thomas have been pursuing their technology passions for a number of years. We have chronicled their progress in a series of articles on

During his luncheon presentation at Tech 2020, Malkes showed Erskine and Bertha Partin of EDA’s Atlanta Regional Office a “live” demonstration of the Gridsmart system deployed at the intersection of Kingston Pike and Northshore Drive in Knoxville.

“It’s a unique system for intersection actuation and traffic data collection,” Malkes explained. “We take the camera and track everything going around.”

He described the Gridsmart corporate philosophy with three words – simple, flexible and transparent.

“Most of what we do, others can do, but with much more equipment,” Malkes said. That reality reduces both cost and complexity.

Another key attribute for the company that has clients in 22 countries and 38 states is its ability to cost effectively serve communities with as few as five or six traffic signals.

Malkes showed the latest versions of his processor and camera to the Assistant Secretary. Version 3 of the processor will be unveiled in June.

After the lunch discussion, Erskine traveled to the Fairview Technology Center for a “show and tell” on Third Dimension’s Angular Slice 3D display technology that goes beyond traditional stereo displays and provides a fully immersive 3D user experience. Unlike Gridsmart Technologies, Thomas noted that his company has funded much of its technology development with Small Business Innovation Research grants.

Earlier in the morning, Erskine visited with a small group of individuals to learn more about the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and the challenges facing start-ups.

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