Science and technology are slated to have a much greater presence in the Knoxville, Tennessee community. Setting up shop downtown in the form of a laboratory, business incubator, and public exhibition space hybrid, venture group Cocoon Resources is looking to open its Scientific Innovation Center along the historic Gay Street area in April 2021.
Per their website, “Cocoon Resources creates, grows, deploys, and maintains creative relationships, technologies, innovations, and companies for global impact.” President and Founder of Cocoon Resources Katherine Bazemore spoke to Launch Engine about the company’s rollout for the Scientific Innovation Center.
“There is a lot going on here,” she says of both Knoxville and East Tennessee in general. She is convinced that there’s already a lot of shared ground between Knoxville’s business community and Cocoon Resources. She tells Launch Engine that she’s had to re-familiarize herself with the area, as she was in East Tennessee over 20 years ago raising her children.
“We’re very excited about East Tennessee—really being able to combine with other great startup initiatives across the state—and make Tennessee a startup force to be reckoned with. [We want to] be able to impact across the globe, and create a global location for capital and for innovation,” she says.
According to Katherine, a lot of people focus just on the innovation side of tech businesses without giving much consideration to how such projects get funded. She states that a major focus of Cocoon Resources is on developing funding tools, since there’s a significant lack of attention on generating business capital to fund business innovation in Tennessee.
“We need to bring capital from around the globe here to deploy [it to] some of the significant intellectual property and other [resources] that come right out of East Tennessee and need to be funded here,” Katherine explains.
Cocoon Resources launched out of Huntsville, Alabama, in 2004. Katherine says that since that time Cocoon Resources has started a few different companies, and discovered that one of their major investments was a cash cow. That company was the Volatile Analysis Corporation, which specializes in aroma technology for chemical and medical purposes. One of its brands, BreathKeys, is a chewing gum used for disease detection, and Katherine says that it has received interest from a number of players in the global biotechnology space.
Katherine says that Cocoon Resources’ move to Knoxville is the first time the company has been able to bring its team and the other companies under Cocoon Resources into the same environment. With Cocoon Resources and the companies under its umbrella under the same roof, Katherine’s goal of bringing investors and innovators together has become much easier now that they can see the strategy and science in one place.
“My role is to get people interested in participating in our investment vehicle, the Opportunity Zone funds we’re setting up…” she says, referring to the $75 million Opportunity Zone fund previously reported by Teknovation. She explains that one of her projects will be the creation of an investing strategy for both crowdfunding and accredited investors in Israel.
For the investment projects that Cocoon Resources will be working on, Katherine teases that they’ll be innovations related to medical technology and biotechnology, with the latter rooted heavily in bioethics. Cocoon Resources seeks to bring leaders in bioethics into research projects related to plants and animals. With the advent of different technologies like CRISPR (a gene-editing tool—Clustered Regularly-Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), for instance, industries like agriculture have had to rethink entire processes and consider the ethics of what they’re doing.
Per Katherine, Cocoon will evaluate four companies that it will house on its “incubator floor,” which will be the second floor of the facility. Volatile Analysis Corporation will have its own floor of about 16,000 square feet of lab space. The walls of the different entities will be made from glass, which will allow both collaboration between neighboring companies and a means of showing those touring the facility what’s going on behind the walls. The facility will have a calendar full of events open to the public, and Cocoon Resources wants to have a coffee shop onsite that encourages the public to check out the building.
The end effect of it all will be an industrious space with a university or conference-style feeling for those visiting. “We want to get people motivated… Anyone can do things in the sciences,” Katherine says.
In addition to the present plan to get the Scientific Innovation Center up-and-running by April 2021, Volatile Analysis Corporation plans on getting their disease protection platform into the marketplace by summer. Regarding the BreathKeys disease chewing gum technology, Katherine says that Cocoon Resources has plans to use that technology for detecting COVID-19. She wants the technology to be a part of the tools available to medical professionals to help stop the pandemic.
“We’re way down the path on breath analysis for disease detection…” Katherine says of 12 years of experience behind the Volatile Analysis Corporation’s BreathKeys technology.
What cued Cocoon Resource’s move to Knoxville was actually Katherine’s faith. “So I’m a spiritual-based person,” she says, “And… I believe for many, many years God called me… to build platforms that would be strategic for impacting the nation. And I felt that I was being moved back to Knoxville, and that this is where He would really pull back the veil, if you will, and accelerate everything that we’ve been putting together for the last, really, 20 years.” She adds that the move was incentivized by her husband, a scientist and retired Naval captain, who became an instructor for Knoxville Central High School’s Junior ROTC program.
“He was positioning where we needed to be [for this] and he lined up all of these things,” Katherine says, referring to her grandchildren being in Knoxville as well as other fortunate items.
Katherine says that Cocoon Resources is an entity with spiritual values that does not separate its execution of scientific pursuits from the faith of the individual team members. They are committed to aligning these values with the values of the marketplace. Katherine points out she sees science and faith as compatible, instead of being at-odds with one another.
“There are many organizations throughout the globe that, you know, absolutely live out their faith and understand the fact that science actually proves out our faith more than it does the other way around. The more that’s learned and the more that’s discovered, the more our faith becomes demonstrated with, you know, the actual backbone that people want to put through all of the theoretical analyses and R&D to prove it out. So, there’s no conflict when you really start digging in, but there’s so much still to be uncovered and discovered that will continue to demonstrate there is no separation, nor should there ever be separation… that’s our view.”
With regard to their long-term goals, Cocoon Resources wants to plug world-renowned inventors of faith into their network and use their facility to platform inventions that align with the spiritual values of Cocoon Resources. Katherine says that the global reach and relationships created by Cocoon Resources will make this possible. She plans to have the website host blog content related to innovations that align with or come from places of faith.
As a woman of faith, Katherine is proverbially putting her money where her mouth is. As majority shareholder in Cocoon Resources, she says that she plans on giving away all of her shares of stock in the company to select nonprofits. Discussing why such an act of generosity may be necessary, Katherine explains, “So many nonprofits do not have a funding mechanism. They are always trying to find the same old investors, or new investors, people to contribute… We really wanted to create a mechanism where—as the wealth was created in this company—that it automatically was creating wealth for ongoing funding of nonprofits.”
She goes on to compare Cocoon Resources to a B Corporation, with the caveat that her investors aren’t giving up their return to match her donations. Katherine believes she was divinely commanded to do so. Katherine is expecting Cocoon Resources to generate a great deal of wealth, and wants to use this wealth to better the lives of as many people as possible.
“I really do believe there has to be a new system,” she says of her operation of Cocoon Resources. “…Obviously, in America, our current system is not working real well.” Katherine says that she wants to build a model for a revenue engine truly designed to affect positive outcomes for everyone with Cocoon Resources that others can copy.