When Cocoon Resources Inc. hears about exciting new technology, the scientific venture firm invests.
And Cocoon is now banking on downtown Knoxville as the home of its new Scientific Innovation Center and headquarters, which will provide space for coronavirus research right out the gates and could create 100 new jobs over the next couple years.
Katherine Bazemore, founder and president of Cocoon, said the first step is completing a transaction to acquire the building at the corner of Gay Street and Wall Avenue, the former headquarters of TVA Federal Credit Union.
“We really believe that Knoxville is a city that is quickly getting strong global coverage,” she told Knox News. “And we believe we can add to that.”
Bazemore said people can think about Cocoon as being similar to an incubator or accelerator group.
“Cocoon has been developing various investments and investment vehicles and has been operating as a venture group for several years,” Bazemore said. Cocoon focuses on entrepreneurship, crowdfunding and commercialization, according to its website.
The new innovation center and headquarters “will house specific companies directly in our facility and highlight different companies with different scientific innovation that we want to be featured,” she said.
The 58,000-square-foot building is split between three floors and a basement, which will house a laboratory facility for Volatile Analysis Corporation.
“We’re coming in to really bring our investment vehicles and platforms to bear the scientific innovations that are occurring — that we’re bringing and are also going to launch out of the center,” Bazemore said.
VAC was one of the first investments Cocoon made, and it will bring around $4.5 million worth of scientific instruments into the lab for a project centered on coronavirus.
“We will allow, based upon new technology and new innovation that we decide we are going to invest in and build — we will certainly put in some other laboratories to accomplish their goals,” Bazemore said.
VAC’s BreathKeys division has been working for years on a chewing gum that can detect disease by evaluating volatile chemicals.
Providing space for VAC to continue its work is one of the first priorities for Cocoon in the downtown Knoxville building, which Cocoon hopes to occupy starting Sept. 1, Bazemore said.
VAC’s efforts in Knoxville will be focused on commercialization and generating revenue for its BreathKeys division.
And with that comes the opportunity for new jobs. Bazemore said the plan is for 50 people to join the BreathKeys division starting out.
Other job opportunities will be created through Cocoon, which is still working on building its team with administrative and investment positions.
All of the jobs will be new hires, with the exception of around 10 positions.
Cocoon said new jobs in science, technology and engineering fields will all be vital to making the innovation center a success.
Cocoon has been operating out of Alabama but will relocate to the new headquarters. The space will be redesigned to include areas where different companies can collaborate.
“It’s going to be designed in a way that’s more of a hands-on working environment that people can come through and be able to see some of the things that are going on while, at the same time, allowing the companies that are in there to have the confidentiality in the areas that they need,” Bazemore said.
There will be opportunities for tours, and the windows along Wall Avenue will be used to display exhibits.
“What we want to do is be right downtown near the river where we can truly pull people for new jobs from across the country to Knoxville and also be able to help the community in that area get more excited about science, from all the way down to preschool level, and get them interested,” Bazemore said.
The location was also attractive, she said, because of the science museum planning to open near downtown.
Bazemore said Cocoon is in the process of vetting a food and agriculture company that might also come to the center.
“There’s a lot of diverse science that’s going to be going on in that building, and that’s what we like to do,” she said. “It brings a lot of different people into the picture from every different level of types of jobs that could be offered.”
Bazemore said people should expect more information to be released over the next few months as the Sept. 1 target date moves closer.