Lilly Belanger Tench is #MadeForKnoxville.

Working with climate conscious entrepreneurs is Lilly’s passion. Through Spark, she helps to provide the support system that cleantech startups need to launch into the marketplace.

As the Director of the Spark Cleantech Accelerator, Lilly supports entrepreneurs who are creating some of the most impactful innovations for the future. The intensive 12-week program is a part of Spark Innovation Center, founded in 2020 to support entrepreneurship through the UT Research Park. Working with the “Sparks” allows Lilly to incorporate her passion for environmental sustainability and entrepreneurship into one job. Through mentorship and connecting business owners to the resources they need, Lilly plays a pivotal role in the growth of these companies, as well as the growth of Knoxville as a cleantech hub. 

Lilly’s passion for supporting entrepreneurs grew during her time in New York City, where she enjoyed working in a coworking space amongst innovative thinkers and problem solvers. Being from Kentucky, she felt drawn to invest in the Appalachian south, so she moved to Knoxville to continue her career. Lilly has served local startups through the AgTech Mentor Network with KEC and continues to champion environmentalists who are making a difference through business. 

“For me, Spark brings together my two separate passions of environmental sustainability and supporting entrepreneurs.”

In Their Own Words…

My name is Lilly Tench. I’m the Director of the Spark CleanTech Accelerator and Assistant Director of the Spark Innovation Center. For me, Spark brings together my two separate passions of environmental sustainability and working with and supporting entrepreneurs. Here at Spark, we’re supporting new innovators and entrepreneurs who are building solutions for some of the most critical problems that our society is facing today. I get to be on the forefront of supporting companies that are really shaping our future.

One reason that Spark was developed is that there is a lot of innovation happening here in Knoxville. We have a major university, a major power company, Oak Ridge National Lab, and we have some amazing community groups like the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. We’re lacking lab space, primarily, that’s accessible to startups. So that was part of the initial idea of building the Spark CleanTech Accelerator and the Spark Innovation Center was to give companies graduating from programs like Innovation Crossroads at Oak Ridge National Lab a place to stay and grow here in Knoxville.

I’m from Kentucky originally, so I’m from this region. I spent most of my career working in New York City. I started working in an environmental nonprofit, and during that time I was working in a co-working space; that’s where I first started working alongside entrepreneurs. I realized that I loved working with people who looked at the world in this way and solved problems and wanted to create and develop solutions. I wanted to support these people; so ever since then, I’ve been looking for ways to both still focus on environmental sustainability and also support entrepreneurs. I did a lot of that kind of work in New York City, but I realized that what I ultimately wanted to do was do that work back in the region where I’m from.

Landing here at the Spark Innovation Center, where I am working with companies that are developing new solutions, specifically in environmental sustainability and advanced energy and materials, has been a really amazing fit for me. 


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