Manka is the Chief Commercial Officer at NovoHydrogen, prior to which she worked for Shell for over a decade. She brings rich experience across strategy and competitive intelligence, business development and project development. As a business developer, she identified regional growth targets for Shell’s upstream business, and as a Strategic Relationship Manager, she was accountable for supporting Shell’s relationship with its high value partners and advising internal leadership on partner value proposition. She has led and actively contributed across a wide range of business and functional projects, including partner deep dives, new country entries, high capital project development and energy transition. She is passionate about sustainability, the scope for decarbonization, and the increasing role of renewable energy in our society.

Manka has an MBA in Sustainability from the Yale School of Management. She also holds a Bachelors of Technology in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, India

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Ryan Edwards is Manager, Renewable Energy at Monarch Private Capital. In this role, Ryan identifies renewable energy projects and investor prospects and leads project finance transactions that produce sustainable energy for local communities and yield favorable returns for Monarch’s investors. In addition, Edwards works to optimize the transition of closed project acquisitions to asset management while modernizing the operational procedures of the Company’s renewable energy division.

Prior to joining Monarch, Ryan most recently served as Project Finance Director for Silicon Ranch Corporation. There, he led the financial structuring and capital raising for utility-scale and portfolio-aggregated local power company solar projects throughout United States, ranging from 3 to 200 MWdc. Before Silicon Ranch, Ryan was an asset manager for SunPower Corporation’s residential lease portfolio, where he first gained experience in structured finance. Before his career in renewable energy, Ryan served in the United States Navy as an Active-Duty Naval Officer for eight years which encompassed roles such as an Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin Naval ROTC as well as an Instructor Tactical Coordinator, Mission Commander, and Division Officer for a P-3 Orion and P-8 Poseidon squadron.

Ryan earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin and a BBA in finance, investments and banking from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He serves on the Board of Advisors and is a prior Board Chair for CleanTX, a nonprofit focused on economic development and professional association for the advancement of cleantech and renewable energy in Texas. Additionally, Edwards provides mentorship to advanced energy start-ups for the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council.

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Carol Seamons is a private banker and former investment banker whose financial work over the last 15 years has included capital markets origination and independent strategic consulting to non-profit organizations. Seamons is a newcomer to Knoxville after living in Memphis, TN for 20 years. She currently serves on the boards of the Thomas W. Briggs Foundation, Porter-Leath, Inc., The Wolf River Conservancy, and is member of the Knoxville Chamber Entrepreneurship and Small Business Council and Rotary of Knoxville.  


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Nastassja Hagan is a curious and innovative leader with more than 17 years experience in the energy industry. She is a change agent, systems thinker and analyst at heart and has experience in sustainability, renewable energy, digital transformation, and supply chain. Most recently, she was the Vice President, Sustainability at Lightsource bp, a global utility-scale solar energy developer. In this role she developed and executed the sustainability strategy across a variety of topics including biodiversity, GHG emissions, circularity, and human rights. Prior to Lightsource bp, she worked for bp where she led procurement for bp’s Low Carbon Energy businesses including offshore wind, onshore wind and solar, alongside leading supply chain sustainability globally. Prior to this she held a variety of commercial roles at bp, and worked at a small start up as a consultant.

Nastassja holds a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Texas A&M University and a LEAD corporate innovation certificate from Stanford University. She resides in Chattanooga with her family where she spends as much time outside as possible – hiking, running and climbing.


Vance is an intellectual property, patent, trademark, and venture attorney in Ulmer’s Cincinnati office and he serves as Co-Group Leader of the firm’s Startups & Emerging Growth Companies Practice Group. He is the author of “The Patent Game,” a book written specifically for inventors, entrepreneurs, and business leaders that want to improve their patent knowledge – or, as Vance refers to it, IP IQ – to leverage patents as a key driver of business value. Vance is also the host of “The Patent Game Podcast.” In his first series, “The Basics,” Vance breaks down the foundational elements of the patent process in bite-sized (and sometimes moderately entertaining) chunks. He covers patent application types, tricks, and tools, the anatomy of a patent, and other practical information you can apply directly to your business or innovation.

Vance brings a progressive and creative approach to the development of intellectual property and business strategy for emerging businesses and startup companies. Vance helps his clients, including many angel and venture-backed companies, develop comprehensive strategies in a broad range of technologies including software, medical devices, and mechanical and electrical innovations. Vance assists his clients with all aspects of patent drafting and prosecution, trademark registration and clearance, and copyright and trade secret protection. His experience includes providing clients with patentability, validity, and infringement opinions, and serving various intellectual property litigation and regulatory (FDA) needs.

Vance has worked in-house for a Fortune 500 company, has co-founded three startup companies, and is an active angel investor. Vance is a frequent keynote speaker and mentor for universities, startup accelerators, incubators, and technology groups. He is a past President of the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association, was appointed by the Mayor of Cincinnati to the Small Business Advisory Committee, and was recognized as one of Cincinnati’s “Top 40 under 40” by the Cincinnati Business Courier.

Brandon Bruce headshotBrandon Bruce is Co-founder and CEO of Uncat – a web app used by accountants and bookkeepers to fix pesky uncategorized transactions with their clients and sync with QuickBooks Online. Brandon was previously Co-founder and COO of Cirrus Insight which was #41 on the Inc. 500 in 2016. He is the chair of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, entrepreneur in residence at Webb School, co-founder of the Knoxville Technology Council, chair of Junior Achievement of East Tennessee, chair of Muse Knoxville, co-founder of Startup Knox, founder of 100Knoxville, and board member at UT Research Park, American Museum of Science and Energy, and Leadership Knoxville.

Tom Ballard spent more than four decades building business connections between two major entities in East Tennessee and public and private organizations throughout the region, state, and nation before joining PYA in 2012 as Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives. He was the inaugural Director of Partnerships for Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Tom was with the University of Tennessee for 35 years, serving as Vice President for Public and Governmental Relations before joining ORNL.

He serves on the board of directors of a number of local and regional not-for-profit organizations including the East Tennessee Economic Council (Past Chair), Life Science Tennessee, Oak Ridge Economic Partnership (Past Chair), Roane State Community College’s ACE Advisory Council (Chair), Technology 2020, and Tennessee Technology Development Corporation (Vice Chair). He is a member of UT’s Development Council and the Pellissippi State Community College Foundation.

Bill Malkes headshotSerial entrepreneur Bill Malkes was appointed Chief Executive Officer of NellOne Therapeutics in April 2020. He previously co-founded and led GRIDSMART Technologies Inc, a global intelligent transportation solutions business, which was sold for $87 million in 2019. Under Malkes’ leadership, the business grew to be the second largest in its space, and expanded to 22 countries around the world. Prior to GRIDSMART, Malkes held a number of senior leadership and advisory roles in technology and healthcare businesses including Health Care Solutions, ASIC International, Tradewind Technologies and Learning Technology Systems.

A servant leader at heart and builder of all things, Bill strives to leave things bigger and better than when he found them. To learn more about our CEO, visit

Eric Dobson is proven leader, serial entrepreneur, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Angel Capital Group.  The last 26 years have been spent working in a variety of venues from government to private sector, the last 15 in start-up technology ventures. The founder of three companies, help found six, and lead investments in 24 more. Navigator Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2010 and in 2011, was awarded the Pinnacle Innovator of the Year by the Innovation Valley Technology Council and Knoxville Chamber of Commerce.

Chris Ayala is a Managing Director at Drum Capital and is a member of the Investment Committee. His responsibilities include the sourcing, underwriting and monitoring of investments across the Drum institutional funds. Chris has nearly two decades of experience as an investor and entrepreneur.

Prior to joining Drum, Chris served as CEO of Vertisense Inc., an early stage venture capital-backed company in New York, New York providing CPG and B2B solutions for health & safety compliance. Prior to that, Chris served as VP, Operations of ALK Technologies, Inc. offering enterprise software in the Transportation & Logistics industry. Earlier, Chris served as VP, General Counsel for Native American Resource Partners LLC, a private equity sponsored investment firm in Calgary, Alberta. Chris began his career as a corporate attorney at the firms ReedSmith LLP and Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP focusing on M&A and Business Transactions for some of the leading private equity firms in the world. Chris graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and received his Juris Doctor from Fordham University School of Law.