Published March 12, 2021

PYA Announces 490 BioTech as Tom Ballard Innovation Award Winner

PYA awarded 490 BioTech the inaugural Tom Ballard Innovation Award Friday, March 12, 2021. 490 BioTech has developed bioluminescent technologies that enable new drugs to move more quickly through the pharmaceutical testing process. As first-prize winner, it receives a combination of $50,000 in capital and in-kind services from PYA.

PYA Principal and CEO Marty Brown, left, stands with Dan Close, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of 490 BioTech, and PYA’s Chief Alliance Officer Tom Ballard, right. 490 BioTech won the first Tom Ballard Innovation Award on March 12, 2021.


Eonix, LLC, a company working in battery efficiency, won second place; and Ascend Manufacturing, working in 3D printing technology, won third. Both companies were part of ORNL’s Innovation Crossroads program. Second- and third-place winners received $10,000 and $5,000 in-kind strategy support, respectively.

The award is the largest combination of cash and in-kind services available to East Tennessee start-ups. It recognizes early-stage companies that demonstrate great promise and an innovative focus, and reinforces the HELP mantra embodied by PYA, also a start-up launched 37 years ago.

“490 BioTech encompasses the entrepreneurial spirit this award celebrates. Its innovative technology enables pharmaceutical companies to perform more efficient and safe testing,” said PYA President and CEO Marty Brown. “It is our goal to highlight and help East Tennessee entrepreneurs by assisting them with supportive strategies that will further their efforts to improve their products and services and augment their business plans.”

Founded in 2011, 490 BioTech has developed patented technology at the University of Tennessee that allows cells to produce a continuous light signal with no external help, adjusting intensity to reflect real-time changes in cellular health. 490 BioTech markets this to pharmaceutical and contract research fields as a way to reduce drug development costs, while simultaneously providing information on safety and effectiveness. The company recently won the 2020 Judges’ Choice award during Innov865 Week “Startup Day,” and has received more than $2 million in Small Business Innovation Research funding and other grants.

“The support provided by this award is the last piece of the puzzle to get over the hump and commercialize this technology to change the way companies do drug development,” said Dan Close, 490 BioTech’s Chief Science Officer and Co-Founder.

The award is named in honor of PYA’s Chief Alliance Officer, Tom Ballard, who has spent decades working on creating relationships and supporting the East Tennessee region’s entrepreneurial community. He is also publisher of, which focuses on innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship.

Learn more about the award at

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