University of Tennessee Joins NSF Innovation Corps Program

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The University of Tennessee (UT) is expanding its reputation as a center for innovation and technology commercialization by taking part in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program. The University joins the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham as a member of the I-Corps South Node.

The NSF I-Corps program was established in 2011 as an outgrowth of the organization’s mission to help researchers think beyond the laboratory and identify opportunities for translating research into commercial products that can benefit society. The goal of the program is to help researchers and principal investigators understand the needs of customers before bringing a technology to the marketplace. Hundreds of teams from across the country have participated in the national I-Corps program, spending 6–7 weeks interviewing customers and businesses to answer the question: what do customers need and does it align with our research? Teams that successfully complete the national program are awarded $50,000.

I-Corps Nodes, like I-Corps South, act as feeders for the national program. They support regional needs around innovation education, infrastructure, and research and work cooperatively to build, utilize, and sustain a national innovation ecosystem. At UT, I-Corps South participants have access to resources and programming delivered via the UT Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) in the Haslam College of Businesss and the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF); knowledgeable instructors who bring hands-on experience with technology commercialization; and a broad, diverse entrepreneurial network. ACEI and UTRF are co-sponsors of the UT I-Corps South program.

To kick off its membership in the I-Corps South Node, UT will be hosting the I-Corps Fall Regional October 3–19, 2017. This intensive two-week program is a shortened version of the national I-Corps, and it begins with a half-day workshop at the UTRF Business Incubator on UT’s Institute of Agriculture Campus. The workshop covers topics such as the customer discovery process, developing a value proposition, and creating a business model. Participants will conduct a series of interviews with prospective customers to identify their needs and will meet with mentors from the instructional team during virtual office hours. The program wraps up on October 19 when participants reconvene to share what they have learned.

“This program is a great introduction to the national I-Corps program and the resources that are available at UT to support researchers as they navigate the commercialization process,” says Shawn Carson, UT I-Corps South program coordinator and Lecturer at The Haslam College of Business.

Instructors for the Fall Regional include Shawn Carson and Maha Krishnamurthy, Assistant Vice President of Licensing at UTRF.

Participation in UT I-Corps South programming, like the Fall Regional, can be a game changer for researchers who have an idea for a technology or start up but are unsure what steps they need to take to bring their idea to fruition.

“I-Corps can open many doors and get participants started down the right path to opening a business or commercializing a technology,” says Maha Krishnamurthy. “We encourage students, faculty, and entrepreneurs to learn more about I-Corps and see how its programming can help them translate their research into a commercial product that can have a real impact on society.”

The UT I-Corps South program is currently recruiting 10–12 teams of 2–4 people to participate in the Fall Regional. Potential applicants must be located in the Southeast and have an interest in commercializing research. University-based teams are preferred, though not required. The application can be found at http://icorpssouth.com/registration.

Applications will be accepted June 26–September 29, 2017.

Learn from UTRF about the NSF I-Corps program at https://utrf.tennessee.edu/university-of-tennessee-joins-nsf-innovation-corps-program/.

Application Now Open for the 2017 Startup Day Pitch Competition

Innov865 is now accepting applications for the fifth annual Startup Day pitch competition. Open to East Tennessee startups, Startup Day will give six finalists a chance to compete for $15,000 in cash prizes. The competition is the signature event of the second annual Innov865 Week, a celebration of Knoxville’s entrepreneurial community, September 18-22, 2017.

To apply for the pitch competition, eligible startups must be located in the East Tennessee region and fill out an application, available on the Innov865 Week website. Applications will be accepted from June 16 through July 7, 2017. The Innov865 Alliance will review applications and select six startups to participate. Applicants will be notified of the Alliance’s decision no later than July 17, 2017.

Startup Day 2017 is Thursday, September 21, 2017 at the U.S. Cellular Stage at The Bijou Theatre.

New this year, the Startup Day pitch competition will feature two prize categories: judges’ choice and crowd favorite. T&T Scientific, former Boyd Venture Challenge winner, claimed the winning prize during Startup Day 2016.

2016 Startup Day winner T&T Scientific

Innov865 Week is presented by the Innov865 Alliance. The Innov865 Alliance develops, supports and promotes the Knoxville region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Founding members include the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, PYA, the UT Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Three Roots Capital, Launch Tennessee, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and TVA.

UT Student Entrepreneurs Named Finalists in Statewide Pitch Competition

Four student startups at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, were named among the 13 finalists in Launch Tennessee’s 36|86: Student Edition Pitch Competition. The competition brings together student companies from universities across Tennessee as part of the agency’s statewide University Venture Challenge program.

GeoAir, SimPath, In With the Old and The Sorority Guide will pitch June 4 in Nashville as part of the 36|86 Entrepreneurship and Technology Conference, an event for entrepreneurs, investors and thought leaders from across the country.

Student teams will compete in four categories: commercialized technology, consumer goods/services, social enterprise and technology-enabled. Winners will receive cash prizes totaling $60,000, exposure at 36|86, ongoing growth support from Launch Tennessee and eligibility to apply for the TENN Master Accelerator program.

The four finalists placed in at least one of the eligible 2016-17 competitions hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business. Vol Court, the Graves Business Plan Competition and the Boyd Venture Challenge were selected by Launch Tennessee to participate in the UVC program as Tennessee University Partner Competitions.

“The opportunities provided by Launch Tennessee’s UVC program are invaluable to our programs and students,” said Tom Graves, director of operations for the Anderson Center. “We’re proud to see so many of our student teams progress to competition at this level.”

Alex Adams, GeoAir

GeoAir, founded by recent MBA graduate Alex Adams from Bristol, Tennessee, will compete in the commercialized technology category. GeoAir provides a faster, more precise way to identify mold in fields by using a drone to take airborne samples of the field. That data is used to create a heat map, which identifies mold hot spots. This information allows growers to spot treat problem areas instead of the entire crop, saving time, money and crop production.

Ben Mohr and Rob Mosely, SimPath

SimPath, founded by Rob Moseley and Ben Mohr, doctoral candidates with UT’s Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, will pitch in the commercialized technology category. The company offers cost-effective streamlined research services to enable bioengineers to increase their productivity and innovation. SimPath’s DNA assembly services allow customers to reduce time and costs by outsourcing the building of synthetic DNA.

Baker Donahue, In With the Old

In With the Old, a social-media-based clothing retail service, will compete in the consumer goods/services category. The company was founded by Baker Donahue, a junior in communication studies from Franklin, Tennessee. In With the Old uses online social auctions to sell repurposed vintage college apparel. Initially focused on selling on UT-themed apparel, the brand now includes four other college campuses.

Kelsey Duncan, The Sorority Guide

The Sorority Guide, founded by Kelsey Duncan, a sophomore in marketing from Nashville, will compete in the technology-enabled category. The values-based analytical tool uses a cell phone application to guide potential new sorority members through the recruitment process. The application eases the process by providing users with information about each sorority, facts about recruitment events and journaling options for users to privately record their experiences.

Launch Tennessee’s UVC launched in 2015 with the goal of increasing the number of student-led entrepreneurial ventures and creating an environment that enables them to succeed. In order to be eligible to compete in Launch Tennessee’s UVC, companies must be a winner in a competition hosted by an approved UVC partner.

Boyd Venture Challenge Awards Funding to Four Student Startups

Four businesses owned by students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, were recently awarded a total of $35,000 in the spring 2017 Boyd Venture Challenge. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business hosted the seed fund grant competition.

The Sorority Guide, Orion Investment Group, In With the Old and Campus Car were selected from a group of eight finalists. A panel of five judges determined funding awards.

“Funding at this level provides our student entrepreneurs with the opportunity to take their early-stage venture to the next step,” said Tom Graves, operations director of the Anderson Center. “The Boyd Venture Challenge not only grants this important funding, but students also receive feedback from the judges, which can help as they move their business forward.”

Kelsey Duncan of The Sorority Guide

The Sorority Guide, founded by Kelsey Duncan, a sophomore in marketing from Nashville, was awarded $15,000. The values-based analytical tool uses a cell phone application to guide potential new sorority members through the recruitment process. The application eases the process by providing users with information about each sorority, facts about recruitment events and journaling options for users to privately record their experiences. In addition to using the funds for travel to pitch The Sorority Guide to the universities across the U.S., Duncan plans to expand her company’s personnel.

“The Boyd Venture Challenge has been an incredible honor and experience to participate in,” said Duncan. “I am very excited about the future and what is to come for the Sorority Guide.”

Judd Conatser of Orion Investment Group

Orion Investment Group, a local real estate investment business, was awarded $10,000. MBA candidate and U.S. Navy veteran Judd Conatser, from Maryville, Tennessee, founded the company. Orion Investment Group plans to provide quality single-family rental properties in Maryville. The company caters to young, mobile families who often relocate for their jobs and find it impractical to buy and sell a home during a short turnaround time.

“This award will allow me to obtain the needed legal assistance and financial advice to move the company to the next level,” said Conatser.

Baker Donahue of In With the Old

In With the Old, a social media-based clothing retail service, was awarded $5,000. The company was founded by Baker Donahue, a junior in communication studies from Franklin, Tennessee. In With the Old uses online social auctions to sell repurposed vintage college apparel. Donahue plans to use the funds to hire a web developer and designer to improve the efficiency of the company’s e-commerce website. Originally a UT-based company, the brand now includes four other college campuses.

“The Boyd Venture Challenge has prepared me for real-life scenarios with real-life rewards,” says Donahue. “With the redesigned website we’ll be able to scale to every prominent university in the country.”

Ryan Cunningham of Campus Car

Campus Car, founded by Ryan Cunningham, a supply chain management major from Collierville, Tennessee, was awarded $5,000. The flat-rate ride-sharing company for the UT campus area plans to launch in August. The company will hire local students as independent contractors to provide low-cost transportation to and from campus in downtown Knoxville, Fort Sanders and the campus area. Cunningham plans to use the funds for cell phone application development and insurance premiums.

“The funds will allow me to be completely financially stable during the first couple of months of operation,” says Cunningham.

The Boyd Venture Challenge is made possible by the generosity of Randy Boyd, founder and executive chairman of Radio Systems Corporation, makers of PetSafe, Invisible Fence and SportDog brands.

The Boyd Venture Challenge is administered each fall and spring semester. It is open to UT undergraduate and graduate students from any field of study. An outside panel of judges from the business community decides the funding awards. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, 37 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $312,000 in seed capital to advance their businesses.

 

Graves Business Plan Competition Makes Awards to Seven Student Startups

Seven University of Tennessee, Knoxville, student startups were recently awarded cash prizes in the Graves Business Plan Competition. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business sponsored the 10th annual entrepreneurial contest.

Sophomores Kelsey Duncan and Ryan Cunningham took top prizes of $5,000 each in the high growth business and lifestyle business categories. Second and third place winners in both categories were awarded $3,000 and $2,000 respectively.

Duncan, a marketing major from Nashville, Tennessee, placed first in the high growth

Kelsey Duncan, The Sorority Guide

category with The Sorority Guide. The values-based analytical tool uses a cellphone application to guide potential new sorority members through the recruitment process. The application eases the process by providing users with information about each sorority, facts about recruitment events and journaling options for users to privately record their experiences. Duncan is in contact with several SEC schools, pursuing possible contracts for her new app.

“The competition not only allowed me to perfect my business pitch, but it also allowed me to sit down and figure out the financial side of my company and what I need to move forward,” Duncan says. “I am very grateful for the experience and opportunity that UT has given me to advance my company.”

Ryan Cunningham, Campus Car

Cunningham, a supply chain management major from Collierville, Tennessee, was awarded the top prize in the lifestyle business category with Campus Car, a flat-rate ride-sharing startup for the UT campus area. The company hires local students as independent contractors to provide low-cost transportation to and from campus in downtown Knoxville, Fort Sanders and the campus area. The company plans to launch in August.

“The Graves Business Plan Competition helped me by allowing me to pitch my idea in front of judges and university representatives who gave critiques that assisted in shaping the future of my business,” Cunningham says. “The requirements of the pitches and prep work necessary to make a good presentation have made my business plan even more solid and will help me to achieve the goals I have planned.”

Anna Amagliani, Brennan Galbraith, Caroline Cate and Caroline Conley of Wahie Women

Second place in the high growth category went to the Wahie Women team, composed of Brennan Galbraith, a junior in marketing from Brentwood, Tennessee; Caroline Conley, a junior in economics from Franklin, Tennessee; Anna Amagliani, a junior in supply chain management from Memphis, Tennessee; and Caroline Cate, a junior in industrial engineering from Brentwood, Tennessee.

Wahie Women is a food delivery service customized to meet the nutritional needs of women. The company uses a cellphone-based application to track users’ menstrual cycles and creates meals designed to replace the nutrients naturally depleted during a woman’s cycle.

Baker Donahue, In With the Old

In With the Old, a social-media-based clothing retail service, took home second place in the lifestyle category. The company was founded by Baker Donahue, a junior in communication studies from Franklin, Tennessee. In With the Old uses online social auctions to sell repurposed vintage college apparel. The company began at UT and now includes four additional college campuses

Tied for third place in the high growth category were Simple Mow and Grassroots Co-Op.

Treavor Johnson, Simple Mow

Simple Mow delivers an efficient hands-free mowing experience. Created by Treavor Johnson, a senior in mechanical engineering from Englewood, Tennessee, Simple Mow uses a combination of satellite navigation and a customized plot route to eliminate the need to perform the physical labor of mowing. Johnson has plans to finalize a prototype this summer.

Barrett Darlington, Grassroots Co-Op

Grassroots Co-Op, created by Barrett Darlington, a junior in mechanical engineering from Knoxville, seeks to simplify the internship hunting process for UT students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. The company uses web and cellphone application-based services to match students with local businesses seeking interns.

Mason Timken, Just Tap It

Just Tap It, created by Mason Timken, a senior in mechanical engineering from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was awarded third place in lifestyle. Just Tap It is a self-serve bar tap that aims to change the way consumers order beer. The mobile unit attaches to a keg and allows consumers to purchase and pour directly at the tap.

The Graves Business Plan Competition is held every spring. It is open to UT undergraduate students from any field of study. An outside panel of judges from the business community judges entries and selects the winners. Since the competition’s inception in 2008, it has awarded $192,000 to student startups. Sixty-one startup ideas have been funded, 46 percent of which are still in business or have pivoted to a new business.

Boyd Venture Challenge Application Period Opens March 30

The application period for the Boyd Venture Challenge, a seed fund grant that awards up to $20,000 to student-owned startup companies each fall and spring semester, opens March 30. The competition is sponsored by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business.

The challenge is open to any early-stage company owned by a UT student. Eligible companies must be legally established, and the student owner(s) must be enrolled in a UT Knoxville or UT Institute of Agriculture undergraduate, master’s, or PhD degree program at the time of application.

To apply, students must submit an application to the Anderson Center by midnight Wednesday, April 12. Applications should consist of an executive summary, requested funds, and milestones that will be accomplished with the funds if awarded. Full application instructions and eligibility details are on the Boyd Venture Challenge website.

Teams that advance to the presentation round will pitch to a panel of local business professionals Friday, April 28.

“We are fortunate to be able to offer seed funding at this level,” says Tom Graves, Anderson Center director of operations and director of the competition.

Randy Boyd and Tom Graves with the fall 2016 Boyd Venture Challenge award winners.

The Boyd Venture Challenge is made possible by the generosity of Randy Boyd, founder and executive chairman of Radio Systems Corporation, makers of PetSafe, Invisible Fence, and SportDog brands.

Since 2011, the endowed fund has awarded $277,000 to 33 student-owned startups.

UT to Host SBIR Grant Information Session April 4

Learn how to participate in federal Small Business Innovation Research grants at the SBIR Informational Session at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The session will be held at 4 p.m. April 4 in West Wing Room 440 of the Haslam Business Building, 1000 Volunteer Blvd.

The event is hosted by the UT Research Foundation, Three Roots Capital and the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business. The event is open to the public, but registration is required.

The 90-minute session provides a brief overview of the SBIR program and incentives provided by the state of Tennessee. Participants will hear from a panel of three local SBIR veterans who together have raised several million dollars in research and development funding for their companies.

Topics include strategies for successfully competing and winning SBIR funding awards and making connections to successful award winners. Featured speakers will be Steven Ripp, research associate professor in UT’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering Research and Center for Environmental Biotechnology; Christopher Rey, president and founder of Tai-Yang Research Company; and Lee Martin, industrial and systems engineering professor of practice and engineering entrepreneurship Director at UT.

Federal research agencies like the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Energy and National Institutes of Health collectively set aside over $2.5 billion annually for SBIR grants.

These grants are available to small businesses to prove feasibility, develop prototypes and commercialize technologies. The program is a peer-reviewed competitive grant program that can provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to a startup to help prepare the technology for market entry.

In addition, most agencies provide programs for grantees to develop their business model in parallel with their development to ensure they are ready to compete in their chosen marketplace. Some startups have raised several million dollars through the SBIR program.