UT Joins I-Corps South to Expand Entrepreneurial Training

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will receive grant funding to teach technology entrepreneurship, perform research and foster innovation through the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program.

A public-private partnership, I-Corps was created in 2011 to train researchers to evaluate the commercial potential of their scientific discoveries. The program is offered in a “startup boot camp” format.

I-Corps South, which started with the Georgia Institute of Technology, is being expanded to include UT and the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. It will receive a collective $3.45 million over five years.

For more information about I-Corps and the expanded I-Corps South Node, see the UT Haslam College of Business, the National Science Foundation and the I-Corps South website.

Ice Cream Pop-Up Shop Churning Success for UT Grad

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For UT alumna Colleen Cruze Bhatti, a combination of timing, connections, and hard work brought her to the next step in her growing dairy business, Cruze Farm Girl. This summer, Bhatti opened her first storefront, the Cruze Farm Milk Bar, in downtown Knoxville.

She credits UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation for supporting her entrepreneurial dreams.

“The opportunity to open a storefront came up, and the timing was right,” Bhatti says. “It’s been interesting to see how many people we have been able to reach.”

In this case, “interesting” means twenty thousand scoops of farm-fresh ice cream sold during the shop’s first three weeks.

The Union Avenue shop mixes the old-fashioned charm of an ice cream parlor with modern flavors like lavender honey ice cream as well as the chili dog, a hot dog topped with chili, cheese, mustard, and onions. The top-selling ice cream, in flavors like birthday cake and cookies ’n’ cream, is churned overnight at Cruze Farm. New flavors rotate daily.

“We’re selling everything we can produce right now,” says Bhatti. “We’re in a good spot.” She attributes the success to time spent scooping and selling ice cream, hot dogs, and biscuits from the Milk Bar food truck at the Market Square Farmer’s Market in Knoxville.

“We’ve spent the last five years building connections with people at the market,” she says. “People want to know where their food comes from, and I think they enjoy talking to the person who prepares the food they’re eating.”

This connection between the business and its customers is key for Bhatti. While she now employs twenty full- and part-time “farm girls” who work in the shop and on the dairy farm, customers regularly find Bhatti at the shop scooping ice cream, greeting customers, and caring for the business she has worked hard to build.

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That hard work began while Bhatti was an agriculture science major at UT. She dreamed of expanding her parents’ dairy business and pushed that plan forward when she entered the Graves Undergraduate Business Competition hosted by the Anderson Center. She was awarded the $5,000 first prize in the lifestyle business category for her plan to bring ice cream to Cruze Farm.

“Winning the competition gave my dad confidence in me to keep the dairy business going,” she says. “I think when he saw that the Anderson Center had confidence in me, it gave him confidence too. After that, he was ready for me to move forward.”

The $5,000 prize bought pint containers, and Bhatti spent the summer churning ice cream to fill them.

“I worked so hard the first summer after graduation. I was still proving myself,” says Bhatti. She expanded Cruze Farm’s accounts, selling and delivering milk in Chattanooga and, eventually, Nashville. By the end of that summer, Cruze Farm was bottling all of its own milk. Today, it is the only dairy farm in Knoxville with its own cows and milk plant.

Those real-life lessons of hard work and perseverance are something she strives to share with future entrepreneurs at UT through the Anderson Center.

“We make mistakes, wipe away tears, and try again,” Bhatti says. “Building a business can be emotional. UT has been a great help to me. Talking to students really brings it full circle.”

Part of that circle is Jennifer Edwards, a sophomore majoring in accounting in UT’s Haslam College of Business. Edwards puts her accounting education to work each evening when she plans the quantities and flavors to churn for sale the following day at the shop.

“Jennifer loves to indulge her creative side by inventing new flavors. Her business side always figures out the best plan to execute her fantasy flavors in an efficient way,” Bhatti says proudly.

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While the pop-up shop will stay open only through September 4, Bhatti’s plans for her business are anything but limited. She’s utilizing her location to build relationships with her summer neighbors, including a hot dog collaboration with award-winning chef Joseph Lenn from the soon-to-open restaurant J.C. Holdway and an ice cream story time with Union Avenue Books.

She also is planning for the future—one she hopes includes another storefront. While she is not ruling out a year-round shop, she says the summer pop-up shop has been a great fit for Cruze Farm Girl.

In the fall, Bhatti plans to bring back more flavored milks, including chai milk, and to continue serving ice cream from the Milk Bar truck at the Market Square Farmers Market.

The Milk Bar is located at 513 Union Avenue and is open 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 to 10:00 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 7:00 p.m. Sunday.

To learn more about the Anderson Center’s upcoming business plan competitions, visit andersoncei.utk.edu.

Seven Student Startups Awarded in Graves Undergraduate Business Plan Competition

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Seven student startups were awarded cash prizes in the ninth annual University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Graves Undergraduate Business Plan Competition last week.

The students competed through three rounds of judging for first, second and third place in two different categories—high growth businesses and lifestyle businesses.

First-place winners won $5,000, second-place winners received $3,000 and third-place winners won $2,000. This year there was a tie for third in the high growth category, so the two teams each received $1,000. In total, $20,000 of donated prize money was awarded to the seven winning teams through the competition sponsored by the UT Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

David Herberich, a senior in industrial engineering, and Jesse McCrary, a sophomore in construction engineering, took first place in the high growth category with ImmersaCad. ImmersaCad is a system for immersive visualization of three-dimensional Computer Aided Designs (CAD) that allows the professional designer and their customers to experience and navigate a CAD model in virtual reality.

Second place went to the Amerus Enterprises, LLC team comprised of

Dimitriy Petrov a junior in mechanical engineering with a minor in entrepreneurship, and Zach Issacs, a junior in business. Amerus Enterprises has developed the Rush Brush, a patented toothbrush with built in flosser that’s designed for use on the go. Its unique design eliminates the need to apply toothpaste or carry floss and the product is biodegradable.

Tied for third place were SilkOps and Gifted Analytics. SilkOps is a software-as-a-service company co-founded by Taylor Adkins, a senior in business analytics, and Thomas West, a senior currently enrolled at Virginia Tech. SilkOps is a fully functional order management system that caters to custom printing companies, enabling users to input orders, manage production and generate invoices. Several printing shops are already using SilkOps.

Gifted Analytics, thought up by Will Lifferth, a sophomore in Computer Science, is a company using powerful machine learning to generate gift ideas for gift givers. Their product, the Gift Finder, allows users to describe the gift recipient with both demographics and psychographics, after which Gift Finder automatically recommends a list of unique gifts. Lifferth hopes to launch his product later this year.

In the lifestyle category, first place went to Kevin White and Gameday Weekenders, a startup providing UT fans with travel, accommodations, and tailgate activities for away athletic events. White, a senior majoring in business analytics, launched his company last fall, taking customers to four Tennessee road games.

Second place went to “mooch”, an app that allows individuals to save money by borrowing what they need, and make money by lending what they don’t. The “mooch” team is comprised of Jared Smith and Kyle Bashour, both seniors majoring in computer science, and Kaleigh Veca, a junior graphic design major.

Third place went to MBD Cleaning, co-founded by Beatriz Satizabal, a junior in the College Scholars Program. MDB Cleaning specializes in cleaning small businesses and high-end residences and focuses on strong personal relationships and environmentally friendly cleaning practices.

The Graves Undergraduate 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 select the winners. Since it first began in 2008, this competition has awarded $170,000 to student startups. It has funded 50 startup ideas, 36 of which went on to become legally established companies.

Boyd Venture Challenge Awards $35,000 to UT Student Startups

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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, spring 2016 Boyd Venture Challenge awarded a total of $35,000 to three student startup companies to advance their businesses.

Grow Bioplastics, T&T Scientific, and Treatment Devices were selected from a group of seven finalists. Judges listened to live pitches and decided which companies were most deserving of funding and how much each should receive.

The Boyd Venture Challenge is administered through the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business.

“We had some top-notch companies competing this semester,” said Tom Graves, operations director of the Anderson Center. “I think the high-tech nature of the winning companies really illustrates how elevated the level of competition was this semester. The judges were extremely impressed with the pitches they heard.”

Grow Bioplastics was awarded $15,000.

The company improves food sustainability by offering farmers and gardeners renewable, biodegradable products that keep oil-based plastics out landfills.

Founded by Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle, both doctoral candidates with UT’s Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, the company has developed a low-cost renewable biopolymer that naturally degrades in soil and can be used to produce mulch films and planting containers. This allows plants to be sown in their containers and films to be plowed into the ground after harvest, saving growers time and money associated with plastic disposal.

The company plans to use the funding from the Boyd Venture Challenge to build a degradation testing incubator and produce its first round of prototypes.

T&T Scientific was awarded $12,000.

The company, founded by Nima Tamaddoni and Graham Taylor, both recent UT doctoral graduates, has developed the LipX Extruder, the world’s first single-use disposable liposome extruder. Liposome extruders currently on the market require thorough cleaning after each use, costing doctors and researchers valuable time. The LipX Extruder saves users time and money while providing clean and precise results.

T&T Scientific received $20,000 in funding from the Boyd Venture Challenge in fall 2015, which they used to test their final prototypes and begin production of the LipX Extruder. With that product now available for purchase, they plan to use the bulk of the $12,000 they received this semester to develop automated quality control and assembly lines for keeping up with demand. A portion will also be used for marketing.

Treatment Devices was awarded $8,000.

The company, founded by Mark Artz, a Ph.D. candidate in nuclear engineering, specializes in patient setup for radiation therapy and diagnostic imaging.

The company has developed software and a mechanical installation system, called the No Dose Setup, that simplifies patient positioning during radiation therapy. The setup is already available at Provision Center for Proton Therapy in Knoxville.

Artz will use the funds to develop a quick installation kit for the system and add additional features to its software.

Since the fund’s inception in 2011, 26 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $242,000 in seed capital to advance their businesses.

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.

Anderson Center Announces Working Paper & Research Proposal Competition

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation has announced a campus-wide competition for entrepreneurial working papers and research proposals.

ACEI will accept applications in four research categories: doctoral student proposals, doctoral student working papers, faculty proposals, and faculty working papers. Awards range from $800 – $5,000.

“Our goal is to provide early stage funding to launch research that helps entrepreneurs, new ventures, innovations, and entrepreneurial ecosystems succeed,” said Rhonda Reger, ACEI Director of Research.

Now in its third consecutive year, this competition aims to promote and reward meaningful research in entrepreneurship and foster a community of scholars who value innovation. To date, this competition has awarded $12,800 to researchers.

For full details on eligibility and abstracts of past winners, click here.

Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Working Paper & Research Proposal Competition

Who: Full time faculty and doctoral students at the University of Tennessee are eligible. Submissions from doctoral students are judged separately from faculty submissions.

Purpose: The primary goal of this competition is to promote and reward high quality, impactful research in entrepreneurship and innovation that will lead to top tier journal publications. The secondary goal is to foster a community of scholars from across the university who focus at least some of their research attention on the important societal goal of increasing entrepreneurial and innovation success. The final goal is to raise the visibility of UT entrepreneurship and innovation research within academic and practitioner communities.

Scope of Topics: Submissions relating to any topics within entrepreneurship and innovation research are encouraged including research focusing on opportunity recognition, decision-making, new venture creation, founder succession, product design and rapid prototyping, technology transfer and technology commercialization, evaluation of programs designed to improve the success rates of entrepreneurial ventures (e.g., incubators, accelerators, government and NGO funding), venture funding, and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Research that focuses on technology entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurship in under-represented populations is especially encouraged.   The listed topics are not meant to be exhaustive; research on other related topics is also encouraged. Submissions by teams of faculty and doctoral students across disciplines are encouraged.

Categories and Awards:

  • Doctoral Student Research Proposal: $800 (multiple awards may be awarded)
  • Doctoral Student Working Paper: $1,300 (multiple awards may be awarded)
  • Faculty Research Proposal: $1,000 (multiple awards may be awarded)
  • Faculty Working Paper: $5,000 (one award may be awarded)
  • Special Grants for Research Expenses: These grants may be used to buy datasets, or to collect data: (Up to $5,000 may be awarded to purchase or create datasets that are made available for use by faculty and graduate students. Requests for smaller amounts are encouraged.)
  • In addition to the cash awards, winners will receive opportunities to present their research to the ACEI Research Council for constructive feedback. Some winners may be chosen to present to select entrepreneurs for feedback on the practical relevance of their research.
  • Abstracts of winning proposals and working papers will be highlighted on the ACEI Focus on Research webpage.

Submission Guidelines: 

All submissions should be accompanied by the author(s)’ list of prior publications, conference presentations, prior ACEI awards, and work submitted to conferences and journals in the publication pipeline not to exceed 2 pages per author. Those with extensive publication histories should limit their list of works to the last five years. An individual may submit up to 3 submissions across all categories. Cash awards will be awarded to the first author of any submission to be divided as s/he sees fit within the team.

Research Proposals: Research that has not yet been presented at a conference outside of UT or submitted to a journal or other publication outlet may be submitted. Proposals that were funded in prior years will only be funded again if substantial changes and progress have been made on the research. Research proposals should clearly identify the research question(s), theoretical background and prior research, research model, hypotheses (if appropriate), methodology including sample, data collection and analysis methods, expected contributions to research and practice, and expected timeline to complete the research. A cover page should identify the project title, the researchers, their affiliation, and contact information, target journal(s) for the research, and which category the proposal should be judged within. The cover page should also include a maximum 200 word abstract of the proposed research. Abstracts should be written for a thoughtful practitioner audience (e.g., educated entrepreneurs, policy makers, venture capitalists) and should avoid technical jargon. To compete in the doctoral student category, the first author must be a doctoral student. The body of a research proposal submission should be a maximum 5 pages, single-spaced, 12 pt. font. Up to 5 additional pages may be provided for references, cover page, and exhibits.

Working Papers: Working papers that are not currently under publication review (or accepted for publication) may be submitted including papers that have been presented or accepted for presentation at academic conferences. Working papers resulting from prior proposal grants are encouraged. Working papers should clearly identify the research question(s), theoretical background and prior research, research model, hypotheses (if appropriate), methodology including sample, data collection and analysis methods, contributions to research and practice, and target journal. A cover page should identify the paper title, the researchers, their affiliation, contact information, and which category the working paper should be judged within. The cover page should also include a maximum 200 word abstract. Abstracts should be written for a thoughtful practitioner audience (e.g., educated entrepreneurs, policy makers, venture capitalists) and should avoid technical jargon. To compete in the doctoral student category, the first author must be a doctoral student. Maximum 40 pages, double-spaced, 12 pt. font, inclusive of all appendices, exhibits, tables, cover page, and references.

Special Grants for Research Expenses: A pool of $5,000 will be reserved to provide funding to proposal writers who request concrete research expenses such as to buy a dataset or to collect data. This grant will be paid against actual invoices and will not be a cash payment. If requesting these funds, please include a short description of the funds needed, the nature of the data or other expenses, and a statement about how the expense might benefit other entrepreneurship researchers in the university, for example, that the data will be made available within 6 months to all faculty and doctoral student researchers within UT.

Judging Panel: Academic judges will be drawn from the ACEI Research Council of Faculty who will rate submissions in terms of importance and novelty of the work, theoretical and methodological contributions, and quality and likelihood of publication in top tier journals. The ACEI Executive Director, Lynn Youngs, will rate submissions in terms of practical contributions based on evaluation of abstracts.

Academic judges will be excused from rating proposals submitted by themselves or their doctoral students.

Past Winners: Abstracts of previously funded research may be viewed here.

Submission Deadline: May 23, 2016.

Submit to:

Rhonda Reger

Director of Research, ACEI

rreger@utk.edu

 

The subject line of the email should identify the category of the submission. Please send a separate email for each submission.

Grow Bioplastics Wins Spring 2016 Vol Court Pitch Competition

Winner-sliderGrow Bioplastics, a startup company founded by University of Tennessee students, beat 14 competitors to win the spring 2016 Vol Court Pitch Competition last week. Their product is a biodegradable alternative to the plastic mulch film currently used in agricultural applications.

The Grow Bioplastics team is comprised of Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle, both doctoral candidates with UT’s Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education. They have developed a process based on a patent through Oak Ridge National Lab to produce biodegradable mulch film that is both cost effective and eco-friendly.

Currently black plastic sheeting is used on many farms as a solution for retaining ground moisture and temperature while keeping unwanted weeds out of their fields. It is effective for this purpose, but at the end of the growing season the plastic must be removed and disposed of, creating a significant cost for the farm. Grow Bioplastics’ solution to this problem is to create sheets of biodegradable mulch film made of lignin, a natural waste product of the paper industry. This allows farmers to simply till the film into the ground at the end of the season, saving them the expense of removing it and keeping oil-based plastic products out of the landfill.

Grow Bioplastics is the first repeat winner of the Vol Court Pitch Competition. They first won Vol Court in fall 2014 when pitching a separate product line that they have since expanded upon.

Grow Bioplastics won $1,500, provided by Cirruspath, the presenting sponsor of the Vol Court Pitch Competition. The team will also receive one year of free office space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, consulting services courtesy of Pershing Yoakley & Associates and legal advice from Morehous Legal Group.

Second place went to Kevin White and Gameday Weekenders, a startup providing UT fans with travel accommodations for away athletic events. White, a senior majoring in business analytics, won $1,000 provided by Cirruspath, as well as six months of free office space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, consulting services from Pershing Yoakley & Associates, and legal advice from Morehous Legal Group.

Third place went to mooch, an app that allows individuals to save money by borrowing what they need, and make money by lending what they don’t. The mooch team is comprised of Jared Smith and Kyle Bashour, both seniors majoring in computer science, and Kaleigh Veca, a junior graphic design major. The team was awarded $500 provided by Launch Tennessee.

“The competition was very stiff for Vol Court this semester,” said Tom Graves, director of operations for the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “We had more teams competing than ever before, and as a whole, this group of 15 teams was probably the most prepared group we’ve ever had. It was very evident they’d paid attention to this semester’s speakers and put a lot of effort into refining their elevator pitches. Because of that, there was considerable debate when it came time for the judges to select the winners.”

The Vol Court Pitch Competition was the final event of the spring 2016 Vol Court Speaker Series. Prior to the competition, teams attended five entrepreneurial lectures covering topics like intellectual property, basic financial statements and opportunity identification.

Vol Court is a free event hosted by the Anderson Center each fall and spring semester. It is open to UT students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the local community. It’s made possible through sponsorship from Cirruspath, UT Research Foundation, Launch Tennessee, Pershing Yoakley & Associates and Morehous Legal Group.