UT Vol Court Pitch Competition Kicks Off Oct. 12


Bring an idea and start a business with the help of Vol Court, a semiannual pitch competition and speaker series hosted by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Vol Court kicks off Oct. 12 with a six-week entrepreneurial speaker series. The series culminates Nov. 16 in a pitch competition where attendees put what they’ve learned into practice. Local entrepreneurs and UT faculty will cover topics including legal structure for businesses and unconventional funding sources.

Now in its eighth year, Vol Court invites UT students, faculty, staff and members of the local community to pitch their business ideas. Winners receive up to $1,500 in prize money, space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, and legal and accounting services.

Shawn Carson, Vol Court director, will share his expertise from 15 years in entrepreneurship.

“Having been involved with Vol Court as a contributor over the years, I am excited about helping run the program,” said Carson. “It is a great opportunity for students across campus to get their first exposure to the world of entrepreneurship. The fact that there’s a cash prize doesn’t hurt, either.”

Vol Court has grown in recent years to include more speakers, sponsors, participants and prizes. All pitch competition participants are eligible for cash prizes awarded to first-, second- and third-place winners.

Vol Court meets every Wednesday beginning Oct. 12 from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. in Room G4 of Stokely Management Center, 916 Volunteer Blvd. The speaker series and pitch competition are open to the public. There is no charge to participate in the event, and anyone interested in starting a company is encouraged to attend.

Anyone who participates in the Nov. 16 pitch competition must have attended four of the following five series meetings.

Oct. 12: Business Model Canvas

Oct. 19: Legal Structure for Your Business

Oct. 26: An Entrepreneur’s Journey

Nov. 2: Unconventional Funding Sources

Nov. 9: Pitching the Concept

Nov. 16: Pitch Competition

Vol Court is made possible by donated funds and services from sponsors, which include Cirrus Insight, PYA, Morehous Legal Group, Hard Knox Pizzeria, the IT Company, Funding Sage, 3 Roots Capital and the UT Research Foundation.

Boyd Venture Challenge Accepting Applications Through Oct. 17


The application period is now open 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.

The Boyd Venture Challenge is open to any early-stage company owned by a UT student. To be eligible, companies must be legally established and the student owner(s) must be enrolled in a UT Knoxville or UT Institute of Agriculture undergraduate, masters or PhD degree program at the time of application. Applications must be received by the Anderson Center no later than midnight, Mon., Oct. 17, 2016 and should consist of an executive summary, requested funds and milestones that will be accomplished with the funds, if awarded. Teams that advance to the presentation round will pitch to a panel of local business professionals on Fri., Oct. 28. For full application instructions and eligibility details, visit https://tiny.utk.edu/Boyd-fall16.

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. To date, this endowed fund has awarded $242,000 to 29 student-owned startups.

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


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.


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.


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


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


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.