Vol Court: Then and Now with Nate Buchanan

When Nate Buchanan pitched Credit Virgin to a panel of Vol Court judges in 2012 as a soon-to-be UT MBA graduate, he had no idea that two years and two companies later he’d be running Peanut Butter Printing, a company making a name for itself in Tennessee while saving lives halfway around the world.

Peanut Butter Printing is dedicated to two things: providing high quality print materials to its customers, and making a difference in the world by donating peanut butter packs that can save the life of a starving child – thus their namesake!

But before there was Peanut Printing, there was Credit Virgin, a website designed to teach students how to build good credit while still in school.

“While a credit card can be a liability for some students, it can be a real asset for those who learn how to use it properly and can build up their credit while still a student,” said Buchanan.  “The idea was to educate students about credit, help them select a credit card to meet their needs, and monetize it with partner companies.”

This is a company Buchanan developed while he was an MBA Entrepreneurship Graduate Fellow at UT, and the idea that won Vol Court in 2012. The funds and services from Vol Court allowed him to set up a website and establish Credit Virgin as a company.

Ultimately though, he was forced to abandon Credit Virgin. Pulling the plug a few months later wasn’t a decision he made lightly.

“I think it’s always tough to shut down something you put a lot of hard work into,” said Buchanan. “For me though, I didn’t have much of a choice because I was leaving school and had to support myself. There just weren’t many other options on the table in terms of funding. I tried to raise money through competitions as I was graduating, but winning Vol Court just wasn’t enough to give me the financial runway I needed to really get Credit Virgin off the ground.”

However, shutting down Credit Virgin was just a small bump in his entrepreneurial journey. Only a couple months later, he launched Movement 52, an ecommerce site that partnered with nonprofits to sell one custom t-shirt design per week.  For every shirt sold, the nonprofit would receive $8. Movement 52 ran about 20 campaigns with varying levels of success before Buchanan determined that between marketing and overhead costs, the business was not going to be viable. However, as fortune would have it, Credit Virgin and Movement 52 had already provided him with the technical skills and clientele to launch Peanut Butter Printing.

“While we were running Movement 52, businesses started hearing that we were printing t-shirts, and we started getting all sorts of printing requests. That essentially gave us a new, better business model with a built-in list of existing relationships,” said Buchanan.

Without missing a beat, Buchanan launched Peanut Butter Printing where he’s found sustained success and is continuing to grow. They currently have two locations – one in Nashville and another in Knoxville. The latter is operated by Nate’s younger brother, Dusty Buchanan, a junior in Supply Chain Management at UT.

“After Movement 52, I knew I wanted to have a giving model. I heard about MANA from a mentor, and I immediately knew that’s where I wanted to get involved,” said Buchanan.

MANA is a ready-to-use therapeutic food that’s designed to meet all of a child’s basic nutritional needs in a simple peanut butter type paste. It’s easy for a mother to administer, and three servings a day can save the life of a starving child. Peanut Butter Printing donates 10 peanut butter packs for every $100 in print goods sold.

“I really wanted something that was quantifiable, so we could track it, and say how much was given on every purchase. That made peanut butter packs a great fit,” said Buchanan. “We are able to tell customers how many meals were donated because of their business. We know it takes about 150 packs to nurse someone back from malnutrition, so with many of our customers, we can even tell them how many lives they’ve saved.”

With over a year under its belt, Peanut Butter Printing is now looking to expand into the national scene, strategically partnering with companies that have a nationwide footprint and providing them with centralized ordering hubs.

“I’m leveraging my technical background from Credit Virgin and Movement 52 to create a company store where all of a corporations locations across the state or nation can come and order,” said Buchanan. “We are already in the process of launching a site with our first corporate partner. It’s an exciting time for us because they have offices all over the country, and it’s going to be a big test for our centralized buying hub.”

While Buchanan has come a long way since his days of competing in Vol Court, he hasn’t forgotten some of the valuable lessons he took from it.

“Vol Court made me realize you really have to know your business and think through every aspect of it ahead of time. If there was any stone left unturned, that’s always what the judges were going to ask about. Vol Court was extremely helpful in showing me how to develop an elevator pitch and plan for all aspects of a business ahead of time,” said Buchanan.

The Spring 2015 Vol Court Speaker Series, hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, kicks off on Tuesday, February 24 at 5:15 p.m. (Vol Court was originally scheduled to begin on Feb. 17, but was postponed due to weather.) The Vol Court Pitch Competition will be held on April 7. Any student interested in starting a business is encouraged to attend. For more information, visit tiny.utk.edu/VolCourt.

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