Grow 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.