UT Startups Invited to Apply to Cupid’s Cup Pitch Competition

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The University of Tennessee is one of 23 schools invited to participate in the 2016 Cupid’s Cup pitch competition hosted by Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour, in partnership with the University of Maryland. The competition is open to current students or alumni under the age of 30 who have gained market traction. The competition will award more than $100,000 in prizes. The final event will be held at the University of Maryland on April 7, 2016. The deadline to apply is Jan. 5, 2016.

For full details visit http://cupidscup.com/.


Boyd Venture Challenge Awards A Record $35,000 To Student Startups


Three UT student startup companies have been awarded a total of $35,000 to advance their businesses through the fall 2015 Boyd Venture Challenge, setting a new record for funds awarded in a single semester and pushing the total amount awarded by the competition over $200,000.

Eight businesses were selected from a pool of applicants to pitch their ideas to a panel of local entrepreneurs who determined which companies were most deserving of seed funding and how much they should receive.

“We saw an excellent group of companies this semester,” said Tom Graves, operations director of the UT Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “The judges were quite impressed both with the variety and quality of the startups that presented. It’s exciting to see our students taking ideas and turning them into a reality.”

The fall 2015 winners are:

  • T&T Scientific, $20,000
  • SilkOps, $7,500
  • GuruSkins, $7,500

T&T Scientific was formed earlier this year by two PhD candidates, Nima Tamaddoni, a fourth year student in mechanical engineering, and Graham Taylor, a fourth year student in biomedical engineering. The pair invented the LipX extruder, a low-cost, single-use liposome extrusion device that ensures cleanliness and sterility while reducing overall time of use from 20 minutes to three minutes. Liposome extruders currently on the market require thorough cleaning after each use, costing doctors and researchers valuable time.

T&T Scientific will use the $20,000 grant to cover the costs of manufacturing and assembling the first units. They plan to begin selling their product as early as January.

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. Adkins plans to use the Boyd Venture Challenge funding for further software development and to market the software to additional clients.

GuruSkins is an online store selling artist-designed ski and snowboard covers made out of high-quality vinyl, which enable customers to protect their board while conveying their individual styles on the slopes. GuruSkins aims to foster an online community of board-sport participants and design enthusiasts by creating an interactive online website that provides a platform for artists to share their work and financially benefit from the sale of their designs as ‘skins.’ GuruSkins is owned by Jake Rheude, an MBA candidate and Entrepreneur Fellow. He will use the Boyd Venture Challenge award to fund search engine optimization efforts and a marketing campaign ahead of the holiday season.

The Boyd Venture Challenge is administered through the Anderson Center in the Haslam College of Business. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, twenty-three student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $207,000 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.

Gamer Gel finishes 4th in National Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization Pitch Competition

ceo-conference-slideAs video gaming has emerged as a major industry, so has the concern over health repercussions associated with the sedentary lifestyle of many gamers. With that in mind Jonathan Eimer, a junior advertising major who is minoring in entrepreneurship, set out to create a solution, Gamer Gel.

Gamer Gel is a product designed to replace unhealthy energy drinks and deliver key vitamins and nutrients to competitive gamers. Eimer recently pitched his idea at the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) National Convention in Kansas City, Mo., taking fourth place out of a field of 60 contestants.

“I used to play video games professionally, and I lived a lifestyle of consuming a lot of Monster drinks and playing video games 10-12 hours a day,” said Eimer. “A couple years ago I read an article about the growing amount of sickness amongst gamers because they are playing for such long periods of time without proper nutrition or exercise. There was even a guy who died while playing, and no one realized it for two days because they thought he was still playing. After reading that, I knew I wanted to create something that was a healthy alternative to energy drinks.”

The competition went through three rounds with six finalists being selected for the prize round that was held in front of the 800-1000 conference attendees and a panel of experienced judges.

The winning contestant was Sam Lukach from the University of Wisconsin who pitched the HUK TV mount, an affordable television mount designed to be attached to railings, bunk beds or even a 2×4 piece of lumber, allowing users to mount a TV without putting large holes in the drywall.

While the bragging rights that came with placing in a national competition were certainly a nice perk, Eimer said the best part of the experience was the valuable connections he made.

“I had a lot of different gamers and people in the industry coming to talk to me after each round of the pitches,” Eimer said. “Connecting with the judges was also huge. After the finals, judges invited me to compete at the CEO Southeastern Conference and two other national competitions. I’ve already applied to Future Founders National Elevator Pitch Competition in Chicago and hope to compete there.”

Eimer qualified to compete at the CEO National Convention by winning the elevator pitch competition hosted by the UT CEO chapter. As the winner, he received a paid trip to compete in the national competition. Erik Rutledge, a senior in computer engineering and UT CEO president, and Natanael Arfa, a junior in marketing and UT CEO vice president, accompanied him to the conference.

This was the first time any of the three had attended the CEO National Conference, and they all found the experience worthwhile.

“Just having entrepreneurs all together and trying to help each other was really cool,” said Arfa. “We were able to make a lot of valuable connections just over breakfast and in between meetings.”

“We’ll definitely be back,” added Rutledge.

Jeff Hoffman, a successful entrepreneur, proven CEO, motivational speaker and Hollywood film producer, was the keynote speaker.

“Listening to Jeff Hoffman speak was really motivational,” said Arfa. “He didn’t give a lot of specific examples from his career, but he really inspired us to get out there and do something.”

In addition to competing in future pitch competitions, Eimer is also actively moving forward with developing his product.

“Right now we’re working on a very basic prototype. We have a 6-month timeline to have everything finished. The big thing right now is finalizing the product itself – the chemistry and ingredients,” said Eimer. “We’re shooting for May 1 as an official launch date.”

The UT CEO chapter meets on Wednesdays in Haslam Business Building room 201. For more information on CEO, visit http://ceoutk.org. To learn more about Gamer Gel and be notified when it’s available for purchase, visit http://gamergel.com.

TechSmarrt Wins Fall 2015 Vol Court Pitch Competition


VolCourt-winner-SliderTechSmarrt, a team of Bredesen Center students developing software that simplifies the process of interpreting the structure of materials for use in industry and pharmaceutical applications, surpassed 12 other competitors to win the fall 2015 Vol Court Pitch Competition on Tuesday, Oct. 20.

Eva Mutunga, Christine Ajinjeru, Adeola Adediran, and Akinola Oyedele, all PhD candidates with the Bredesen Center, with Prof. David Keffer of the Department of Materials, Science and Engineering and Dr. Orlando Rios of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, have developed software that streamlines the existing process of interpreting structures of materials. While the current process requires hours on a supercomputer, TechSmarrt’s software enables the same information to be produced in seconds. Better still, the software runs on a standard laptop, further expediting the process of materials discovery.

The TechSmarrt team won $1,500, provided by Cirruspath. In addition, 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 courtesy of Morehous Legal Group.

The team plans to use the prize money and services awarded to create a simplified user interface for their software and legally establish their company.

Second place went to Shahram Zarshenas and Financial Cents, a cloud-based software that allows accountants and small business owners to quickly manage and understand financial statements. Zarshenas, a senior majoring in supply chain management, 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. Zarshenas plans to use the money on development ahead of a private beta launch.

For the first time, Vol Court awarded a third place prize of $500 provided by Launch Tennessee, and in another first, the judges elected to split that award between two competing students in hopes of encouraging them to collaborate on similar ideas. Zak Coleman, a senior majoring in supply chain management, and Drew Farlett, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, both pitched mobile phone applications. Farlett is developing a rideshare app that will let students post carpool opportunities to the app, allow other students to join, and provide the driver with a means to electronically collect an already calculated share of gas money from each rider. Coleman is developing an app that allows users to easily post event details to a group of invitees. The judges felt that while both apps would have merit on their own, combining features of the two ideas could greatly expand the target market.

“This has been a really incredible semester for Vol Court,” said Tom Graves, director of operations for the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “We averaged nearly 80 people in attendance at the Vol Court sessions and heard pitches for 13 excellent business ideas last night. It’s great to see the enthusiasm building around entrepreneurship, and we hope to carry it into next semester when we’ll bring in an entirely new set of Vol Court speakers.”

The Vol Court Pitch Competition was the final event of the fall 2015 Vol Court Speaker Series. Prior to the competition, teams attended five entrepreneurial lectures covering topics like the Business Model Canvas, legal aspects of starting a business and finding non-traditional funding for startups.

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.


Boyd Venture Challenge Accepting Applications Through Oct. 28

Boyd15-SliderThe 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 undergraduate or graduate degree program in Knoxville at the time of application. Applications must be received by the Anderson Center no later than midnight, Wed., Oct. 28, 2015. Teams that advance to the presentation round will pitch to a panel of local business professionals on Fri., Nov. 13. For full application instructions and eligibility details, click here.

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 $172,000 to 23 student-owned startups.

Guru Skins Launches Website, Places Third in SEC Symposium


It was a bit of a whirlwind week for the Guru Skins team. On Sept. 15, their website opened for business, and on Sept. 21 they were representing the University of Tennessee at the Southeastern Conference Symposium in Atlanta where they finished third out of fourteen teams in the Student Entrepreneurial Pitch Competition.

“It’s been a big week for us,” said Jake Rheude, UT MBA candidate, Entrepreneur Fellow, and founder of Guru Skins. “Getting the site launched for beta testing was a big step, and then placing third at the SEC Symposium was very validating because of the high level of competition we were up against.”

Guru Skins is a crowdsourcing site connecting artists and board-sport enthusiasts through the sale of custom ski, snowboard, wakeboard, and other vinyl covers, enabling customers to protect their boards while conveying their individual styles.

The idea for Guru Skins came into being just over a year ago when Rheude was getting ready to leave for a snowboarding trip and was frustrated because he no longer liked the art on his snowboard but was unable to change it without buying a brand new board.

“The entire culture around skiing and snowboarding is so expressive, it just seemed crazy to me that to change the look of your board you had to spend hundreds of dollars on a new one,” said Rheude.

And with that thought, Guru Skins was born. Rheude founded the company and put together a team, bringing on John Born, a UT MBA candidate, and Dustin Giltnane, a UT MBA candidate also pursing a masters in nuclear engineering.

Before placing third at the SEC Symposium, Guru Skins had already found success, winning $5,000 in the Boyd Venture Challenge at UT and $5,000 in Davidson College’s National Venture Tournament for Sustainability & Sports. Guru Skins has operated on that $10,000 to date, a figure that might have made them seem like an underdog going into the SEC Symposium competition.

“Half of the teams there had already raised between $50,000 and $400,000 in angel or Series A funding, so we were up against some well established companies with very impressive technologies,” said Rheude. “The biggest take away for us was that we were able to compete with those teams. Advancing to the finals ahead of some of the companies with significantly more funding really validated our business model.”

The competition was won by a team of Texas A&M University PhD students who created affordably priced high-mobility prosthetic devices using smart nanotechnology and next-generation materials for additive manufacturing (3-D printing). The second place award went to a team of University of Arkansas PhD students who developed a new economical design for solar panels.

With the Guru Skins website up and running, the next step is to increase the company’s visibility amongst their target market.

“The website is definitely a soft launch right now,” said Rheude. “It’s operational, and we’ve already made our first sale, but we’re mostly trying to test out the backend mechanics of the website before we market it. Next, we’ll do some SEO (Search Engine Optimization) work to improve its visibility and then begin our marketing efforts in earnest – probably by mid-to-late October.”

Guru Skins also hopes to partner with several local businesses in Colorado, and they are currently working with bloggers to develop articles on the artists whose designs are now featured on the site. As part of their marketing strategy, Guru Skins also has plans to create online content that attracts boarding enthusiasts.

“We’re really looking to connect with amateur boarders to create some promotional videos,” said Rheude. It’s all about getting this company and brand image in front of the right people.”

In the months leading up to the company’s launch, Guru Skins worked with a number of Haslam College of Business faculty members to refine their business model and polish their pitch.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the Guru Skins team,” said Lynn Youngs, executive director of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and faculty mentor. “They’ve taken an idea and, in less than a year, developed it into a business that’s competing with the best student startups from across the SEC. I expect big things from Guru Skins, and with the entrepreneurship minor now in place, my hope is that we see more student companies like this coming out of UT in the future.”

For more information on Guru Skins, visit www.guruskins.com.



Tech Carnivol Elevator Pitch Competition Oct. 22


The inaugural Tech Carnivol festival will be held on Oct. 22 in conjunction with UT’s traditional Engineers Day program. Tech Carnivol is an engineering festival for students with a series of exciting competitions exclusively designed by UT students. One of the competitions being held in conjunction with the festival is the Tech Carnivol Elevator Pitch Competition.

The pitch competition is open to all students with the only stipulation being that the idea must be related in some way to technology, engineering, science, or healthcare. There will be cash prizes for first and second places. The registration deadline is Friday, Oct. 9. Find more information at http://web.utk.edu/~carnivol/index.html and email any questions to erutled2@vols.utk.edu.

Tech Carnivol is planned and organized by the recently established Tech Carnivol student organization at UT.