Boyd Venture Challenge Awards Funds to EasyWhip and Campus Car

Two businesses owned by University of Tennessee, Knoxville, students were recently awarded a total of $25,000 in the fall 2017 Boyd Venture Challenge. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business hosted the seed fund grant competition.

EasyWhip, a surgical tool, and Campus Car, a ridesharing company, were selected from a group of eight finalists. A panel of four judges determined the funding awards.

“The judges saw an impressive group of finalists this semester and provided insightful feedback,” said Tom Graves, operations director of the Anderson Center. “We’re pleased to offer this opportunity to help our student entrepreneurs move their businesses forward.”

EasyWhip, founded by Lia Winter, was awarded $12,500. Winter created the surgical tool to decrease the time and costs associated with certain orthopedic reconstruction procedures. With the funds received, she will seek a full patent for EasyWhip and optimize the tool’s design.

“The Boyd Venture Challenge was an amazing and exciting experience. I was able to apply the concepts that I’m learning in my business classes to my innovative biomedical engineering idea to develop a comprehensive and feasible business plan,” said Winter. “I also made connections with mentors in the Anderson Center who encouraged me and helped me achieve my goals. I think the Anderson Center is an invaluable resource that students should take advantage of during their time here at UT.”

Winter, from Pittsburgh, is an MBA candidate in the Haslam College of Business and a graduate student in the biomedical engineering program in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering.

Campus Car, a campus-based ridesharing company, was awarded $12,500. Ryan Cunningham of Collierville, Tennessee, a junior supply chain management major and entrepreneurship minor, founded the company.

Cunningham launched the flat-rate ride-sharing company in October after using funds from a previous Boyd Venture Challenge to build the Campus Car cell phone application. The company hires UT-affiliated individuals as independent contractors to provide low-cost transportation to and from campus in downtown Knoxville, Fort Sanders, and the campus area.

“The funds received this semester will allow me to expand the Campus Car service area and continue to serve UT and the Knoxville community,” said Cunningham. “I am very thankful for the opportunities provided by the Boyd Venture Challenge.”

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.

The Boyd Venture Challenge is administered each fall and spring semester. It is open to UT undergraduate and graduate students from any field of study. An outside panel of judges from the business community decides the funding awards. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, 39 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $337,000 in seed capital to advance their businesses.


Healthcare Innovation EasyWhip Wins Fall 2017 Vol Court Pitch Competition

A time-saving surgical tool created by UT graduate student Lia Winter took home the top prize at this semester’s Vol Court Pitch Competition. Winter pitched the device, EasyWhip, to beat a record 23 competitors.

Vol Court is hosted twice a year by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business.

EasyWhip is designed to help improve the speed and consistency of certain orthopedic surgical procedures.

“An individual orthopedic surgery can cost more than $50,000,” said Winter. “Costs associated with orthopedic surgical procedures can be reduced by decreasing the time that each surgery takes or by reducing the surgery revision rate.”

Winter, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is both an MBA candidate in the Haslam College of Business and an MS candidate in the UT Institute for Biomedical Engineering. She won $1,500 along with a sponsored prize package, which included free office space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, consulting services courtesy of PYA, legal advice from Morehous Legal Group, and design services from Innovative Design Inc.

Second-place winner Matthew Young pitched his technology-enabled mirror business, Smart Mirrors. Originally built as a gift for his father, Young’s product delivers information to users directly on the mirror’s surface.

“I’ve been showing people the finished product, and it surprised me how many people gave the advice to make more and start selling them,” said Young. “I’m going to make the mirror the best it can be, using touch screen and voice command technology.”

Young, a senior in finance from Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, won $1,000 and the sponsored prize package.

Third place and $500 went to Quantum Lock, a technology that enhances the security of smart lock technology in private homes. Erica Grant of Richmond, Virginia, a PhD candidate in the UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, founded the company.

“Quantum Lock leapfrogs the current smart lock generation by using a property of quantum physics to block out any hacking and provide maximum protection to a home without sacrificing any of the convenience,” said Grant.

“Vol Court has become one of the fastest-growing pitch competitions in the area,” said Shawn Carson, Vol Court director. “As the number of participants increases, we continue to see great pitches from people who are passionate about growing their idea into a viable business.”

The Vol Court Pitch Competition was the final event of the fall 2017 Vol Court Speaker Series. Prior to the competition, participants attended five entrepreneurial lectures covering topics like customer discovery and legal structure for businesses.

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. Sponsors for the fall competition included the UT Research Foundation, PYA, Morehous Legal Group, Three Roots Capital, Funding Sage, and Innovative Design Inc.

Anderson Center Business Accelerator to Boost Startups

Student entrepreneurs and members and friends of the university community gathered Friday to open the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Business Accelerator, a new entrepreneurial initiative of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business.

“The ACEI Business Accelerator adds to the already rich continuum of development and support of entrepreneurs at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville,” said Lynn Youngs, executive director of the Anderson Center. “Student businesses in the ACEI Business Accelerator will experience support customized to meet their specific needs as they move through acceleration toward investment.”

Entrepreneurs-in-residence, along with Anderson Center faculty, will provide coaching and mentorship to guide participants through the program. Students will have access to a shared working space designed to facilitate collaboration among students, faculty, staff, and investors, and to a rich network of entrepreneurial resources.

“The Anderson Center Business Accelerator will play an integral role in UT’s push, under Chancellor Beverly Davenport’s leadership, to become a much more active player in the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem of the region,” said Stephen Mangum, dean and Stokely Foundation Leadership Chair of the Haslam College of Business. “That the business accelerator’s grand opening was attended by so many students, past and present, who have launched or who are in the process of exploring the launch of their own enterprises speaks to its great potential.”

A gift from David Stevens (’75), a private equity investor, funded the newly renovated space. Stevens spoke to students gathered for the grand opening event.

“I’m really excited to be here today, and the most exciting part is that the human assets are in the room,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is provide a platform to help you take your dreams to real businesses.”

In addition to donor gifts, support from the Haslam College of Business and the UT Research Foundation helped provide the new program for student entrepreneurs.

The ACEI Business Accelerator is located on the first floor of the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator on the UT Institute of Agriculture campus.


Boyd Venture Challenge Application Deadline Nov. 2


The application period 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, opens October 11. The competition is sponsored by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business.

The challenge is open to any early-stage company owned by a UT student. Eligible companies must be legally established, and the student owner(s) must be enrolled in a UT Knoxville or UT Institute of Agriculture undergraduate, master’s, or PhD degree program at the time of application.

To apply, students must submit an application to the Anderson Center by midnight Thursday, November 2. Applications should consist of an executive summary, requested funds, and milestones that will be accomplished with the funds if awarded. Full application instructions and eligibility details are on the Boyd Venture Challenge website.

Teams that advance to the presentation round will pitch to a panel of local business professionals Friday, November 17.

“The Boyd Venture Challenge is an exciting opportunity for early-stage ventures,” said Tom Graves, Anderson Center director of operations and director of the competition. “We are pleased to be able to offer opportunities for funding at this level.”

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.

Since 2011, the endowed fund has awarded $312,000 to 34 student-owned startups.

UT’s Vol Court Speaker Series and Pitch Competition Kicks Off September 27

UT students, faculty, and staff as well as members of the local community, are encouraged to pitch their business ideas at Vol Court, a semiannual pitch competition and speaker series run by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business.

The competition begins September 27. Winners may receive up to $1,500 in prize money and space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator as well as legal and accounting services.

The series and competition are open to the public. There is no charge to participate in the event, and anyone interested in entrepreneurship is invited to attend.

“Whether you have a startup or are just interested in entrepreneurship, Vol Court is a great opportunity,” Shawn Carson, Vol Court director, says. “The schedule is designed to introduce participants to entrepreneurship and give them a starting point to help advance their ideas into reality.”

Vol Court kicks off on September 27 with a five-week interactive entrepreneurial speaker series. The fall series introduces new speakers, which includes local entrepreneurs and UT faculty.

The program culminates on November 1 in a pitch competition where attendees put what they’ve learned into practice. All pitch competition participants are eligible for cash prizes awarded to first-, second-, and third-place winners.

Vol Court meets from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. every Wednesday from September 27 through November 1 in Stokely Management Center, 916 Volunteer Blvd. All meetings will be held in Room G4.

Anyone who plans to participate in the November 1 pitch competition must attend four of the five speaker sessions listed below:

September 27: Overview of Value Proposition and Customer Discovery

October 4: The First 100 Customers

October 11: Determining the Legal Structure for Your Business

October 18: Partnerships

October 25: The Pitch

Vol Court is made possible by donated funds and services from sponsors including PYA, Morehous Legal Group, Hard Knox Pizzeria, the IT Company, 3 Roots Capital, the UT Research Foundation, and other local businesses.

University of Tennessee Joins NSF Innovation Corps Program


The University of Tennessee (UT) is expanding its reputation as a center for innovation and technology commercialization by taking part in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program. The University joins the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham as a member of the I-Corps South Node.

The NSF I-Corps program was established in 2011 as an outgrowth of the organization’s mission to help researchers think beyond the laboratory and identify opportunities for translating research into commercial products that can benefit society. The goal of the program is to help researchers and principal investigators understand the needs of customers before bringing a technology to the marketplace. Hundreds of teams from across the country have participated in the national I-Corps program, spending 6–7 weeks interviewing customers and businesses to answer the question: what do customers need and does it align with our research? Teams that successfully complete the national program are awarded $50,000.

I-Corps Nodes, like I-Corps South, act as feeders for the national program. They support regional needs around innovation education, infrastructure, and research and work cooperatively to build, utilize, and sustain a national innovation ecosystem. At UT, I-Corps South participants have access to resources and programming delivered via the UT Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) in the Haslam College of Businesss and the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF); knowledgeable instructors who bring hands-on experience with technology commercialization; and a broad, diverse entrepreneurial network. ACEI and UTRF are co-sponsors of the UT I-Corps South program.

To kick off its membership in the I-Corps South Node, UT will be hosting the I-Corps Fall Regional October 3–19, 2017. This intensive two-week program is a shortened version of the national I-Corps, and it begins with a half-day workshop at the UTRF Business Incubator on UT’s Institute of Agriculture Campus. The workshop covers topics such as the customer discovery process, developing a value proposition, and creating a business model. Participants will conduct a series of interviews with prospective customers to identify their needs and will meet with mentors from the instructional team during virtual office hours. The program wraps up on October 19 when participants reconvene to share what they have learned.

“This program is a great introduction to the national I-Corps program and the resources that are available at UT to support researchers as they navigate the commercialization process,” says Shawn Carson, UT I-Corps South program coordinator and Lecturer at The Haslam College of Business.

Instructors for the Fall Regional include Shawn Carson and Maha Krishnamurthy, Assistant Vice President of Licensing at UTRF.

Participation in UT I-Corps South programming, like the Fall Regional, can be a game changer for researchers who have an idea for a technology or start up but are unsure what steps they need to take to bring their idea to fruition.

“I-Corps can open many doors and get participants started down the right path to opening a business or commercializing a technology,” says Maha Krishnamurthy. “We encourage students, faculty, and entrepreneurs to learn more about I-Corps and see how its programming can help them translate their research into a commercial product that can have a real impact on society.”

The UT I-Corps South program is currently recruiting 10–12 teams of 2–4 people to participate in the Fall Regional. Potential applicants must be located in the Southeast and have an interest in commercializing research. University-based teams are preferred, though not required. The application can be found at

Applications will be accepted June 26–September 29, 2017.

Learn from UTRF about the NSF I-Corps program at

Application Now Open for the 2017 Startup Day Pitch Competition

Innov865 is now accepting applications for the fifth annual Startup Day pitch competition. Open to East Tennessee startups, Startup Day will give six finalists a chance to compete for $15,000 in cash prizes. The competition is the signature event of the second annual Innov865 Week, a celebration of Knoxville’s entrepreneurial community, September 18-22, 2017.

To apply for the pitch competition, eligible startups must be located in the East Tennessee region and fill out an application, available on the Innov865 Week website. Applications will be accepted from June 16 through July 7, 2017. The Innov865 Alliance will review applications and select six startups to participate. Applicants will be notified of the Alliance’s decision no later than July 17, 2017.

Startup Day 2017 is Thursday, September 21, 2017 at the U.S. Cellular Stage at The Bijou Theatre.

New this year, the Startup Day pitch competition will feature two prize categories: judges’ choice and crowd favorite. T&T Scientific, former Boyd Venture Challenge winner, claimed the winning prize during Startup Day 2016.

2016 Startup Day winner T&T Scientific

Innov865 Week is presented by the Innov865 Alliance. The Innov865 Alliance develops, supports and promotes the Knoxville region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Founding members include the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, PYA, the UT Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Three Roots Capital, Launch Tennessee, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and TVA.