UT to Host SBIR Grant Information Session April 4

Learn how to participate in federal Small Business Innovation Research grants at the SBIR Informational Session at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The session will be held at 4 p.m. April 4 in West Wing Room 440 of the Haslam Business Building, 1000 Volunteer Blvd.

The event is hosted by the UT Research Foundation, Three Roots Capital and the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business. The event is open to the public, but registration is required.

The 90-minute session provides a brief overview of the SBIR program and incentives provided by the state of Tennessee. Participants will hear from a panel of three local SBIR veterans who together have raised several million dollars in research and development funding for their companies.

Topics include strategies for successfully competing and winning SBIR funding awards and making connections to successful award winners. Featured speakers will be Steven Ripp, research associate professor in UT’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering Research and Center for Environmental Biotechnology; Christopher Rey, president and founder of Tai-Yang Research Company; and Lee Martin, industrial and systems engineering professor of practice and engineering entrepreneurship Director at UT.

Federal research agencies like the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Energy and National Institutes of Health collectively set aside over $2.5 billion annually for SBIR grants.

These grants are available to small businesses to prove feasibility, develop prototypes and commercialize technologies. The program is a peer-reviewed competitive grant program that can provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to a startup to help prepare the technology for market entry.

In addition, most agencies provide programs for grantees to develop their business model in parallel with their development to ensure they are ready to compete in their chosen marketplace. Some startups have raised several million dollars through the SBIR program.

Simple Supplements Wins Spring 2017 Vol Court Pitch Competition

2017 Spring Vol Court Pitch Competition winners: Sushmitha Vijaya Kumar, Florin Matei, and Matthew Young.

A simpler, less messy approach to protein supplements helped University of Tennessee, Knoxville, junior Florin Matei take home the top prize at this year’s Vol Court Pitch Competition. Simple Supplements, a startup founded by Matei, beat 18 competitors to take first place.

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

Simple Supplements provides a protein powder product that requires no measuring or preparation by the consumer. The ready-to-use protein powder pods feature an edible casing, ready to mix with liquids.

Matei, a management major from Gallatin, Tennessee, won $1,500 along with one year of free office space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, consulting services courtesy of PYA, legal advice from Morehous Legal Group and a yearlong subscription to TurboFunder provided by Funding Sage.

Second place went to Matthew Young’s Sparrow Drones, a rescue communications device aimed at strengthening the correspondence capabilities of EMTs, police, firefighters and other first responders. Young, a junior in finance from Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, won $1,000, six months of free office space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, consulting services from PYA, legal advice from Morehous Legal Group and a yearlong subscription to TurboFunder provided by Funding Sage.

Third place went to µRNA Technologies, a company developing diagnostic kits for simple, rapid detection of pathogens causing diseases. Sushmitha Vijaya Kumar, a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Genome Science and Technology from Knoxville, founded the company. She was awarded $500 and a yearlong subscription to TurboFunder provided by FundingSage.

First place winner and Vol Court judges: David Morehous, Morehous Legal Group; Alexa Sponcia, Hard Knox Pizzeria; Paul Sponcia, The IT Company; Florin Matei, Simple Supplements; Aaron Riley, Cirrus Insight; Chris Miller, Three Roots Capital; Nghia Chiem, UT Research Foundation.

“I’m pleased by the number and variety of ideas this semester,” said Shawn Carson, Vol Court director. “Vol Court continues to grow each semester.”

The Vol Court Pitch Competition was the final event of the spring 2017 Vol Court Speaker Series. Prior to the competition, teams attended five entrepreneurial lectures covering topics like opportunity identification and intellectual property. Prize money was donated by presenting sponsor Cirrus Insight and supporting sponsors Launch Tennessee and the IT Company.

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 spring competition included Cirrus Insight, the UT Research Foundation, Launch Tennessee, PYA, Morehous Legal Group, the IT Company, Hard Knox Pizzeria, Three Roots Capital and Funding Sage.

Application Period Open for 2017 Graves Business Plan Competition

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The application period for the 10th annual Graves Business Plan Competition at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will open Feb. 27. The competition, sponsored by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business, awards cash prizes to promising undergraduate student startup businesses or business ideas.

The Graves Business Plan Competition is open to any undergraduate student currently enrolled at UT Knoxville or the UT Institute of Agriculture. First, second and third prizes of $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000 are awarded in two business categories, growth and lifestyle. All student-owned companies, whether legally formed or in the planning stages, are eligible to compete.

Tom Graves, director of operations, Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation

Tom Graves, director of operations, Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation

To apply, students must submit a concept statement to the Anderson Center by midnight Friday, March 10. Teams that advance to the presentation round will pitch to a panel of local business professionals Friday, March 31.

Formerly the Undergraduate Business Plan Competition, the contest was renamed to honor Tom Graves, Anderson Center director of operations and director of the annual competition. The change was made last April at the request of anonymous donors who gave $1 million to endow the competition.

“We are extremely fortunate to have donors whose generosity allows our aspiring student entrepreneurs to engage in true experiential learning and be provided with the opportunity to win funding that will allow them to move their ideas or early stage ventures forward,” said Graves.

Since 2008, the competition has awarded $170,000 to 50 student startups.

Vol Court Pitch Competition and Speaker Series Kicks Off Feb. 1

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The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation invites students, faculty, staff and members of the local community to pitch their business ideas at Vol Court, a semiannual pitch competition and speaker series.

Winners of the competition receive up to $1,500 in prize money, space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, and legal and accounting services.

Vol Court kicks off Feb. 1 with a five-week entrepreneurial speaker series. The event culminates March 8 in a pitch competition where attendees put what they’ve learned into practice.

Local entrepreneurs and UT faculty will cover a range of business topics. As part of the series, Vol Court director Shawn Carson will share his own entrepreneurial expertise.

“We’re excited to return for the spring semester with new speakers and topics,” Carson says. “Vol Court provides opportunities not only to learn from seasoned entrepreneurs but also to network with area businesspeople and entrepreneurial-minded students, faculty, staff and community members.”

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 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. every Wednesday from Feb. 1 through March 8 in the Haslam Business Building, 1000 Volunteer Blvd. The Feb. 1 meeting will be held in Room 103, but all other sessions—as well as the pitch competition—will be held in Room 104.

Anyone who participates in the March 8 pitch competition must have attended four of the following five series meetings:

Feb. 1: Opportunity Identification and Validation

Feb. 8: Getting to Your Market

Feb. 15: Understanding Basic Financial Statements

Feb. 22: Intellectual Property

March 1: Pitching the Concept

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.

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.

“Big Idea” Contest Accepting Applications

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Submission Deadline is Feb. 3rd for the “What’s The Big Idea” Contest hosted by Tennessee Development Corporation, Knoxville Chamber, and Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.

 “What’s the Big Idea 48 Hour Launch” is a weekend-long business start-up summit designed to inspire entrepreneurial action. The competition will bring together bright minds Feb. 24-26 to participate in an intensive period of prototyping, community building, planning, incubation, and launching. The winning idea will be advanced to the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s CO.STARTER Program and will be eligible for up to $10,000 in business-launch reimbursement costs after completing the program from the Tennessee Development Corporation.

Want to know more? Check out this Video from last year’s WTBI, read the official rules, and submit an application. Deadline is Feb. 3rd.

GeoAir Wins Fall 2016 Vol Court Pitch Competition

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GeoAir, a startup company founded by University of Tennessee, Knoxville, MBA candidate Alex Adams, won top prize at last week’s fall 2016 Vol Court Pitch Competition. The company beat 18 competitors to take first place at the competition, which was hosted by UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

GeoAir gives a faster, more precise way to identify mold in fields by using a drone to take airborne samples of the field. That data is used to create a heat map, which identifies mold hot spots. This information allows growers to spot treat the areas instead of the entire crop, saving time, money and crop production.

L to R: Brittany Burgess, Launch Tennessee; Paul Sponcia, IT Company; Alexa Sponcia, Hard Knox Pizzeria; Alex Adams, GeoAir; David Morehous, Morehous Legal Group PLLC; Jake Holt, Cirrus Insight; Eric Elliott, Teknovation.biz; Shawn Carson, ACEI

L to R: Brittany Burgess, Launch Tennessee; Paul Sponcia, IT Company; Alexa Sponcia, Hard Knox Pizzeria; Alex Adams, GeoAir; David Morehous, Morehous Legal Group PLLC; Jake Holt, Cirrus Insight; Eric Elliott, Teknovation.biz; Shawn Carson, ACEI

Adams won $1,500 along with one year of free office space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, consulting services courtesy of PYA, legal advice from Morehous Legal Group and a yearlong subscription to TurboFunder provided by Funding Sage.

Second place went to Taylor King’s ReInvent, an upcycling company that helps people take recyclable materials and transform them into works of art with the help of a local artist. King, a senior in business analytics, won $1,000, six months of free office space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, consulting services from PYA, legal advice from Morehous Legal Group and a yearlong subscription to TurboFunder provided by Funding Sage.

 L to R: Brittany Burgess, Launch Tennessee; Paul Sponcia, IT Company; Alexa Sponcia, Hard Knox Pizzeria; Taylor King, ReInvent; David Morehous, Morehous Legal Group PLLC; Jake Holt, Cirrus Insight; Eric Elliott, Teknovation.biz; Shawn Carson, ACEI


L to R: Brittany Burgess, Launch Tennessee; Paul Sponcia, IT Company; Alexa Sponcia, Hard Knox Pizzeria; Taylor King, ReInvent; David Morehous, Morehous Legal Group PLLC; Jake Holt, Cirrus Insight; Eric Elliott, Teknovation.biz; Shawn Carson, ACEI

Third place went to Prometheus Group LLC, a consultancy group that focuses on risk management and travel security, reducing the cost of risk assessments for travelers while improving efficiency. The company was founded by Christopher Ruel, an MBA candidate and U.S. Army Special Forces veteran, and Jared Smith, a senior in honors computer science and project leader at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Cyber Warfare Research Team. The team was awarded $500 and a yearlong subscription to TurboFunder provided by Funding Sage.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many pitches at one time,” said Shawn Carson, Vol Court director. “It was high energy, and the quality of ideas gets better every year.”

L to R: Brittany Burgess, Launch Tennessee; Paul Sponcia, IT Company; Alexa Sponcia, Hard Knox Pizzeria; Christopher Ruel, Prometheus; David Morehous, Morehous Legal Group PLLC; Jared Smith, Prometheus; Jake Holt, Cirrus Insight; Eric Elliott, Teknovation.biz; Shawn Carson, ACEI

L to R: Brittany Burgess, Launch Tennessee; Paul Sponcia, IT Company; Alexa Sponcia, Hard Knox Pizzeria; Christopher Ruel, Prometheus; David Morehous, Morehous Legal Group PLLC; Jared Smith, Prometheus; Jake Holt, Cirrus Insight; Eric Elliott, Teknovation.biz; Shawn Carson, ACEI

The Vol Court Pitch Competition was the final event of the fall 2016 Vol Court Speaker Series. Prior to the competition, teams attended five entrepreneurial lectures covering topics like legal structure for businesses and unconventional funding sources. Prize money was donated by presenting sponsor Cirrus Insight and supporting sponsors Launch Tennessee and the IT Company.

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 Cirrus Insight, the UT Research Foundation, Launch Tennessee, PYA, Morehous Legal Group, the IT Company, Hard Knox Pizzeria, Three Roots Capital and Funding Sage.

Boyd Venture Challenge Awards $35,000 to Student Startups

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The fall 2016 Boyd Venture Challenge awarded a total of $35,000 to four UT startup companies to advance their businesses.

Prometheus, SimPath, GeoAir, and In With the Old were selected from a group of 15 applicants. The businesses were pitched to a panel of six judges who determined funding awards. Recipients include undergraduate and graduate students representing a variety of disciplines including engineering, communications, business, and computer science.

“The Boyd Venture Challenge continues to attract applicants with strong, innovative businesses,” said Tom Graves, operations director of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. “Insightful questions and comments by the judges are once again invaluable in helping our aspiring entrepreneurs develop their businesses.”

Jared Smith and Christopher Ruel of Prometheus Group LLC.

Jared Smith and Christopher Ruel of Prometheus Group LLC.

Prometheus Group LLC was awarded $17,600.

The company is a consultancy group that focuses on risk management and travel security. It was founded by Christopher Ruel, an MBA candidate and US Army Special Forces veteran, and Jared Smith, a senior in honors computer science and project leader at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Cyber Warfare Research Team. The company intends to reduce the cost of risk assessments for travelers while improving efficiency.

The founders plan to use funding from the Boyd Venture Challenge to develop an integrated and customized risk mitigation tool for global travelers. The service will provide up-to-date customized and detailed risk analysis reports based on the specific needs of each client.

Ben Mohr and Rob Moseley and of SimPath.

Ben Mohr and Rob Moseley and of SimPath.

SimPath was awarded $10,000.

SimPath, a company founded by Rob Moseley and Ben Mohr, doctoral candidates with UT’s Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, offers quick low-cost DNA assembly solutions for synthetic biologists in the bio-based manufacturing industry.

The company combines its assembly technology with high-tech web-based DNA design tools and DNA synthesis, offering a quicker cost-effective alternative to current assembly options. SimPath plans to use the funds to finalize licensing arrangements with ORNL.

Alex Adams of GeoAir.

Alex Adams of GeoAir.

GeoAir was awarded $5,000.

GeoAir identifies mold hot spots in agriculture fields, allowing farmers to proactively treat them, which increases crop yield. The company, founded by MBA candidate Alex Adams, will use the funds to gain national recognition and begin selling services prior to the growing season.

Baker Donahue of In With the Old.

Baker Donahue of In With the Old.

In With the Old was awarded $2,400.

In With the Old specializes in repurposing and selling retro college apparel. The company was founded by Baker Donahue, a junior in communication studies. The Instagram-based auction-style business currently operates at UT and Auburn University. With the funds from the Boyd Venture Challenge, the company will grow its current services, and expand to a new location.

The Boyd Venture Challenge is administered through the Anderson Center in UT’s Haslam College of Business. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, 33 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $277,000 in seed capital to advance their businesses.

The fall 2016 Boyd Venture Challenge judges included Ralph Korpman, Tony Lettich, Mike Manning, Chris Miller, Jake Rheude, and Stefan Wilson.

“The competition from the companies was very strong,” said Rheude, director of business development and marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment and two-time Boyd Venture Challenge winner. “The variety and quality of businesses represented reflect UT well.”

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.