Graves Business Plan Competition Makes Awards to Seven Student Startups

Seven University of Tennessee, Knoxville, student startups were recently awarded cash prizes in the Graves Business Plan Competition. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business sponsored the 10th annual entrepreneurial contest.

Sophomores Kelsey Duncan and Ryan Cunningham took top prizes of $5,000 each in the high growth business and lifestyle business categories. Second and third place winners in both categories were awarded $3,000 and $2,000 respectively.

Duncan, a marketing major from Nashville, Tennessee, placed first in the high growth

Kelsey Duncan, The Sorority Guide

category with The Sorority Guide. The values-based analytical tool uses a cellphone application to guide potential new sorority members through the recruitment process. The application eases the process by providing users with information about each sorority, facts about recruitment events and journaling options for users to privately record their experiences. Duncan is in contact with several SEC schools, pursuing possible contracts for her new app.

“The competition not only allowed me to perfect my business pitch, but it also allowed me to sit down and figure out the financial side of my company and what I need to move forward,” Duncan says. “I am very grateful for the experience and opportunity that UT has given me to advance my company.”

Ryan Cunningham, Campus Car

Cunningham, a supply chain management major from Collierville, Tennessee, was awarded the top prize in the lifestyle business category with Campus Car, a flat-rate ride-sharing startup for the UT campus area. The company hires local students as independent contractors to provide low-cost transportation to and from campus in downtown Knoxville, Fort Sanders and the campus area. The company plans to launch in August.

“The Graves Business Plan Competition helped me by allowing me to pitch my idea in front of judges and university representatives who gave critiques that assisted in shaping the future of my business,” Cunningham says. “The requirements of the pitches and prep work necessary to make a good presentation have made my business plan even more solid and will help me to achieve the goals I have planned.”

Anna Amagliani, Brennan Galbraith, Caroline Cate and Caroline Conley of Wahie Women

Second place in the high growth category went to the Wahie Women team, composed of Brennan Galbraith, a junior in marketing from Brentwood, Tennessee; Caroline Conley, a junior in economics from Franklin, Tennessee; Anna Amagliani, a junior in supply chain management from Memphis, Tennessee; and Caroline Cate, a junior in industrial engineering from Brentwood, Tennessee.

Wahie Women is a food delivery service customized to meet the nutritional needs of women. The company uses a cellphone-based application to track users’ menstrual cycles and creates meals designed to replace the nutrients naturally depleted during a woman’s cycle.

Baker Donahue, In With the Old

In With the Old, a social-media-based clothing retail service, took home second place in the lifestyle category. The company was founded by Baker Donahue, a junior in communication studies from Franklin, Tennessee. In With the Old uses online social auctions to sell repurposed vintage college apparel. The company began at UT and now includes four additional college campuses

Tied for third place in the high growth category were Simple Mow and Grassroots Co-Op.

Treavor Johnson, Simple Mow

Simple Mow delivers an efficient hands-free mowing experience. Created by Treavor Johnson, a senior in mechanical engineering from Englewood, Tennessee, Simple Mow uses a combination of satellite navigation and a customized plot route to eliminate the need to perform the physical labor of mowing. Johnson has plans to finalize a prototype this summer.

Barrett Darlington, Grassroots Co-Op

Grassroots Co-Op, created by Barrett Darlington, a junior in mechanical engineering from Knoxville, seeks to simplify the internship hunting process for UT students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. The company uses web and cellphone application-based services to match students with local businesses seeking interns.

Mason Timken, Just Tap It

Just Tap It, created by Mason Timken, a senior in mechanical engineering from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was awarded third place in lifestyle. Just Tap It is a self-serve bar tap that aims to change the way consumers order beer. The mobile unit attaches to a keg and allows consumers to purchase and pour directly at the tap.

The Graves Business Plan Competition is held every spring. It is open to UT undergraduate students from any field of study. An outside panel of judges from the business community judges entries and selects the winners. Since the competition’s inception in 2008, it has awarded $192,000 to student startups. Sixty-one startup ideas have been funded, 46 percent of which are still in business or have pivoted to a new business.


Boyd Venture Challenge Application Period Opens March 30

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 March 30. 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 Wednesday, April 12. 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, April 28.

“We are fortunate to be able to offer seed funding at this level,” says Tom Graves, Anderson Center director of operations and director of the competition.

Randy Boyd and Tom Graves with the fall 2016 Boyd Venture Challenge award winners.

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 $277,000 to 33 student-owned startups.

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


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


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


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.