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.


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.

Boyd Venture Challenge Awards $35,000 to Student Startups


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.


Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Working Paper & Research Proposal Competition

Who: Full time faculty and doctoral students at the University of Tennessee are eligible. Submissions from doctoral students are judged separately from faculty submissions.

Purpose: The primary goal of this competition is to promote and reward high quality, impactful research in entrepreneurship and innovation that will lead to top tier journal publications. The secondary goal is to foster a community of scholars from across the university who focus at least some of their research attention on the important societal goal of increasing entrepreneurial and innovation success. The final goal is to raise the visibility of UT entrepreneurship and innovation research within academic and practitioner communities.

Scope of Topics: Submissions relating to any topics within entrepreneurship and innovation research are encouraged including research focusing on opportunity recognition, decision-making, new venture creation, founder succession, product design and rapid prototyping, technology transfer and technology commercialization, evaluation of programs designed to improve the success rates of entrepreneurial ventures (e.g., incubators, accelerators, government and NGO funding), venture funding, and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Research that focuses on technology entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurship in under-represented populations is especially encouraged.   The listed topics are not meant to be exhaustive; research on other related topics is also encouraged. Submissions by teams of faculty and doctoral students across disciplines are encouraged.

Categories and Awards:

  • Doctoral Student Research Proposal: $800 (multiple awards may be awarded)
  • Doctoral Student Working Paper: $1,300 (multiple awards may be awarded)
  • Faculty Research Proposal: $1,000 (multiple awards may be awarded)
  • Faculty Working Paper: $5,000 (one award may be awarded)
  • Special Grants for Research Expenses: These grants may be used to buy datasets, or to collect data: (Up to $5,000 may be awarded to purchase or create datasets that are made available for use by faculty and graduate students. Requests for smaller amounts are encouraged.)
  • In addition to the cash awards, winners will receive opportunities to present their research to the ACEI Research Council for constructive feedback. Some winners may be chosen to present to select entrepreneurs for feedback on the practical relevance of their research.
  • Abstracts of winning proposals and working papers will be highlighted on the ACEI Focus on Research webpage.

Submission Guidelines: 

All submissions should be accompanied by the author(s)’ list of prior publications, conference presentations, prior ACEI awards, and work submitted to conferences and journals in the publication pipeline not to exceed 2 pages per author. Those with extensive publication histories should limit their list of works to the last five years. An individual may submit up to 3 submissions across all categories. Cash awards will be awarded to the first author of any submission to be divided as s/he sees fit within the team.

Research Proposals: Research that has not yet been presented at a conference outside of UT or submitted to a journal or other publication outlet may be submitted. Proposals that were funded in prior years will only be funded again if substantial changes and progress have been made on the research. Research proposals should clearly identify the research question(s), theoretical background and prior research, research model, hypotheses (if appropriate), methodology including sample, data collection and analysis methods, expected contributions to research and practice, and expected timeline to complete the research. A cover page should identify the project title, the researchers, their affiliation, and contact information, target journal(s) for the research, and which category the proposal should be judged within. The cover page should also include a maximum 200 word abstract of the proposed research. Abstracts should be written for a thoughtful practitioner audience (e.g., educated entrepreneurs, policy makers, venture capitalists) and should avoid technical jargon. To compete in the doctoral student category, the first author must be a doctoral student. The body of a research proposal submission should be a maximum 5 pages, single-spaced, 12 pt. font. Up to 5 additional pages may be provided for references, cover page, and exhibits.

Working Papers: Working papers that are not currently under publication review (or accepted for publication) may be submitted including papers that have been presented or accepted for presentation at academic conferences. Working papers resulting from prior proposal grants are encouraged. Working papers should clearly identify the research question(s), theoretical background and prior research, research model, hypotheses (if appropriate), methodology including sample, data collection and analysis methods, contributions to research and practice, and target journal. A cover page should identify the paper title, the researchers, their affiliation, contact information, and which category the working paper should be judged within. The cover page should also include a maximum 200 word abstract. Abstracts should be written for a thoughtful practitioner audience (e.g., educated entrepreneurs, policy makers, venture capitalists) and should avoid technical jargon. To compete in the doctoral student category, the first author must be a doctoral student. Maximum 40 pages, double-spaced, 12 pt. font, inclusive of all appendices, exhibits, tables, cover page, and references.

Special Grants for Research Expenses: A pool of $5,000 will be reserved to provide funding to proposal writers who request concrete research expenses such as to buy a dataset or to collect data. This grant will be paid against actual invoices and will not be a cash payment. If requesting these funds, please include a short description of the funds needed, the nature of the data or other expenses, and a statement about how the expense might benefit other entrepreneurship researchers in the university, for example, that the data will be made available within 6 months to all faculty and doctoral student researchers within UT.

Judging Panel: Academic judges will be drawn from the ACEI Research Council of Faculty who will rate submissions in terms of importance and novelty of the work, theoretical and methodological contributions, and quality and likelihood of publication in top tier journals. The ACEI Executive Director, Lynn Youngs, will rate submissions in terms of practical contributions based on evaluation of abstracts.

Academic judges will be excused from rating proposals submitted by themselves or their doctoral students.

Past Winners: Abstracts of previously funded research may be viewed here.

Submission Deadline: May 23, 2016.

Submit to:

Rhonda Reger

Director of Research, ACEI


The subject line of the email should identify the category of the submission. Please send a separate email for each submission.