Boyd Venture Challenge Awards $32,500 To Student Startups

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) has named four student startup companies as winners in the Fall 2014 Boyd Venture Challenge. The companies, ranging in nature from farm equipment to web design, each received $5,000 to $10,000 in seed funding to advance their businesses.

“We had a really great group of student companies apply this semester,” said Tom Graves, ACEI Operations Director. “The judges were very impressed by the quality of the businesses that presented, as is evidenced by the fact they chose to award four teams. The awards, collectively, represent the largest funding round since the fund’s inception in spring 2011.”

The Fall 2014 winners are:

  • Catalyst Cycling LLC, $10,000
  • Make Me Modern Inc, $10,000
  • FunLPro Technology LLC, $7,500
  • FarmSpec, $5,000
Justin Clark, Zach McCormick and Nick McCormick of Catalyst Cycling.

Justin Clark, Zach McCormick and Nick McCormick of Catalyst Cycling.

Catalyst Cycling LLC, is a repeat Boyd Venture Challenge winner, having also won last fall. The Catalyst Cycling team is formed of Zach McCormick, a junior in mathematics, Nick McCormick, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, and Justin Clark, a junior in computer science. Their company sells innovative cycling parts and accessories, and is already gaining market traction with their carbon fiber wheel covers. They intend to use the $10,000 to finalize the designs of two additional products, the Time Capsule and Wheel System.




Daniel Lawhon, Thomas Truett and Anthony Meyer of Make Me Modern Inc.

Anthony Meyer, Thomas Truett and Daniel Lawhon of Make Me Modern.

Make Me Modern Inc. is a web development company formed by Thomas Truett, a senior in business management, Anthony Meyer, a junior in electrical engineering, and Daniel Lawhon, a junior in computer engineering. They are developing a software, Breeze, that will enable customers to preview their existing website in a variety of provided modern designs and allow them to update the look of their website with a simple push of a button. Make Me Modern intends to use the $10,000 to finish developing the Breeze software and begin beta testing.




Bryan Crosby of FunLPro Technology.

Bryan Crosby of FunLPro Technology.

FunLPro Technology LLC is owned by Bryan Crosby, an MBA candidate and Entrepreneur Fellow. He has developed a disposable funnel that integrates into product packaging and eliminates the need to use a separate funnel when pouring liquids like motor oil, antifreeze or bleach. The $7,500 will be used to finance packaging FunLPro on motor oil in the local area and to develop FunLPro caps that will be available in major automotive retail outlets in early 2015.




Austin Scott and Shawn Butler of FarmSpec.

Austin Scott and Shawn Butler of FarmSpec.

FarmSpec is a company developing innovative technologies to improve the sustainability of global food systems. It was formed by Shawn Butler and Austin Scott, both master’s candidates in plant pathology and plant sciences, respectively.  Their first product, the Flex Roller Crimper, is a new agricultural tool that will enable incorporation of cover crops into no-till and other crop production systems. They hold a provisional patent on the technology and intend to use the $5,000 prize to develop a working prototype for field-testing.




The Boyd Venture Challenge is administered through the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, 20 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $142,000 in seed capital to advance their businesses.

The Boyd Venture Challenge is made possible by the generosity of Randy Boyd, President and CEO of Radio Systems Corporation, makers of PetSafe, Invisible Fence and SportDog brands.


Boyd Venture Fund Spring 2013 Winners

UT Boyd Venture Fund Spring 2013 Awards Seed Grants to Three UT-Student-Owned Entrepreneurial Ventures

Randy Boyd (L), founder of the Boyd Venture Fund chats with Jordon Humble, Escadrille Cycling Apparel, Jake Rheude, Summersett Foods, LLC and co-founders of PTlink, LLC, Colin Howser and Trevor Grieco.

Knoxville—Three student-owned ventures split $25K in seed funding grants from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Boyd Venture Fund and a fourth was offered space in the UT incubator, an in- kind offer worth $3000, by the UT Research Foundation. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, 11 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $87.5K in seed capital to achieve milestones that advanced their businesses.

The spring 2013 winners were:

  • SummerSett Foods: a manufacturer and distributor of a line of frozen buffalo chicken dip that can go directly from the freezer to the microwave
  • Escadrille Cycling Apparel:  a clothing company that specializes in high-end custom cycling apparel that improves functionality for cycling enthusiasts
  • PTlink: a software company that allows the physical therapist and the patient to connect more frequently  insuring faster and more effective recovery
  • Anna’s Armoire: a Facebook based, fixed price jewelry and apparel merchandiser where buyers log into the site once a week to purchase limited quantity items

The Boyd Venture Fund is administered through the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s College of Business Administration.

Foods, LLC,
founded by Jake Rheude (Marketing ’14) markets a line of frozen buffalo chicken dips. Typical of many entrepreneurial endeavors, the company came about as a result of the founder wanting a product that wasn’t available. When Jake arrived in Knoxville he discovered that dips he had been familiar with in Cincinnati were not available in Knoxville.  Seeing an opportunity he and a business partner at the time set out to create and market a line of frozen buffalo chicken dips. The products have been developed, a local packager has been found and this award from the Boyd Venture Fund will allow Summersett Foods to develop in-store merchandising materials to pursue contracts with local grocery store chains.

Cycling Apparel
(formally Privateer Cycling Apparel) founded by Jordon Humble (Global Politics and Economics ’13) has created a line of high-end cycling apparel. Jordon, who has been on the US cycling team and raced in Europe, lamented that aside from a fabric change in the 1970’s cycling apparel hadn’t changed in a hundred years. He set out to change that by connecting with world class sporting apparel designers. Currently prototypes are being sown in LA but Jordon, who is from Chattanooga, intends to move production to East Tennessee in the future. When asked to describe his company in a few words he describes it as “high-end” cycling apparel designed by cyclists for cyclists. His Boyd Venture Fund award will allow him to move forward with prototype development and marketing.

PTlink, LLC was founded by two biomedical engineering majors, Collin Howser (’14) and Trevor Grieco (’14). The interactive mobile app connects the patient to the clinician to improve communication and recovery in a rehabilitation setting. The app has two components: first the clinical aspect has a simple interface where the clinician can create a rehab program; and a patient graphic user interface that allows the patient to step through the therapy electronically. The patient and the clinician are “linked” to improve the entire process. The Boyd Venture Fund award will allow the founders to do extensive market research to validate or modify the product features.

Anna’s Armoire, founded by Anna Gilbert (Retail and Consumer Science ’14) is an on-line Facebook based, fixed price, jewelry and apparel merchandiser with an interesting twist. Anna locates unique jewelry and apparel, photographs it, and posts it on her Facebook page. On Sunday at 9:00PM (eastern) the site goes live and customers can log in to buy the limited quantity merchandise.  Each picture shows the price and the quantity available for sale. Pictures change every 1-2 minutes. To buy, the customer comments “sold” on the picture.

“Creating new local businesses is the cornerstone to a community’s success,” said fund benefactor Randy Boyd, president and CEO of Radio Systems Corp. “These businesses create jobs, pay taxes that fund other investments such as education, and support the local community with philanthropy. I cannot imagine a better return on investment than supporting future generations of entrepreneurs.”

Boyd Venture Fund grants are available to any UT Knoxville student-owned business and are awarded each spring and fall.





“We’re a safety company focused on safety in surgery,” Chris Doody, President and Chief Executive Officer of Knoxville-based SensorMed says.

“Everything we try to pursue is based on a need already identified in surgery,” he adds in describing the self-funded, three-year old start-up that is located in the University of Tennessee’s (UT) business incubator.

We recently sat down with Doody and William Milam, the company’s Vice President of Engineering, to learn more about SensorMed, its origins, its plans and the manner in which the two joined forces.

Doody is a Knoxville native who earned his undergraduate degree in Family Business and Entrepreneurship at Auburn University and his Master’s in Business Administration from UT’s Knoxville campus.

“I wanted to stay in Knoxville,” he explained, adding that his father, Dr. Michael Doody, a local surgeon, “would create devices that would help him in surgery.” One of those was a technology platform, patented in 2003 but not pursued until the younger Doody matched his desire to remain in Knoxville with the opportunity to commercialize his father’s invention.

Milam is a South Carolina native who came to Knoxville with Philips Electronics in 1995 and later joined Vig Sherrill at ASIC International, which was acquired later by Flextronics, before founding Telesensors.

“We (Telesensors) got walloped by the great recession in 2008,” Milam said, but not before Doody served an internship with the company.

A look around SensorMed’s office clearly underscores the duo’s respective roles. Doody had a relative clean desk, indicating his focus on the business and marketing roles. Milam, the engineer, had parts all around his desk.

As far as SensorMed’s focus, Doody talked about fire safety in operating rooms and the fact that surgical light cables, such as those attached to laparoscopic devices, are one of the main identified burn and fire hazards. When unattached to the scopes, he said that the cables can generate 450° of heat from the end closest to the patient and cause a fire or inflict third-degree skin burns in less than 10 seconds.

SensorMed is using Dr. Doody’s platform technology to sell both disposable and reusable “caps” that can be placed on the end of the surgical light cable to diffuse the heat. The product is called “CableCap.”

For the surgeon and hospital or surgery center, it is a welcome device. “When a surgeon needs light, he needs it right then,” Doody says, adding that “CableCap” can be removed or installed very quickly.

“CableCap” is the first of several products that the SensorMed team plans to bring along. Another addresses an issue that Doody says is “the greatest threat to a patient and most dangerous part of laparoscopy – access to the abdominal cavity.” He explained that more than 50 percent of the complications from this type of surgery occur during the “entry” or “access” phase of the procedure, which requires a physician to insert Veress needles and/trocars into the peritoneal space.

Doody explains that this is a process that relies on the surgeon using their instrument to “feel” their way through the various layers of the abdomen. Using SensorMed’s Veress needle guidance device, the surgeon receives a series of auditory and visual cues, signaling the Veress needle tip’s precise entry into the patient’s peritoneal cavity.

“The Veress guide will effectively eliminate the guess work,” Milam said and showed how it works using a grapefruit. “We are adding sight and sound to what has been the surgeon’s feel in the past.”

For SensorMed, it appears that generating ideas to commercialize is not a challenge, particularly with a surgeon who is also an inventor. Instead, it’s the “difficulty of taking it (a medical device technology) all the way when you’re a company of our size,” Doody says. “We can take a product idea from concept stage to commercially viable, but then we need to partner with others to bring it to market.”

Doody sees two options in the future for SensorMed – establish partnerships or a pursue significant funding to ramp-up of R & D, clinical work and the start-up’s team. “We are actively soliciting partnerships and have multiple possibilities,” he says. “The decision on what is best for us is under review now.”



Andrew Dougherty says that he did not intend to become an entrepreneur, but his career track changed when he joined an entrepreneurial company fresh out of undergraduate school.

The company was named Last Minute, and Dougherty told teknovation.bizin a recent interview that he joined just as it was “on the tail end of blowing through $40 million in Super Bowl ads.” Dougherty saw both the bad – an unsound business strategy – and the good – a savior coming to the rescue.

The savior was Alan Greenberg, an alumnus of the University of Tennessee (UT) and a former top executive at Whittle Communications. He took over the company and merged it with his Travel Holdings enterprise.

At the time, Dougherty was 24 years old with an opportunity to stay with the company but move to Orlando. “For several different reasons, I decided not to do so,” he said.

Instead, he decided to try entrepreneurship on his own, building a business plan around his father’s emerging reputation as a national expert on Alzheimer’s disease. His father is Dr. John Dougherty, Medical Director of the Cole Neuroscience Center at the UT Medical Center.

The younger Dougherty recalled that it was 2005, a time when the dreaded disease had not received the level of attention that it has more recently. His business plan, which used the Internet to deliver Alzheimer’s presentations to physicians, “was about a year too late,” he said, citing WebMD as already occupying the space.

“I needed to go to business school,” Dougherty said. “There was so much I did not know.”

The next several years were exciting and rewarding for Dougherty. As an MBA student at UT, he says that he continually thought about the business plan for an online Alzheimer’s test, and he actually started developing it in a class taught by Lynn Youngs, current Director of UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Dougherty was also selected by Glenn Kline as an intern for Innovation Valley Partners (IVP), a then recently launched $35 million venture fund. “It was a perfect situation,” he said, allowing him to work four days a week for IVP and devote the fifth day to his own business plan.

IVP operated as a sidecar to Battelle Ventures, a fund associated with Battelle Memorial Institute, one-half of the management team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Dougherty’s work for IVP involved helping a Colorado-based start-up utilize technology from ORNL and the National Renewal Energy Laboratory, another U.S. Department of Energy facility.

The experience taught Dougherty two lessons.

“It’s difficult to marry technologies from two different scientists in two different locations,” he concluded.  “It’s also difficult to take things out of the lab . . . from the bench to the marketplace without collaboration from the investors and scientists.”

Dougherty graduated from UT in December 2008 and has devoted the time since to refining the business plan for the company that he and his father founded. Their core product is the Cogselftest that focuses on six cognitive areas – memory, visual spatial skills, attention, verbal skills, orientation and executive function, and organized thinking. “The one (test) they have been using was developed in the 1960s,” he notes.

As with any start-up, there has been a series of challenges.

“It took two years of research to get peer review recognition to be published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. That occurred in 2010. Along the way, the Dougherty’s made a decision to switch their marketing channel from focusing on individuals to targeting physicians. Today, the Alzheimer’s market is exploding with so many companies trying to enter, another challenge for a company backed by angels.

“Our goal is to continue to grow the company,” Dougherty says, adding that he believes there is a “game changer” on the horizon.

At 32 years of age, Dougherty has enjoyed many entrepreneurial experiences, but his passion for the community stands-out. “You don’t realize all that Knoxville has to offer,” he says. “Knoxville doesn’t stand on its pedestal and beat its chest.”

With the hoped for “game changer” for the Cogselftest, maybe the opportunity will occur soon.




UPDATE:  Recent article in the Knoxville News Sentinel

Nate Buchanan is passionate about helping college students ensure that they have solid credit ratings by the time they graduate. He is a student, and he’s witnessed what can happen if students aren’t diligent during their collegiate years.

The Hendersonville, TN-native completes his MBA at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) this December. In a recent interview with, Buchanan talked about his experience since winning the UTK Business Plan Competition his junior year at UTK and becoming an Entrepreneur Fellow in the university’s full-time MBA Program.

He said that he “cycled through a number of business ideas” before deciding upon his new company, Credit Virgin, which he will present during next month’s “Entrepreneurial Imperative 2012” conference. Nate is the recipient of a $30,000 donor paid fellowship that requires he start a new venture while a MBA student.

The idea for Credit Virgin “evolved over time,” but Buchanan says that two factors significantly influenced him. One was his observation of how easy it was for college students to ruin their credit rating by the time they graduated. The second was the challenge that his college roommate experienced when the two decided to rent an apartment.

“My roommate had a full-time job, but he did not have a credit score, so he could not sign the apartment lease,” Buchanan explained. “This raised my awareness that I needed to do something (about my own credit rating) before I got out of school.”

Buchanan applied for a credit card and secured it. Once he had the card, he decided to better understand “how I build a good credit score.” After reading volumes of documents – something most students were not likely to do, Buchanan hatched the concept that led to the creation of Credit Virgin.

“The idea is to do it in three parts,” Buchanan says in explaining the business model to monetize the new start-up that will be web-based.

The first element of the strategy to help students is the production of approximately 10 educational videos that he describes as tutorials. They will run from about 90 seconds to five minutes each with all 10 lasting less than an hour and be available on the start-up’s web page by the first of November.

“Students will have a base knowledge to build good credit in school” after viewing the videos, Buchanan says.

The second element of Credit Virgin’s strategy is built on helping students select the best card for their individual needs. Buchanan explained that factors like annual percentage rate (APR) of interest charged, credit line, annual card fee, and rewards for use are decisions that students need to consider.

When Credit Virgin’s web page rolls out in November, the evaluation page will be static, listing these and other factors for a handful of credit card companies focused on the collegiate market. They include Capital One, Citi Group, and Discover. Buchanan plans to roll-out a more interactive version of the evaluation page that will allow students to answer questions to help guide their credit card selection.

“The ultimate goal is to match students with the best card for them,” Buchanan says.

The final element of his three-part plan for Credit Virgin is a monitoring system that Buchanan says “will monitor student spending patterns and tell them how those patterns are affecting their credit scores.” Like the interactive evaluation page, the monitoring system will be available when the second version of the web page is available.

The importance of a good credit score when an individual wants to buy a car or other major purchase is obvious, but Buchanan notes some additional reasons for students to be sensitive to it.

“Car insurance companies and prospective employers are now looking at credit scores,” he says.

Buchanan said that he is funding Credit Virgin himself.

“When I decided to start the business, I had no technical skills,” he says. He spent the summer teaching himself to build his web page and educational tutorials. He’s now looking for a technical partner as he prepares for the November presentation.




A team of UT researchers have found a way to make cells emit light without the use of harmful UV or foreign chemicals.  This breakthrough allows the cells to remain undisturbed while being visualized, allowing researchers to monitor, track, and measure their growth and function in ways never before possible.  These UT staff membesr have recently started a company based on this exciting technology. See a video interview done by here.