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.

Summersett
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.

Escadrille
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.

 

 

 

SensorMed – ALUMNI ENTREPRENEUR

“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.”

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Medinteract – ALUMNI/FACULTY START-UP

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 Travel.com, 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.

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Credit Virgin – STUDENT ENTREPRENEUR

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 teknovation.biz, 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.

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490 Biotech – FACULTY ENTREPRENEURS

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 teknovation.biz here.

Casenova – STUDENT ENTREPRENEUR

Jake Baron’s mantra might be, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

That is certainly the case with the founder of Casenova, who developed 22 different models of his one-strap backpack or knapsack that will be available this fall for students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). Along the way, Baron has developed 10 new concepts that use the same basic design but are customized to the particular audience.

In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, the December 2011 UTK graduate said his entrepreneurial inspiration came one day during his junior year as he was “walking back to my apartment” and experiencing the discomfort of his traditional two-strap backpack.

Although he had never sewn before, Baron decided that he could design and produce a backpack that was more ergonomically comfortable and would better meet the needs of students, many of whom carried a laptop and iPad, rather than books, to class. His idea was to redistribute weight evenly throughout the body to reduce stress on the back while also providing the types of pockets that today’s students need for cellphones, sunglasses and water bottles.

“I made my first prototype by hand,” he said, adding, “I pricked my finger a number of times.” The initial prototype was redesigned nearly two-dozen times before Baron settled on the latest version that is now glued rather than hand sewn.

“It can handle 14 to 16 pounds,” he says. “The single strap curves to the shape of the body,” in essence allowing the backpack to “mold to the user’s body” over time.

Baron says the Casenova, which is made from Neoprene, creates a “weightless effect” where users believe they are carrying less weight than they actually are.

“A lot of the weight is down in the rib area which takes stress off the shoulders and back,” he explains.

Some two and one-half years after designing his first backpack, Baron is about to embark on selling his product line. He recently received his initial shipment of backpacks from his Chinese manufacturer and has arranged for them to be sold for $59.99 each in the UTK Computer Store.

Baron says that “marketing is not my strongest suit,” but one would never know that as he outlines his plans for rapidly growing beyond the initial UTK market.

“The school industry is changing; it’s going digital,” he says. “I’m trying to ride that wave.” This means sales meetings at local computer stores, since he sees computer users as one of his biggest markets.

Baron also has a webpage – http://www.case-nova.com/ – where customers can learn more about the backpacks and actually purchase one. They come in three colors – black, light pink and royal blue.

Like most entrepreneurs, Baron’s journey in getting from idea to product was not a linear process. His, however, was different from many in the fact that he took a trip halfway around the world in the midst of starting-up.

Baron, who double majored in accounting and Chinese and world business, competed in three events for entrepreneurs while also constantly refining his product design. He entered one of his first prototypes in the UTK Undergraduate Student Business Competition in the Spring 2010 semester. When he won first prize and $5,000, he decided that maybe his idea was a viable business opportunity. Several months later, Baron entered a second UTK-sponsored business competition – Vol Court – and finished second.

Spring Semester 2011 found him engaged in a study abroad internship in China. The time there proved to be fortuitous for Baron and his company, Baron Innovation, LLC. The U.S.-based manufacturer of the backpacks ceased operations, but Baron was able to find a replacement firm in China.

Earlier this year, he won the Boyd Venture Fund competition and $12,500 which is enabling him to secure sufficient product to start commercial sales.

Even as he focuses on students, Baron is also eyeing a number of other potential markets. One involves individuals interested in outdoor sports, hunting, and fishing. “I only have to make a few changes for those markets,” he says. He’s also focused on a smaller version for women and a leather version for business executives.

Baron thought he would be an accountant when he moved from Maryland to Knoxville to enroll in UTK. Then, as he readily admits, “I came across this idea, it stuck, and I got traction. I’m having fun.”

One can easily visualize Baron continuing to pursue enhancements to his existing Casenova product as well as new spin-offs from it and possibly entirely different businesses. He’s clearly one who does not mind trying and trying and trying.

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Foundation Games – STUDENT ENTREPRENEUR

Imagine that you have not yet earned your bachelor’s degree and you already have an established company with offices in places like Sydney, Australia and Manila, The Philippines in addition to Austin, TX.

This is the reality of the life of Aron Beierschmitt, a 2012 University of Tennessee political science graduate, who says he was first turned-on to entrepreneurship by his Oak Ridge High School economics teacher.

In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, Beierschmitt described the roughly two-year “ride” that he has experienced since he started Foundation Mobile Games in February 2010. The inspiration for the company was Beierschmitt’s observation that “smart phones were the first computer devices to “literally be attached to an individual 24/7.”

“The sheer amount of potential products and services that could be delivered through that mechanism drove me to start a mobile company,” he said. That company later modified its focus and changed its name to simply Foundation Games.

Foundation is Beierschmitt’s first start-up, although it is not his first idea for a company. One was an idea that would compete with Facebook. Beierschmitt distributed messages about his idea on LinkedIn and received three responses. One person told him to never contact him again. A second did not understand his idea. The third was an individual from Brazil who said, “Let’s talk,” He ultimately did not invest, but the two continued to communicate, and the Brazilian is now an investor in Foundation.

Beierschmitt’s second idea was a localized version of “PriceGrabber” for China and India.

“I really got nowhere near a company with these two ideas,” he said. “They were merely products I hoped to build.”

Fast forward a few years, and Beierschmitt is a UT sophomore in mechanical engineering whose goal is to get a dual master’s degree in engineering and business when the Apple App Store opened. This became the proverbial “defining moment” in his still young life.

He remembers early 2010 – February 23 to be exact. It was the date he launched his latest journey – Foundation, “a pivotal moment in my life because really four years of persistence had finally led me to secure funding for an idea,” Beierschmitt said.

When he founded the company, Beierschmitt said that he was focused on “mobile gaming,” and he immediately started work to secure a gaming license for the company and its initial product – Dropple.

“While we were developing Dropple, I approached the ORNL Federal Credit Union to build their mobile banking application,” he said. “At the time, I believed we could offer a turn-key solution for credit unions across the nation to provide a comprehensive mobile banking suite.”

Admitting that “I was not a huge video gamer – my mom never let me play too many games as a kid,” Beierschmitt said that he realized “you can take anything you can imagine” and make it into a game. “The drive to gaming for me was the ability to create a world from nothing and share it with other people.”

Over the next few months, he came in second in a UT business competition and won $3,000. Beierschmitt took his prize money and secured $10,000 from the Brazilian with whom he had kept in contact since his initial start-up when he was only 16. He quickly started developing games from the licenses that he had already secured.

To continue pursuing his vision, Beierschmitt leveraged connections an uncle in Texas had to game developers and secured his first real seed investment dollars from Treyarch. With the licenses and additional funds, he launched his first game – “Dropple” – in August 2010.

“It wasn’t the instant success I hoped for,” he admitted. The video game initially received ratings of three out of five in online evaluations, but Beierschmitt was able to make improvements that moved “Dropple” to ratings of five out of five because we grew as a company, adding designers and artists.

Armed with his early success, Beierschmitt acquired the license to convert an existing Facebook application called “Ravenwood Fair” to an application for Apple devices and, with that acquisition, secured another round of seed funds from the same set of initial investors.

Beierschmitt describes 2011 as a “crazy year.” Foundation grew from just Beierschmitt and an occasional contractor to 20 people as the company secured another round of investment funds and “Dropple” downloads grew. Offices were opened in Sydney – “the gaming business died in the big studios there and (art and design) talent became available” – and Manila (programming). The latest game – “Lumi” – was released in December.

If 2011 was “crazy,” it appears that 2012 could be even “crazier.” Beierschmitt expects to graduate at the end of the summer semester, not in mechanical engineering or with the double master’s but in political science. He’ll become Foundation’s full-time Creative Director. A new version of “Dropple” will be released within the month followed within another 30 days by the revised “Ravenwood Fair.” Foundation has plans to move from just Apple apps to Android as well. There’s a proposal from an Asian company to launch “Lumi” merchandise. And, there’s an opportunity in Singapore to explore that could provide Foundation with a launch point into the Asian market.

Then there’s the decision of where Beierschmitt and the company will be based. While he “absolutely loves Knoxville,” he readily admits that he cannot find the talent to develop games here that he can in Manila, Sydney, possibly France and certainly Austin and Raleigh. In response to what do those cities have that Knoxville does not, Beierschmitt says that “a great engineering mind or 3D CAD artist cannot simply jump into gaming. They have to understand the psychology of developing an experience. This particular talent is just not available in Knoxville.”

“Much as people go to film school, they are now going to gaming school,” he explained.

Beierschmitt says that he is “still incredibly naïve but has learned a lot.” Yet, he can clearly and succinctly discuss issues and opportunities in the gaming industry. He notes that there are one billion smartphones worldwide now, and the number is expected to grow to three billion by 2015 as emerging countries bypass land lines and go straight to other technologies.

“Gaming is going the way of ‘Software as a Service,’” he says, adding that more and more games will be downloaded for a tryout. “The conversion rate (from tryout to purchase) is the key,” he explained.

“The industry is so crazy, so now is a good time to enter,” Beierschmitt believes. His long-term goal is simple – “we want to be a Zynga but better by building compelling and memorable experiences for users.”

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM PERSHING YOAKLEY AND ASSOCIATES