Boyd Venture Challenge Awards Funding to Four Student Startups

Four businesses owned by students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, were recently awarded a total of $35,000 in the spring 2017 Boyd Venture Challenge. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business hosted the seed fund grant competition.

The Sorority Guide, Orion Investment Group, In With the Old and Campus Car were selected from a group of eight finalists. A panel of five judges determined funding awards.

“Funding at this level provides our student entrepreneurs with the opportunity to take their early-stage venture to the next step,” said Tom Graves, operations director of the Anderson Center. “The Boyd Venture Challenge not only grants this important funding, but students also receive feedback from the judges, which can help as they move their business forward.”

Kelsey Duncan of The Sorority Guide

The Sorority Guide, founded by Kelsey Duncan, a sophomore in marketing from Nashville, was awarded $15,000. The values-based analytical tool uses a cell phone 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. In addition to using the funds for travel to pitch The Sorority Guide to the universities across the U.S., Duncan plans to expand her company’s personnel.

“The Boyd Venture Challenge has been an incredible honor and experience to participate in,” said Duncan. “I am very excited about the future and what is to come for the Sorority Guide.”

Judd Conatser of Orion Investment Group

Orion Investment Group, a local real estate investment business, was awarded $10,000. MBA candidate and U.S. Navy veteran Judd Conatser, from Maryville, Tennessee, founded the company. Orion Investment Group plans to provide quality single-family rental properties in Maryville. The company caters to young, mobile families who often relocate for their jobs and find it impractical to buy and sell a home during a short turnaround time.

“This award will allow me to obtain the needed legal assistance and financial advice to move the company to the next level,” said Conatser.

Baker Donahue of In With the Old

In With the Old, a social media-based clothing retail service, was awarded $5,000. 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. Donahue plans to use the funds to hire a web developer and designer to improve the efficiency of the company’s e-commerce website. Originally a UT-based company, the brand now includes four other college campuses.

“The Boyd Venture Challenge has prepared me for real-life scenarios with real-life rewards,” says Donahue. “With the redesigned website we’ll be able to scale to every prominent university in the country.”

Ryan Cunningham of Campus Car

Campus Car, founded by Ryan Cunningham, a supply chain management major from Collierville, Tennessee, was awarded $5,000. The flat-rate ride-sharing company for the UT campus area plans to launch in August. The company will hire local students as independent contractors to provide low-cost transportation to and from campus in downtown Knoxville, Fort Sanders and the campus area. Cunningham plans to use the funds for cell phone application development and insurance premiums.

“The funds will allow me to be completely financially stable during the first couple of months of operation,” says Cunningham.

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.

The Boyd Venture Challenge is administered each fall and spring semester. It is open to UT undergraduate and graduate students from any field of study. An outside panel of judges from the business community decides the funding awards. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, 37 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $312,000 in seed capital to advance their businesses.

 

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.

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.

“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.

UT Startups Invited to Apply to Cupid’s Cup Pitch Competition


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The University of Tennessee is one of 23 schools invited to participate in the 2017 Cupid’s Cup pitch competition hosted by Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of Under Armour, in partnership with Northwestern University. The competition is open to undergraduate and graduate students currently enrolled at UT or alumni under the age of 30. Applicants must be running a legal business entity that has demonstrated proof of traction. There is no fee to apply. The competition will award more than $100,000 in prizes.

The application deadline is January 1, 2017. Validation Day (semi-finals) will be held on February 8, 2017 at Under Armour’s global headquarters in Baltimore, MD, with the final competition scheduled for March 30, 2017 at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.

To apply and learn more about Cupid’s Cup, please go to www.cupidscup.com.

UT Vol Court Pitch Competition Kicks Off Oct. 12

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Bring an idea and start a business with the help of Vol Court, a semiannual pitch competition and speaker series hosted by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Vol Court kicks off Oct. 12 with a six-week entrepreneurial speaker series. The series culminates Nov. 16 in a pitch competition where attendees put what they’ve learned into practice. Local entrepreneurs and UT faculty will cover topics including legal structure for businesses and unconventional funding sources.

Now in its eighth year, Vol Court invites UT students, faculty, staff and members of the local community to pitch their business ideas. Winners receive up to $1,500 in prize money, space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, and legal and accounting services.

Shawn Carson, Vol Court director, will share his expertise from 15 years in entrepreneurship.

“Having been involved with Vol Court as a contributor over the years, I am excited about helping run the program,” said Carson. “It is a great opportunity for students across campus to get their first exposure to the world of entrepreneurship. The fact that there’s a cash prize doesn’t hurt, either.”

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 every Wednesday beginning Oct. 12 from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. in Room G4 of Stokely Management Center, 916 Volunteer Blvd. 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.

Anyone who participates in the Nov. 16 pitch competition must have attended four of the following five series meetings.

Oct. 12: Business Model Canvas

Oct. 19: Legal Structure for Your Business

Oct. 26: An Entrepreneur’s Journey

Nov. 2: Unconventional Funding Sources

Nov. 9: Pitching the Concept

Nov. 16: Pitch Competition

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.