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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.