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.


Guru Skins Launches Website, Places Third in SEC Symposium


It was a bit of a whirlwind week for the Guru Skins team. On Sept. 15, their website opened for business, and on Sept. 21 they were representing the University of Tennessee at the Southeastern Conference Symposium in Atlanta where they finished third out of fourteen teams in the Student Entrepreneurial Pitch Competition.

“It’s been a big week for us,” said Jake Rheude, UT MBA candidate, Entrepreneur Fellow, and founder of Guru Skins. “Getting the site launched for beta testing was a big step, and then placing third at the SEC Symposium was very validating because of the high level of competition we were up against.”

Guru Skins is a crowdsourcing site connecting artists and board-sport enthusiasts through the sale of custom ski, snowboard, wakeboard, and other vinyl covers, enabling customers to protect their boards while conveying their individual styles.

The idea for Guru Skins came into being just over a year ago when Rheude was getting ready to leave for a snowboarding trip and was frustrated because he no longer liked the art on his snowboard but was unable to change it without buying a brand new board.

“The entire culture around skiing and snowboarding is so expressive, it just seemed crazy to me that to change the look of your board you had to spend hundreds of dollars on a new one,” said Rheude.

And with that thought, Guru Skins was born. Rheude founded the company and put together a team, bringing on John Born, a UT MBA candidate, and Dustin Giltnane, a UT MBA candidate also pursing a masters in nuclear engineering.

Before placing third at the SEC Symposium, Guru Skins had already found success, winning $5,000 in the Boyd Venture Challenge at UT and $5,000 in Davidson College’s National Venture Tournament for Sustainability & Sports. Guru Skins has operated on that $10,000 to date, a figure that might have made them seem like an underdog going into the SEC Symposium competition.

“Half of the teams there had already raised between $50,000 and $400,000 in angel or Series A funding, so we were up against some well established companies with very impressive technologies,” said Rheude. “The biggest take away for us was that we were able to compete with those teams. Advancing to the finals ahead of some of the companies with significantly more funding really validated our business model.”

The competition was won by a team of Texas A&M University PhD students who created affordably priced high-mobility prosthetic devices using smart nanotechnology and next-generation materials for additive manufacturing (3-D printing). The second place award went to a team of University of Arkansas PhD students who developed a new economical design for solar panels.

With the Guru Skins website up and running, the next step is to increase the company’s visibility amongst their target market.

“The website is definitely a soft launch right now,” said Rheude. “It’s operational, and we’ve already made our first sale, but we’re mostly trying to test out the backend mechanics of the website before we market it. Next, we’ll do some SEO (Search Engine Optimization) work to improve its visibility and then begin our marketing efforts in earnest – probably by mid-to-late October.”

Guru Skins also hopes to partner with several local businesses in Colorado, and they are currently working with bloggers to develop articles on the artists whose designs are now featured on the site. As part of their marketing strategy, Guru Skins also has plans to create online content that attracts boarding enthusiasts.

“We’re really looking to connect with amateur boarders to create some promotional videos,” said Rheude. It’s all about getting this company and brand image in front of the right people.”

In the months leading up to the company’s launch, Guru Skins worked with a number of Haslam College of Business faculty members to refine their business model and polish their pitch.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the Guru Skins team,” said Lynn Youngs, executive director of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and faculty mentor. “They’ve taken an idea and, in less than a year, developed it into a business that’s competing with the best student startups from across the SEC. I expect big things from Guru Skins, and with the entrepreneurship minor now in place, my hope is that we see more student companies like this coming out of UT in the future.”

For more information on Guru Skins, visit



Boyd Venture Challenge Accepting Applications Through Oct. 31

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is now accepting applications 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.

The Boyd Venture Challenge is open to any early-stage company owned by a UT student. To be eligible, companies must be legally established and the student owner(s) must be enrolled in a UT undergraduate or graduate degree program in Knoxville at the time of application. Applications must be received by the Anderson Center no later than 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31, 2014. For full application instructions and eligibility details, click here.

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. To date, this endowed fund has awarded $109,500 to 16 student-owned startups.

7th Annual Undergraduate Business Plan Competition

                              2014 Undergraduate Business Plan Competition

Aspiring UT Entrepreneurs:

The 7th Annual Business Plan Competition Is On!

Got the next big idea? Think you might have an entrepreneurial streak? Like challenges and the chance to make an impact?

If so, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, housed in the College of Business Administration, invites you to enter the sixth annual Business Plan Competition. In an effort to strengthen the entrepreneurial culture and spirit of the university, the competition encourages participants to enhance their understanding of new venture creation, polish their communication skills by presenting ideas to investor-judges and network with successful local entrepreneurs, business owners and venture capitalists.

All undergraduate students on the Knoxville campus — from any college and any discipline — are eligible. Students can enter any idea, from the world’s best lemonade stand to a new way to harness solar energy.

The 2014 competition is offering awards in two categories: technology-enabled growth businesses and lifestyle businesses. Technology-enabled growth businesses have the potential for significant national and international expansion; lifestyle businesses typically remain local to a specific regional area. The top three plans in each category will win $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000, respectively.

“Entrepreneurs power the engine of economic growth. Seldom in the history of our country has there been a greater need for these generators of wealth. This competition is a first step for students who want to follow an entrepreneurial path,” said Tom Graves, director of operations for UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“The college designed the Business Plan Competition to simulate real-world entrepreneurial challenges and stress levels,” he said. “By providing students with experiential, out-of-the-classroom learning opportunities, the university greatly enhances their chances for future success.”

Students can work individually or in teams of up to four people. The competition encourages students with both technical and commercial skills to come together to build strong, well-rounded teams.

“This competition provides participating undergraduate students an excellent chance to develop planning and persuasive presentation skills,” said Lynn Youngs, executive director of the center. “The business plan competition is another way that the university is using applied learning to enhance the educational level of our graduates. I’m excited to see the plans that will be developed.”

Deadlines for the following activities for the 2014 competition are outlined below.  More information is available at

  • February 24: Deadline for concept summary to be submitted to the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, email to attn: Undergraduate Business Plan Competition (requirements for concept summary and other information is available at the Anderson Center site, called out above.
  • March 7: Ten semifinalists in each category will be notified.
  • March 14: Each semifinalist will make a 15-minute presentation and take five minutes of questions from the judges. Semifinalists must also prepare 5 bound copies of their business plan to be left with the judges for their review.
  • March 19: The five finalists in each category will be announced.
  • March 28: During the final round of judging, each finalist will make a five-minute “final pitch” (no sales or visual aids allowed) and then take 20 minutes of questions from the judges.
  • March 31: Winners announced.
  • Date TBA:  Awards presented.

The judges will include UT educators, local entrepreneurs and business professionals, and individuals (such as venture capitalists, bankers, etc.) who support the entrepreneurial community.

For more information, visit:

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Four UT Participants are Finalists in “What’s the Big Idea?!”

Entrepreneurship at UT continues to flourish and produce entrepreneurs in the Knoxville region:  four out of 15 finalists in this year’s “What’s the Big Idea?” business plan competition are students or faculty at UT. The winning idea will receive a Big Idea Launch Package that includes up to $10,000. 

The Knoxville Chamber, The Development Corporation of Knox County, Tech 20/20 and Rodefer Moss & Company host this annual event to spur the launch and growth of new businesses. The Big Ideas were chosen based on growth potential, innovation and/or technical feasibility, newness of the concept or plan, and viability of a sustainable, competitive advantage.

The UT finalists are:

  • CampusLife, Chad Tate:  College-centered social media site focused on facilitating real world connections
  • Neural Energy Games, Charles Chin (a former Vol Court winner!):  Educational video games company targeting college freshmen level courses
  • PTlink, Trevor Grieco and Collin Howser:  Interactive mobile application that improves recovery by connecting clinicians and patients
  • Survature Inc., Jian Huang:  Online survey tool evaluating respondent’s answers and behavior

Contestants will now attend several seminars to prepare and deliver a five-minute pitch on May 7 during Team Selection Night. Inspired by the hit television show The Voice, Team Selection Night engages successful, local entrepreneurs as coaches. After hearing all 15 pitches, coaches Parker Frost, founder of Gigmark Interactive; John Tolsma, owner of Knowledge Launch; and Jimmy Rodefer, CEO of Rodefer Moss & Company, PLLC, will each select three contestants to be part of their team. The three coaches, who all have been recipients of the Knoxville Chamber’s Pinnacle Young Entrepreneur Award, will have one month to mentor their team members before contestants face-off in the Knock Out Competitions.

On June 3, the nine semifinalists will pitch their idea to an independent panel of judges in three separate Knock Out Competitions. Judges will select a winner from each Knock Out Competition, each of who will advance to the “What’s the Big Idea?!” finale on June 20 at Relix Variety Theater.