Vol Court Pitch Competition and Speaker Series Kicks Off Feb. 1

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The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation invites students, faculty, staff and members of the local community to pitch their business ideas at Vol Court, a semiannual pitch competition and speaker series.

Winners of the competition receive up to $1,500 in prize money, space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, and legal and accounting services.

Vol Court kicks off Feb. 1 with a five-week entrepreneurial speaker series. The event culminates March 8 in a pitch competition where attendees put what they’ve learned into practice.

Local entrepreneurs and UT faculty will cover a range of business topics. As part of the series, Vol Court director Shawn Carson will share his own entrepreneurial expertise.

“We’re excited to return for the spring semester with new speakers and topics,” Carson says. “Vol Court provides opportunities not only to learn from seasoned entrepreneurs but also to network with area businesspeople and entrepreneurial-minded students, faculty, staff and community members.”

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 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. every Wednesday from Feb. 1 through March 8 in the Haslam Business Building, 1000 Volunteer Blvd. The Feb. 1 meeting will be held in Room 103, but all other sessions—as well as the pitch competition—will be held in Room 104.

Anyone who participates in the March 8 pitch competition must have attended four of the following five series meetings:

Feb. 1: Opportunity Identification and Validation

Feb. 8: Getting to Your Market

Feb. 15: Understanding Basic Financial Statements

Feb. 22: Intellectual Property

March 1: Pitching the Concept

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.

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.

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“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.

GeoAir Wins Fall 2016 Vol Court Pitch Competition

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GeoAir, a startup company founded by University of Tennessee, Knoxville, MBA candidate Alex Adams, won top prize at last week’s fall 2016 Vol Court Pitch Competition. The company beat 18 competitors to take first place at the competition, which was hosted by UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

GeoAir gives a faster, more precise way to identify mold in fields by using a drone to take airborne samples of the field. That data is used to create a heat map, which identifies mold hot spots. This information allows growers to spot treat the areas instead of the entire crop, saving time, money and crop production.

L to R: Brittany Burgess, Launch Tennessee; Paul Sponcia, IT Company; Alexa Sponcia, Hard Knox Pizzeria; Alex Adams, GeoAir; David Morehous, Morehous Legal Group PLLC; Jake Holt, Cirrus Insight; Eric Elliott, Teknovation.biz; Shawn Carson, ACEI

L to R: Brittany Burgess, Launch Tennessee; Paul Sponcia, IT Company; Alexa Sponcia, Hard Knox Pizzeria; Alex Adams, GeoAir; David Morehous, Morehous Legal Group PLLC; Jake Holt, Cirrus Insight; Eric Elliott, Teknovation.biz; Shawn Carson, ACEI

Adams 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 Taylor King’s ReInvent, an upcycling company that helps people take recyclable materials and transform them into works of art with the help of a local artist. King, a senior in business analytics, 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.

 L to R: Brittany Burgess, Launch Tennessee; Paul Sponcia, IT Company; Alexa Sponcia, Hard Knox Pizzeria; Taylor King, ReInvent; David Morehous, Morehous Legal Group PLLC; Jake Holt, Cirrus Insight; Eric Elliott, Teknovation.biz; Shawn Carson, ACEI


L to R: Brittany Burgess, Launch Tennessee; Paul Sponcia, IT Company; Alexa Sponcia, Hard Knox Pizzeria; Taylor King, ReInvent; David Morehous, Morehous Legal Group PLLC; Jake Holt, Cirrus Insight; Eric Elliott, Teknovation.biz; Shawn Carson, ACEI

Third place went to Prometheus Group LLC, a consultancy group that focuses on risk management and travel security, reducing the cost of risk assessments for travelers while improving efficiency. The company was founded by Christopher Ruel, an MBA candidate and U.S. Army Special Forces veteran, and Jared Smith, a senior in honors computer science and project leader at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Cyber Warfare Research Team. The team was awarded $500 and a yearlong subscription to TurboFunder provided by Funding Sage.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many pitches at one time,” said Shawn Carson, Vol Court director. “It was high energy, and the quality of ideas gets better every year.”

L to R: Brittany Burgess, Launch Tennessee; Paul Sponcia, IT Company; Alexa Sponcia, Hard Knox Pizzeria; Christopher Ruel, Prometheus; David Morehous, Morehous Legal Group PLLC; Jared Smith, Prometheus; Jake Holt, Cirrus Insight; Eric Elliott, Teknovation.biz; Shawn Carson, ACEI

L to R: Brittany Burgess, Launch Tennessee; Paul Sponcia, IT Company; Alexa Sponcia, Hard Knox Pizzeria; Christopher Ruel, Prometheus; David Morehous, Morehous Legal Group PLLC; Jared Smith, Prometheus; Jake Holt, Cirrus Insight; Eric Elliott, Teknovation.biz; Shawn Carson, ACEI

The Vol Court Pitch Competition was the final event of the fall 2016 Vol Court Speaker Series. Prior to the competition, teams attended five entrepreneurial lectures covering topics like legal structure for businesses and unconventional funding sources. 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. It’s made possible through sponsorship from Cirrus Insight, the UT Research Foundation, Launch Tennessee, PYA, Morehous Legal Group, the IT Company, Hard Knox Pizzeria, Three Roots Capital and Funding Sage.

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.

Boyd Venture Challenge Accepting Applications Through Oct. 17

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The application period is now open 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 Knoxville or UT Institute of Agriculture undergraduate, masters or PhD degree program at the time of application. Applications must be received by the Anderson Center no later than midnight, Mon., Oct. 17, 2016 and should consist of an executive summary, requested funds and milestones that will be accomplished with the funds, if awarded. Teams that advance to the presentation round will pitch to a panel of local business professionals on Fri., Oct. 28. For full application instructions and eligibility details, visit https://tiny.utk.edu/Boyd-fall16.

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. To date, this endowed fund has awarded $242,000 to 29 student-owned startups.

Ice Cream Pop-Up Shop Churning Success for UT Grad

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For UT alumna Colleen Cruze Bhatti, a combination of timing, connections, and hard work brought her to the next step in her growing dairy business, Cruze Farm Girl. This summer, Bhatti opened her first storefront, the Cruze Farm Milk Bar, in downtown Knoxville.

She credits UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation for supporting her entrepreneurial dreams.

“The opportunity to open a storefront came up, and the timing was right,” Bhatti says. “It’s been interesting to see how many people we have been able to reach.”

In this case, “interesting” means twenty thousand scoops of farm-fresh ice cream sold during the shop’s first three weeks.

The Union Avenue shop mixes the old-fashioned charm of an ice cream parlor with modern flavors like lavender honey ice cream as well as the chili dog, a hot dog topped with chili, cheese, mustard, and onions. The top-selling ice cream, in flavors like birthday cake and cookies ’n’ cream, is churned overnight at Cruze Farm. New flavors rotate daily.

“We’re selling everything we can produce right now,” says Bhatti. “We’re in a good spot.” She attributes the success to time spent scooping and selling ice cream, hot dogs, and biscuits from the Milk Bar food truck at the Market Square Farmer’s Market in Knoxville.

“We’ve spent the last five years building connections with people at the market,” she says. “People want to know where their food comes from, and I think they enjoy talking to the person who prepares the food they’re eating.”

This connection between the business and its customers is key for Bhatti. While she now employs twenty full- and part-time “farm girls” who work in the shop and on the dairy farm, customers regularly find Bhatti at the shop scooping ice cream, greeting customers, and caring for the business she has worked hard to build.

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That hard work began while Bhatti was an agriculture science major at UT. She dreamed of expanding her parents’ dairy business and pushed that plan forward when she entered the Graves Undergraduate Business Competition hosted by the Anderson Center. She was awarded the $5,000 first prize in the lifestyle business category for her plan to bring ice cream to Cruze Farm.

“Winning the competition gave my dad confidence in me to keep the dairy business going,” she says. “I think when he saw that the Anderson Center had confidence in me, it gave him confidence too. After that, he was ready for me to move forward.”

The $5,000 prize bought pint containers, and Bhatti spent the summer churning ice cream to fill them.

“I worked so hard the first summer after graduation. I was still proving myself,” says Bhatti. She expanded Cruze Farm’s accounts, selling and delivering milk in Chattanooga and, eventually, Nashville. By the end of that summer, Cruze Farm was bottling all of its own milk. Today, it is the only dairy farm in Knoxville with its own cows and milk plant.

Those real-life lessons of hard work and perseverance are something she strives to share with future entrepreneurs at UT through the Anderson Center.

“We make mistakes, wipe away tears, and try again,” Bhatti says. “Building a business can be emotional. UT has been a great help to me. Talking to students really brings it full circle.”

Part of that circle is Jennifer Edwards, a sophomore majoring in accounting in UT’s Haslam College of Business. Edwards puts her accounting education to work each evening when she plans the quantities and flavors to churn for sale the following day at the shop.

“Jennifer loves to indulge her creative side by inventing new flavors. Her business side always figures out the best plan to execute her fantasy flavors in an efficient way,” Bhatti says proudly.

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While the pop-up shop will stay open only through September 4, Bhatti’s plans for her business are anything but limited. She’s utilizing her location to build relationships with her summer neighbors, including a hot dog collaboration with award-winning chef Joseph Lenn from the soon-to-open restaurant J.C. Holdway and an ice cream story time with Union Avenue Books.

She also is planning for the future—one she hopes includes another storefront. While she is not ruling out a year-round shop, she says the summer pop-up shop has been a great fit for Cruze Farm Girl.

In the fall, Bhatti plans to bring back more flavored milks, including chai milk, and to continue serving ice cream from the Milk Bar truck at the Market Square Farmers Market.

The Milk Bar is located at 513 Union Avenue and is open 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 to 10:00 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 7:00 p.m. Sunday.

To learn more about the Anderson Center’s upcoming business plan competitions, visit andersoncei.utk.edu.

Aron Beierschmitt Receives UT 2014 Alumni Promise Award

Aron BeierschmittAron Beierschmitt has packed a lot into his 24 years. Starting a company at age 19, growing it to 27 full-time employees spanning offices in three different countries, having multiple games reach the million-download mark, and most recently, receiving one of four 2014 Alumni Promise Awards from the University of Tennessee.

Fascinated with the concept of social media, Aron caught the entrepreneurial bug while still in high school. When he was only 19 years old he started his first company, a mobile game company eventually named Foundation Games.  The company has developed and launched 7 games on iOS, Android and Amazon. Its biggest hit has been Lumi, which was named Apple Game of the Week and Editor’s Choice in 2012.

Since graduation, Aron has continued to be active with the Anderson Center, speaking to classes and clubs, serving as a judge for the Boyd Venture Challenge, and mentoring several students in their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Recently, Aron returned to campus and joined us in the Anderson Center for a Q&A.

Q: Where are you now?

A: I’m in San Francisco now – I’ve been there for 2 years. I’m currently the entrepreneur in residence for Codex Venture Partners, a division of Cleartalk Wireless.

Q: What do you do as an entrepreneur in residence?

A: Fifty percent of my job is evaluating companies for potential investment. Twenty-five percent is working on internal items for Cleartalk, and the last bit is working on my own projects.

Q: What is your personal project right now?

A: Postly, a social networking platform. Creating a better social networking experience is an idea I’ve had for years, but I only began actively developing it in January along with my co-founder Ryan Holoubek.

Q: How is Postly different from existing social media platforms?

A: The idea for Postly is based around contextual social. We give control over what you see and who sees what you share through the use of personal and group channels. We are aiming to bring intimacy and relevancy back to social communication. Unlike traditional broadcast networks like Facebook and Twitter, Postly uses group channels and personal channels to increase the contextual relevance of a user’s communications. It gives you more control over what you see and what you share.

Q: When did you first know you wanted to start your own company?

A: I don’t remember the exact moment, but I know I was in high school. At some point I realized there were a lot of people making money online. I became fascinated with the rise of Facebook, and I knew I wanted to do something in that space one day. When I was 16 or so I actually went online to LinkedIn and sent out all sorts of InMails to venture capitalists. I only got three responses – one guy told me to never contact him again, one guy told me that I had a lot of buzzwords but he had no idea what I was talking about, and one guy actually took the time to talk to me. He told me no on that idea, but he gave me feedback on future ideas and eventually became my first investor for Foundation Games.

Q: What’s the status of Foundation Games at this point?

A: I left Foundation Games in January. I still sit on the board, but I’m no longer with the company. After 4 years we didn’t have enough revenue for a sustained growth company. I started that company to be a high growth company, and in that space, it wasn’t sustainable, so I downsized and kept five of my first hires, and it’s continuing as more of a lifestyle type business. They’ll be launching another game later this year.

Q: What, if any, entrepreneurial classes did you take while at UT?

A: Well, none really. Originally I was a mechanical engineering major – I did that for 3 years before switching to political science. I did compete in the Undergraduate Business Plan competition and won $3,000, but I did not compete in the Boyd Venture Challenge because, at that point, I had exceeded the allowed amount of capital raised. While I didn’t take any entrepreneurial classes, I did get a lot of great advice from faculty like Tom Graves.

Q: What do you miss most about being on campus?

A: Not the heat and humidity (laughs). I guess just being surrounded by a community of people at the same point in life doing the same thing – we were all on a path to get a degree. With Foundation Games we had offices in Manila and Sydney, so I got to travel a lot, but I missed out on that personal interaction, and now, a lot of my work is done through telecommuting.

Q: So, what’s next?

A: In the immediate future, finishing work on Postly. We’re in the process of closing our first round of funding, and we hope to launch desktop version this fall with a mobile version will follow. I hope to leverage the community around the University to help seed the products growth.