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.

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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.

UT Joins I-Corps South to Expand Entrepreneurial Training

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will receive grant funding to teach technology entrepreneurship, perform research and foster innovation through the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program.

A public-private partnership, I-Corps was created in 2011 to train researchers to evaluate the commercial potential of their scientific discoveries. The program is offered in a “startup boot camp” format.

I-Corps South, which started with the Georgia Institute of Technology, is being expanded to include UT and the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. It will receive a collective $3.45 million over five years.

For more information about I-Corps and the expanded I-Corps South Node, see the UT Haslam College of Business, the National Science Foundation and the I-Corps South website.

Boyd Venture Challenge Accepting Applications Through March 4

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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 undergraduate or graduate degree program in Knoxville at the time of application. Applications must be received by the Anderson Center no later than midnight, Fri., Mar. 4, 2016. Teams that advance to the presentation round will pitch to a panel of local business professionals on Fri., Mar. 25. For full application instructions and eligibility details, click here.

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 $207,000 to 26 student-owned startups.

Vol Court Adds New Topics, Begins Feb. 17

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Now entering its seventh year, the Vol Court Pitch Competition encourages University of Tennessee students, faculty, staff and community members to pitch their business ideas for a chance to win $1,500, space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, and free legal and accounting services.

Vol Court is a six-week entrepreneurial speaker series that culminates in a pitch competition where attendees put what they’ve learned into practice. Based on suggestions from past Vol Court attendees, new topics such as “Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents” have been added to the lineup this semester.

Vol Court has come a long way since it first launched in February 2010. The competition has grown from a single $1,000 award to three cash prizes. Weekly workshops that began with just 20 people now average at least 60 attendees.

“It’s been really exciting to see Vol Court develop,” said Tom Graves, Operations Director of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “When we first launched this program back in 2010, we didn’t know quite what to expect. Since then we’ve seen numerous startup ideas come to life and many students choose to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors. The success of Vol Court is really indicative of the growing entrepreneurial culture on campus.”

Vol Court meets from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. every Wednesday beginning Feb. 17 in Room 104 of the Haslam Business Building, 1000 Volunteer Blvd. There is no charge to participate and registration is not required. Anyone who participates in the March 30 pitch competition must have attended four of the five series meetings.

The schedule for this semester’s Vol Court series is as follows:

Feb. 17 – Opportunity Identification and Validation

Feb. 24  – Reaching Your Market

Mar. 2 – Basic Financial Statements

Mar. 9 – Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents

Mar. 23 – Business Plan Presentation

Mar. 30 – Pitch Competition

Vol Court is a semi-annual event hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Vol Court is made possible by donated funds and services from our sponsors: Cirrus Path, Launch Tennessee, Pershing Yoakley and Associates, Morehous Legal Group, and the UT Research Foundation.

Guru Skins Launches Website, Places Third in SEC Symposium

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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 www.guruskins.com.