Boyd Venture Challenge Awards $35,000 to UT Student Startups

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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, spring 2016 Boyd Venture Challenge awarded a total of $35,000 to three student startup companies to advance their businesses.

Grow Bioplastics, T&T Scientific, and Treatment Devices were selected from a group of seven finalists. Judges listened to live pitches and decided which companies were most deserving of funding and how much each should receive.

The Boyd Venture Challenge is administered through the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business.

“We had some top-notch companies competing this semester,” said Tom Graves, operations director of the Anderson Center. “I think the high-tech nature of the winning companies really illustrates how elevated the level of competition was this semester. The judges were extremely impressed with the pitches they heard.”

Grow Bioplastics was awarded $15,000.

The company improves food sustainability by offering farmers and gardeners renewable, biodegradable products that keep oil-based plastics out landfills.

Founded by Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle, both doctoral candidates with UT’s Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, the company has developed a low-cost renewable biopolymer that naturally degrades in soil and can be used to produce mulch films and planting containers. This allows plants to be sown in their containers and films to be plowed into the ground after harvest, saving growers time and money associated with plastic disposal.

The company plans to use the funding from the Boyd Venture Challenge to build a degradation testing incubator and produce its first round of prototypes.

T&T Scientific was awarded $12,000.

The company, founded by Nima Tamaddoni and Graham Taylor, both recent UT doctoral graduates, has developed the LipX Extruder, the world’s first single-use disposable liposome extruder. Liposome extruders currently on the market require thorough cleaning after each use, costing doctors and researchers valuable time. The LipX Extruder saves users time and money while providing clean and precise results.

T&T Scientific received $20,000 in funding from the Boyd Venture Challenge in fall 2015, which they used to test their final prototypes and begin production of the LipX Extruder. With that product now available for purchase, they plan to use the bulk of the $12,000 they received this semester to develop automated quality control and assembly lines for keeping up with demand. A portion will also be used for marketing.

Treatment Devices was awarded $8,000.

The company, founded by Mark Artz, a Ph.D. candidate in nuclear engineering, specializes in patient setup for radiation therapy and diagnostic imaging.

The company has developed software and a mechanical installation system, called the No Dose Setup, that simplifies patient positioning during radiation therapy. The setup is already available at Provision Center for Proton Therapy in Knoxville.

Artz will use the funds to develop a quick installation kit for the system and add additional features to its software.

Since the fund’s inception in 2011, 26 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $242,000 in seed capital to advance their businesses.

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.

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Gamer Gel finishes 4th in National Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization Pitch Competition

ceo-conference-slideAs video gaming has emerged as a major industry, so has the concern over health repercussions associated with the sedentary lifestyle of many gamers. With that in mind Jonathan Eimer, a junior advertising major who is minoring in entrepreneurship, set out to create a solution, Gamer Gel.

Gamer Gel is a product designed to replace unhealthy energy drinks and deliver key vitamins and nutrients to competitive gamers. Eimer recently pitched his idea at the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) National Convention in Kansas City, Mo., taking fourth place out of a field of 60 contestants.

“I used to play video games professionally, and I lived a lifestyle of consuming a lot of Monster drinks and playing video games 10-12 hours a day,” said Eimer. “A couple years ago I read an article about the growing amount of sickness amongst gamers because they are playing for such long periods of time without proper nutrition or exercise. There was even a guy who died while playing, and no one realized it for two days because they thought he was still playing. After reading that, I knew I wanted to create something that was a healthy alternative to energy drinks.”

The competition went through three rounds with six finalists being selected for the prize round that was held in front of the 800-1000 conference attendees and a panel of experienced judges.

The winning contestant was Sam Lukach from the University of Wisconsin who pitched the HUK TV mount, an affordable television mount designed to be attached to railings, bunk beds or even a 2×4 piece of lumber, allowing users to mount a TV without putting large holes in the drywall.

While the bragging rights that came with placing in a national competition were certainly a nice perk, Eimer said the best part of the experience was the valuable connections he made.

“I had a lot of different gamers and people in the industry coming to talk to me after each round of the pitches,” Eimer said. “Connecting with the judges was also huge. After the finals, judges invited me to compete at the CEO Southeastern Conference and two other national competitions. I’ve already applied to Future Founders National Elevator Pitch Competition in Chicago and hope to compete there.”

Eimer qualified to compete at the CEO National Convention by winning the elevator pitch competition hosted by the UT CEO chapter. As the winner, he received a paid trip to compete in the national competition. Erik Rutledge, a senior in computer engineering and UT CEO president, and Natanael Arfa, a junior in marketing and UT CEO vice president, accompanied him to the conference.

This was the first time any of the three had attended the CEO National Conference, and they all found the experience worthwhile.

“Just having entrepreneurs all together and trying to help each other was really cool,” said Arfa. “We were able to make a lot of valuable connections just over breakfast and in between meetings.”

“We’ll definitely be back,” added Rutledge.

Jeff Hoffman, a successful entrepreneur, proven CEO, motivational speaker and Hollywood film producer, was the keynote speaker.

“Listening to Jeff Hoffman speak was really motivational,” said Arfa. “He didn’t give a lot of specific examples from his career, but he really inspired us to get out there and do something.”

In addition to competing in future pitch competitions, Eimer is also actively moving forward with developing his product.

“Right now we’re working on a very basic prototype. We have a 6-month timeline to have everything finished. The big thing right now is finalizing the product itself – the chemistry and ingredients,” said Eimer. “We’re shooting for May 1 as an official launch date.”

The UT CEO chapter meets on Wednesdays in Haslam Business Building room 201. For more information on CEO, visit http://ceoutk.org. To learn more about Gamer Gel and be notified when it’s available for purchase, visit http://gamergel.com.

GuruSkins Finishes Second in National Davidson College Competition

 

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A University of Tennessee team recently finished second in Davidson College’s National Venture Tournament for Sustainability & Sports, winning $5,000 in capital to advance their company, GuruSkins.

GuruSkins 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.

GuruSkins was founded by Jake Rheude, an MBA candidate and Entrepreneur Fellow. Other members of the GuruSkins team are John Born, an MBA candidate, and Dustin Giltnane, an MBA candidate also pursing a masters in nuclear engineering.

“I read about the competition online and decided to register,” said Rheude. “I brought Dustin and John on board after the Boyd Venture Challenge, and almost by accident, they were able to help with the two areas in which we were most lacking in terms of this competition – the finance and the sustainability parts.”

The competition was held over a two day period and was laid out in a tournament format with every team pitching on the first day, after which, the judges seeded them based on their scores. On the second day of the competition, teams went head-to-head in knockout rounds. In total, there were nine for-profit teams and four non-profit teams accepted into the competition. GuruSkins competed in the for-profit tract.

Because of the nature of the competition, teams had to demonstrate both a connection to sports and a commitment to sustainability.

“Obviously we had the sports connection down, but the sustainability part still needed work,” said Giltnane. “We ended up researching recycled materials and tried to highlight the fact that by allowing users to protect and change the look of their boards, we were extending the life of skis and snowboards and keeping them out of landfills.”

That strategy was enough to get them into the competition, but they quickly discovered they were going to have to come up with a more compelling angle on sustainability if they wanted to win.

“In our first presentation it became apparent that just keeping boards out of landfills wasn’t going to be enough,” said Rheude.

“We got hit pretty hard for using vinyl – creating vinyl or recycling it releases PVC and uses dangerous chemicals. The judges challenged us to create the product without releasing PVC or using harmful chemicals,” said Giltnane.

With that feedback the group set off to quickly research alternative materials and adjust their pitch before their next presentation.

“We researched how to use a biopolymer wrap instead of vinyl and changed our pitch. We discovered that the costs are about the same and the process is similar to vinyl. It’s much safer and much more environmentally friendly,” said Giltnane.

This solution was well received by the judges. By the end of the second day of the competition, GuruSkins, initially ranked a No. 3 seed, upset the No. 2 seed to advance to the finals on Sunday. They lost in the finals to SoccerGrlProbs, a team out of Fairfield University, but not before gaining $5,000 and a lot of valuable experience.

“I think as a whole this competition was valuable not only because we got $5,000 worth of capital, but also because we got so much quality feedback. We were given numeric rankings on 9 different judging criteria after each round, so it really helped us to refine our pitch,” said Born. “We also got to interact with a panel of very successful judges after every round, and their feedback was invaluable.”

In addition to the $5,000 from the Davidson College Competition, GuruSkins also won $5,000 from the Boyd Venture Challenge earlier this year. They plan to use the bulk of their winnings on website development ahead of their anticipated September 2015 launch.

“Because of the nature of our site, we need to be able to quickly and easily accept large design files from artists,” said Rheude. “We’re looking into add-ons that would allow us to do that directly through our website. Down the line we’ll look to build a custom interface, but right now, we just need something functional to get us off the ground.”

They also plan to use part of the money to host a roundtable event at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center where they hope to get feedback and ideas from professional in the area.

“We’re trying to be really transparent in this development, because our business model relies on the interactions of others, so we want to bring those interactions into the initial development as well,” said Rheude. “At this roundtable we’ll have food and drinks and explain what we’re doing, then open it up for questions. We hope to drive discussion and get feedback and other suggestions on our idea.”

The roundtable event will be held on June 2 at 7 pm in the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center in Market Square. The GuruSkins team is seeking interested designers, SEO experts, web developers, and artists to join in the discussion. Free food and drink will be provided. For more details, visit https://knoxec.com/.

Rentique Wins Spring 2015 Vol Court Pitch Competition

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Brandi King is presented with a $1,000 check by (L to R) David Morehous (Morehous Legal Group), Tom Ballard (Pershing Yokely and Associates), Stacey Patterson (UTRF), Brandi King, Brittany Burgess (Launch Tennessee), and Tom Graves (Anderson Center).

 

KNOXVILLE – Rentique, a Knoxville-based fashion truck renting high-quality dresses for special occasions, beat out five competitors to win the Spring 2015 Vol Court Pitch Competition on Tues., April 7.

Brandi King, a senior majoring in human resource management, impressed the judges with her startup company centered on the idea of renting high-end dresses from a mobile fashion truck. King has already purchased her initial inventory of 200 dresses and a truck that will be converted into a mobile boutique, complete with a dressing room and coordinating jewelry available for purchase. She came up with the idea for this business as a freshman after she and her friends borrowed each other’s dresses to have something new to wear to an event. She plans to officially launch Rentique on Aug. 12 of this year in the Knoxville area.

King won $1,000 from the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI), as well as one year of free office space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, consulting services courtesy of Pershing Yoakley & Associates, and legal advice courtesy of Morehous Legal Group.

Second place went to Lucas Broderick and ViaTech, a company building custom gaming computers and providing users with a simplified buying process.  Broderick, a junior in business administration, won $500 provided by Launch Tennessee, as well as six months of free office space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, consulting services from Pershing Yoakley & Associates, and legal advice from Morehous Legal Group.

“We really had some great pitches this semester,” said Tom Graves, ACEI Director of Operations. “I’ve been doing this for six years, and I can’t remember the judges ever having more discussion during their deliberation. Every team that presented has an excellent idea, some just need to be further developed in order to compete with more established companies.”

The Vol Court Pitch Competition was the final event of the Spring 2015 Vol Court Speaker Series. Prior to the competition, teams attended five entrepreneurial lectures covering aspects of the Business Model Canvas.

Vol Court is a free event hosted by ACEI each fall and spring semester. It is open to UT students, faculty and staff as well members of the local community, and made possible through sponsorship from the UT Research FoundationLaunch TennesseePershing Yoakley & Associates, and Morehous Legal Group.

 

Vol Court: Then and Now with Nate Buchanan

When Nate Buchanan pitched Credit Virgin to a panel of Vol Court judges in 2012 as a soon-to-be UT MBA graduate, he had no idea that two years and two companies later he’d be running Peanut Butter Printing, a company making a name for itself in Tennessee while saving lives halfway around the world.

Peanut Butter Printing is dedicated to two things: providing high quality print materials to its customers, and making a difference in the world by donating peanut butter packs that can save the life of a starving child – thus their namesake!

But before there was Peanut Printing, there was Credit Virgin, a website designed to teach students how to build good credit while still in school.

“While a credit card can be a liability for some students, it can be a real asset for those who learn how to use it properly and can build up their credit while still a student,” said Buchanan.  “The idea was to educate students about credit, help them select a credit card to meet their needs, and monetize it with partner companies.”

This is a company Buchanan developed while he was an MBA Entrepreneurship Graduate Fellow at UT, and the idea that won Vol Court in 2012. The funds and services from Vol Court allowed him to set up a website and establish Credit Virgin as a company.

Ultimately though, he was forced to abandon Credit Virgin. Pulling the plug a few months later wasn’t a decision he made lightly.

“I think it’s always tough to shut down something you put a lot of hard work into,” said Buchanan. “For me though, I didn’t have much of a choice because I was leaving school and had to support myself. There just weren’t many other options on the table in terms of funding. I tried to raise money through competitions as I was graduating, but winning Vol Court just wasn’t enough to give me the financial runway I needed to really get Credit Virgin off the ground.”

However, shutting down Credit Virgin was just a small bump in his entrepreneurial journey. Only a couple months later, he launched Movement 52, an ecommerce site that partnered with nonprofits to sell one custom t-shirt design per week.  For every shirt sold, the nonprofit would receive $8. Movement 52 ran about 20 campaigns with varying levels of success before Buchanan determined that between marketing and overhead costs, the business was not going to be viable. However, as fortune would have it, Credit Virgin and Movement 52 had already provided him with the technical skills and clientele to launch Peanut Butter Printing.

“While we were running Movement 52, businesses started hearing that we were printing t-shirts, and we started getting all sorts of printing requests. That essentially gave us a new, better business model with a built-in list of existing relationships,” said Buchanan.

Without missing a beat, Buchanan launched Peanut Butter Printing where he’s found sustained success and is continuing to grow. They currently have two locations – one in Nashville and another in Knoxville. The latter is operated by Nate’s younger brother, Dusty Buchanan, a junior in Supply Chain Management at UT.

“After Movement 52, I knew I wanted to have a giving model. I heard about MANA from a mentor, and I immediately knew that’s where I wanted to get involved,” said Buchanan.

MANA is a ready-to-use therapeutic food that’s designed to meet all of a child’s basic nutritional needs in a simple peanut butter type paste. It’s easy for a mother to administer, and three servings a day can save the life of a starving child. Peanut Butter Printing donates 10 peanut butter packs for every $100 in print goods sold.

“I really wanted something that was quantifiable, so we could track it, and say how much was given on every purchase. That made peanut butter packs a great fit,” said Buchanan. “We are able to tell customers how many meals were donated because of their business. We know it takes about 150 packs to nurse someone back from malnutrition, so with many of our customers, we can even tell them how many lives they’ve saved.”

With over a year under its belt, Peanut Butter Printing is now looking to expand into the national scene, strategically partnering with companies that have a nationwide footprint and providing them with centralized ordering hubs.

“I’m leveraging my technical background from Credit Virgin and Movement 52 to create a company store where all of a corporations locations across the state or nation can come and order,” said Buchanan. “We are already in the process of launching a site with our first corporate partner. It’s an exciting time for us because they have offices all over the country, and it’s going to be a big test for our centralized buying hub.”

While Buchanan has come a long way since his days of competing in Vol Court, he hasn’t forgotten some of the valuable lessons he took from it.

“Vol Court made me realize you really have to know your business and think through every aspect of it ahead of time. If there was any stone left unturned, that’s always what the judges were going to ask about. Vol Court was extremely helpful in showing me how to develop an elevator pitch and plan for all aspects of a business ahead of time,” said Buchanan.

The Spring 2015 Vol Court Speaker Series, hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, kicks off on Tuesday, February 24 at 5:15 p.m. (Vol Court was originally scheduled to begin on Feb. 17, but was postponed due to weather.) The Vol Court Pitch Competition will be held on April 7. Any student interested in starting a business is encouraged to attend. For more information, visit tiny.utk.edu/VolCourt.

Boyd Venture Challenge Awards $32,500 To Student Startups

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) has named four student startup companies as winners in the Fall 2014 Boyd Venture Challenge. The companies, ranging in nature from farm equipment to web design, each received $5,000 to $10,000 in seed funding to advance their businesses.

“We had a really great group of student companies apply this semester,” said Tom Graves, ACEI Operations Director. “The judges were very impressed by the quality of the businesses that presented, as is evidenced by the fact they chose to award four teams. The awards, collectively, represent the largest funding round since the fund’s inception in spring 2011.”

The Fall 2014 winners are:

  • Catalyst Cycling LLC, $10,000
  • Make Me Modern Inc, $10,000
  • FunLPro Technology LLC, $7,500
  • FarmSpec, $5,000
Justin Clark, Zach McCormick and Nick McCormick of Catalyst Cycling.

Justin Clark, Zach McCormick and Nick McCormick of Catalyst Cycling.

Catalyst Cycling LLC, is a repeat Boyd Venture Challenge winner, having also won last fall. The Catalyst Cycling team is formed of Zach McCormick, a junior in mathematics, Nick McCormick, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, and Justin Clark, a junior in computer science. Their company sells innovative cycling parts and accessories, and is already gaining market traction with their carbon fiber wheel covers. They intend to use the $10,000 to finalize the designs of two additional products, the Time Capsule and Wheel System.

 

 

 

Daniel Lawhon, Thomas Truett and Anthony Meyer of Make Me Modern Inc.

Anthony Meyer, Thomas Truett and Daniel Lawhon of Make Me Modern.

Make Me Modern Inc. is a web development company formed by Thomas Truett, a senior in business management, Anthony Meyer, a junior in electrical engineering, and Daniel Lawhon, a junior in computer engineering. They are developing a software, Breeze, that will enable customers to preview their existing website in a variety of provided modern designs and allow them to update the look of their website with a simple push of a button. Make Me Modern intends to use the $10,000 to finish developing the Breeze software and begin beta testing.

 

 

 

Bryan Crosby of FunLPro Technology.

Bryan Crosby of FunLPro Technology.

FunLPro Technology LLC is owned by Bryan Crosby, an MBA candidate and Entrepreneur Fellow. He has developed a disposable funnel that integrates into product packaging and eliminates the need to use a separate funnel when pouring liquids like motor oil, antifreeze or bleach. The $7,500 will be used to finance packaging FunLPro on motor oil in the local area and to develop FunLPro caps that will be available in major automotive retail outlets in early 2015.

 

 

 

Austin Scott and Shawn Butler of FarmSpec.

Austin Scott and Shawn Butler of FarmSpec.

FarmSpec is a company developing innovative technologies to improve the sustainability of global food systems. It was formed by Shawn Butler and Austin Scott, both master’s candidates in plant pathology and plant sciences, respectively.  Their first product, the Flex Roller Crimper, is a new agricultural tool that will enable incorporation of cover crops into no-till and other crop production systems. They hold a provisional patent on the technology and intend to use the $5,000 prize to develop a working prototype for field-testing.

 

 

 

The Boyd Venture Challenge is administered through the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, 20 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $142,000 in seed capital to advance their businesses.

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.

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.