Grow Bioplastics Awarded NSF Grant

Grow Bioplastics

Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle, co-founders of Grow Bioplastics, with a sample of their lignin-based plastic. (Adam Brimer / University of Tennessee)

 

Grow Bioplastics, a University of Tennessee, Knoxville, student startup, has received a $225,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant. The award will fund research and development work on lignin-biomass-based biodegradable plastics for agricultural applications, specifically plastic mulches.

Grow Bioplastics’ team, led by co-founders Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle, will use the SBIR funding to create new biodegradable plastics from lignin, a waste product of the paper and biofuel industries. Bova is an energy science and engineering PhD candidate in UT’s Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education. Beegle, a recent graduate with a master’s degree in microbiology, also completed his studies in the Bredesen Center.

The company’s biodegradable product offers an alternative to plastic mulch films used by farmers nationwide. Current nondegradable plastics must be removed at the end of each growing season and cannot be recycled. Grow Bioplastics’ biodegradable film can be plowed into the soil after each use, offering a solution to the additional labor costs and environmental impact of current films.

“Being selected for this competitive award from the NSF is a huge step for our company,” said Bova, who serves as CEO. “This funding will help us validate the fundamental science behind our lignin-based plastic technology, allow us to hire our first employees here in East Tennessee, and bring us one step closer to realizing our vision for a socially and environmentally driven business model to support a circular economy.”

Bova and Beegle began Grow Bioplastics’ journey at UT when they pitched the business idea at Vol Court, a speaker series and pitch competition hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business.

“Working with the Anderson Center was the bridge between the science world and the business world,” said Beegle. “Tony and I were able to take an idea that originated from the lab and cultivate it into a business, with the help of the Anderson Center.”

The team’s Vol Court win was followed by seed funding from the Anderson Center’s Boyd Venture Challenge. The company went on to receive funding through several local, state, and national pitch competitions.

“It’s been remarkable to see Grow Bioplastics progress from concept stage to this incredible milestone,” said Lynn Youngs, executive director of the Anderson Center. “This is the type of success we hope to see when we work with student startups.”

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In With the Old Advances in National Pitch Competition

UT student startup In With the Old was named a semifinalist in the national Student Startup Madness (SSM) competition. The social-media-based clothing retailer was selected from more than 200 startups from universities nationwide. Baker Donahue of Franklin, Tennessee, a senior communication studies major and entrepreneurship minor, founded the company.

Baker Donahue

Baker Donahue, founder, In With the Old

SSM is the only nationwide collegiate tournament focused on digital media startups. The competition began at South by Southwest (SXSW) in 2012. In With the Old advanced from a field of 64 startups to reach the semifinal round. The top eight companies will pitch their businesses to investors and entrepreneurs in March at SXSW in Austin, Texas.

“The national exposure of SSM and SXSW is an incredible opportunity for startups,” says Lynn Youngs, executive director of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business. “We’re always excited to see our students progress to this level of competition.”

Donahue and his team repurpose and resell vintage collegiate apparel through online social auctions.

“In With the Old has participated in a number of local competitions, so we figured we’d try our hand at something national,” said Donahue. “It is encouraging to see how we stack up against companies across the nation.”

Donahue created the company in 2016 after noticing an interest in vintage UT apparel and a need for a centralized resource. He began with one Instagram account and $300 of vintage UT apparel. After giving the merchandise a little love via a wash, professional photographs and clever titles, Donahue turned his original investment into $1,500.

“I clearly remember not being able to sleep because I was too excited to sell more clothing the next day,” he said. “After a successful initial run of clothing I began to consider the scalability of In With the Old.”

Seeing the growth potential for his startup, he sought funding through business plan competitions hosted by the Anderson Center.

Using funds received in the Boyd Venture Challenge and Graves Business Plan Competition, he began to grow the company beyond the original UT focus. The In With the Old brand now includes six universities, and Donahue plans to continue the startup’s nationwide growth.

“Participating in UT’s pitch competitions has been an incredibly eye-opening experience. I have learned more about business and what investors look for in a company than I could have ever imagined,” said Donahue. “My company is now more suitable to scale thanks to the advice and mentorship I have received from the Anderson Center.”

Boyd Venture Challenge Awards Funds to EasyWhip and Campus Car

Two businesses owned by University of Tennessee, Knoxville, students were recently awarded a total of $25,000 in the fall 2017 Boyd Venture Challenge. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business hosted the seed fund grant competition.

EasyWhip, a surgical tool, and Campus Car, a ridesharing company, were selected from a group of eight finalists. A panel of four judges determined the funding awards.

“The judges saw an impressive group of finalists this semester and provided insightful feedback,” said Tom Graves, operations director of the Anderson Center. “We’re pleased to offer this opportunity to help our student entrepreneurs move their businesses forward.”

EasyWhip, founded by Lia Winter, was awarded $12,500. Winter created the surgical tool to decrease the time and costs associated with certain orthopedic reconstruction procedures. With the funds received, she will seek a full patent for EasyWhip and optimize the tool’s design.

“The Boyd Venture Challenge was an amazing and exciting experience. I was able to apply the concepts that I’m learning in my business classes to my innovative biomedical engineering idea to develop a comprehensive and feasible business plan,” said Winter. “I also made connections with mentors in the Anderson Center who encouraged me and helped me achieve my goals. I think the Anderson Center is an invaluable resource that students should take advantage of during their time here at UT.”

Winter, from Pittsburgh, is an MBA candidate in the Haslam College of Business and a graduate student in the biomedical engineering program in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering.

Campus Car, a campus-based ridesharing company, was awarded $12,500. Ryan Cunningham of Collierville, Tennessee, a junior supply chain management major and entrepreneurship minor, founded the company.

Cunningham launched the flat-rate ride-sharing company in October after using funds from a previous Boyd Venture Challenge to build the Campus Car cell phone application. The company hires UT-affiliated individuals as independent contractors to provide low-cost transportation to and from campus in downtown Knoxville, Fort Sanders, and the campus area.

“The funds received this semester will allow me to expand the Campus Car service area and continue to serve UT and the Knoxville community,” said Cunningham. “I am very thankful for the opportunities provided by the Boyd Venture Challenge.”

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, 39 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $337,000 in seed capital to advance their businesses.

Graves Business Plan Competition Makes Awards to Seven Student Startups

Seven University of Tennessee, Knoxville, student startups were recently awarded cash prizes in the Graves Business Plan Competition. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business sponsored the 10th annual entrepreneurial contest.

Sophomores Kelsey Duncan and Ryan Cunningham took top prizes of $5,000 each in the high growth business and lifestyle business categories. Second and third place winners in both categories were awarded $3,000 and $2,000 respectively.

Duncan, a marketing major from Nashville, Tennessee, placed first in the high growth

Kelsey Duncan, The Sorority Guide

category with The Sorority Guide. The values-based analytical tool uses a cellphone 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. Duncan is in contact with several SEC schools, pursuing possible contracts for her new app.

“The competition not only allowed me to perfect my business pitch, but it also allowed me to sit down and figure out the financial side of my company and what I need to move forward,” Duncan says. “I am very grateful for the experience and opportunity that UT has given me to advance my company.”

Ryan Cunningham, Campus Car

Cunningham, a supply chain management major from Collierville, Tennessee, was awarded the top prize in the lifestyle business category with Campus Car, a flat-rate ride-sharing startup for the UT campus area. The company hires local students as independent contractors to provide low-cost transportation to and from campus in downtown Knoxville, Fort Sanders and the campus area. The company plans to launch in August.

“The Graves Business Plan Competition helped me by allowing me to pitch my idea in front of judges and university representatives who gave critiques that assisted in shaping the future of my business,” Cunningham says. “The requirements of the pitches and prep work necessary to make a good presentation have made my business plan even more solid and will help me to achieve the goals I have planned.”

Anna Amagliani, Brennan Galbraith, Caroline Cate and Caroline Conley of Wahie Women

Second place in the high growth category went to the Wahie Women team, composed of Brennan Galbraith, a junior in marketing from Brentwood, Tennessee; Caroline Conley, a junior in economics from Franklin, Tennessee; Anna Amagliani, a junior in supply chain management from Memphis, Tennessee; and Caroline Cate, a junior in industrial engineering from Brentwood, Tennessee.

Wahie Women is a food delivery service customized to meet the nutritional needs of women. The company uses a cellphone-based application to track users’ menstrual cycles and creates meals designed to replace the nutrients naturally depleted during a woman’s cycle.

Baker Donahue, In With the Old

In With the Old, a social-media-based clothing retail service, took home second place in the lifestyle category. 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. The company began at UT and now includes four additional college campuses

Tied for third place in the high growth category were Simple Mow and Grassroots Co-Op.

Treavor Johnson, Simple Mow

Simple Mow delivers an efficient hands-free mowing experience. Created by Treavor Johnson, a senior in mechanical engineering from Englewood, Tennessee, Simple Mow uses a combination of satellite navigation and a customized plot route to eliminate the need to perform the physical labor of mowing. Johnson has plans to finalize a prototype this summer.

Barrett Darlington, Grassroots Co-Op

Grassroots Co-Op, created by Barrett Darlington, a junior in mechanical engineering from Knoxville, seeks to simplify the internship hunting process for UT students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. The company uses web and cellphone application-based services to match students with local businesses seeking interns.

Mason Timken, Just Tap It

Just Tap It, created by Mason Timken, a senior in mechanical engineering from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was awarded third place in lifestyle. Just Tap It is a self-serve bar tap that aims to change the way consumers order beer. The mobile unit attaches to a keg and allows consumers to purchase and pour directly at the tap.

The Graves Business Plan Competition is held every spring. It is open to UT undergraduate students from any field of study. An outside panel of judges from the business community judges entries and selects the winners. Since the competition’s inception in 2008, it has awarded $192,000 to student startups. Sixty-one startup ideas have been funded, 46 percent of which are still in business or have pivoted to a new business.

GeoAir Wins Fall 2016 Vol Court Pitch Competition

winner-slider-all

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.

Grow Bioplastics Wins Spring 2016 Vol Court Pitch Competition

Winner-sliderGrow Bioplastics, a startup company founded by University of Tennessee students, beat 14 competitors to win the spring 2016 Vol Court Pitch Competition last week. Their product is a biodegradable alternative to the plastic mulch film currently used in agricultural applications.

The Grow Bioplastics team is comprised of Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle, both doctoral candidates with UT’s Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education. They have developed a process based on a patent through Oak Ridge National Lab to produce biodegradable mulch film that is both cost effective and eco-friendly.

Currently black plastic sheeting is used on many farms as a solution for retaining ground moisture and temperature while keeping unwanted weeds out of their fields. It is effective for this purpose, but at the end of the growing season the plastic must be removed and disposed of, creating a significant cost for the farm. Grow Bioplastics’ solution to this problem is to create sheets of biodegradable mulch film made of lignin, a natural waste product of the paper industry. This allows farmers to simply till the film into the ground at the end of the season, saving them the expense of removing it and keeping oil-based plastic products out of the landfill.

Grow Bioplastics is the first repeat winner of the Vol Court Pitch Competition. They first won Vol Court in fall 2014 when pitching a separate product line that they have since expanded upon.

Grow Bioplastics won $1,500, provided by Cirruspath, the presenting sponsor of the Vol Court Pitch Competition. The team will also receive one year of free office space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, consulting services courtesy of Pershing Yoakley & Associates and legal advice from Morehous Legal Group.

Second place went to Kevin White and Gameday Weekenders, a startup providing UT fans with travel accommodations for away athletic events. White, a senior majoring in business analytics, won $1,000 provided by Cirruspath, 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.

Third place went to mooch, an app that allows individuals to save money by borrowing what they need, and make money by lending what they don’t. The mooch team is comprised of Jared Smith and Kyle Bashour, both seniors majoring in computer science, and Kaleigh Veca, a junior graphic design major. The team was awarded $500 provided by Launch Tennessee.

“The competition was very stiff for Vol Court this semester,” said Tom Graves, director of operations for the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “We had more teams competing than ever before, and as a whole, this group of 15 teams was probably the most prepared group we’ve ever had. It was very evident they’d paid attention to this semester’s speakers and put a lot of effort into refining their elevator pitches. Because of that, there was considerable debate when it came time for the judges to select the winners.”

The Vol Court Pitch Competition was the final event of the spring 2016 Vol Court Speaker Series. Prior to the competition, teams attended five entrepreneurial lectures covering topics like intellectual property, basic financial statements and opportunity identification.

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 Cirruspath, UT Research Foundation, Launch Tennessee, Pershing Yoakley & Associates and Morehous Legal Group.

Boyd Venture Challenge Awards A Record $35,000 To Student Startups

Boyd15-Winner-Slider

Three UT student startup companies have been awarded a total of $35,000 to advance their businesses through the fall 2015 Boyd Venture Challenge, setting a new record for funds awarded in a single semester and pushing the total amount awarded by the competition over $200,000.

Eight businesses were selected from a pool of applicants to pitch their ideas to a panel of local entrepreneurs who determined which companies were most deserving of seed funding and how much they should receive.

“We saw an excellent group of companies this semester,” said Tom Graves, operations director of the UT Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “The judges were quite impressed both with the variety and quality of the startups that presented. It’s exciting to see our students taking ideas and turning them into a reality.”

The fall 2015 winners are:

  • T&T Scientific, $20,000
  • SilkOps, $7,500
  • GuruSkins, $7,500

T&T Scientific was formed earlier this year by two PhD candidates, Nima Tamaddoni, a fourth year student in mechanical engineering, and Graham Taylor, a fourth year student in biomedical engineering. The pair invented the LipX extruder, a low-cost, single-use liposome extrusion device that ensures cleanliness and sterility while reducing overall time of use from 20 minutes to three minutes. Liposome extruders currently on the market require thorough cleaning after each use, costing doctors and researchers valuable time.

T&T Scientific will use the $20,000 grant to cover the costs of manufacturing and assembling the first units. They plan to begin selling their product as early as January.

SilkOps is a software-as-a-service company co-founded by Taylor Adkins, a senior in business analytics, and Thomas West, a senior currently enrolled at Virginia Tech. SilkOps is a fully functional order management system that caters to custom printing companies, enabling users to input orders, manage production and generate invoices. Several printing shops are already using SilkOps. Adkins plans to use the Boyd Venture Challenge funding for further software development and to market the software to additional clients.

GuruSkins is an online store selling artist-designed ski and snowboard covers made out of high-quality vinyl, which enable customers to protect their board while conveying their individual styles on the slopes. GuruSkins aims to foster an online community of board-sport participants and design enthusiasts by creating an interactive online website that provides a platform for artists to share their work and financially benefit from the sale of their designs as ‘skins.’ GuruSkins is owned by Jake Rheude, an MBA candidate and Entrepreneur Fellow. He will use the Boyd Venture Challenge award to fund search engine optimization efforts and a marketing campaign ahead of the holiday season.

The Boyd Venture Challenge is administered through the Anderson Center in the Haslam College of Business. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, twenty-three student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $207,000 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.