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.

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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.

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.

Guru Skins Launches Website, Places Third in SEC Symposium

GuruSkins-Slide

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.

 

 

Boyd Venture Challenge Awards $30K To Three Student Startups

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Three UT student startup companies have been awarded a total of $30,000 to advance their businesses through the spring 2015 Boyd Venture Challenge.

Each business pitched an idea to a panel of entrepreneurs who determined which companies should receive awards and the amount of funding for each.

“We had an excellent group of companies participate this semester,” said Tom Graves, operations director of the UT Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “We saw a myriad of companies from a variety of industries, including a mobile fashion truck, an automated rainwater distribution system, and a patented built-in funnel solution. The judges were very impressed with the quality of ideas University of Tennessee students are developing.”

The spring 2015 winners are:

 

  • FunLPro Technology, $15,000
  • Rentique, $10,000
  • GuruSkins, $5,000

FunLPro Technology is a repeat Boyd Venture Challenge winner, having been awarded $7,500 in the fall. FunLPro Technology is owned by Bryan Crosby, of Maryville, Tennessee, a Master of Business Administration 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. He plans to use the $15,000 to finance a partnership with KenJo Oil and KenJo markets, making FunLPro available in all East Tennessee area KenJo Markets beginning in May.

Rentique is owned by Brandi King, of Kingston, Tennessee, a senior human resource management student. Rentique is a company that rents out high-end dresses from a mobile fashion truck. Having already purchased her initial inventory of 200 dresses, King will use the $10,000 to convert the company truck—a retired Wonder Bread truck—into a mobile boutique, complete with a fitting room. Rentique is scheduled to officially launch on August 12 in the Knoxville area.

GuruSkins is a micro-crowdfunding site that sells custom ski and snowboard covers made out of high-quality vinyl, which enable customers to protect their board while conveying their individual style 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, of Cincinnati, Ohio, an MBA candidate and Entrepreneur Fellow. He will use the funds from the Boyd Venture Challenge to develop web application tools over the summer so the site can be launched ahead of ski and snowboard season this fall.

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 $172,000 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.