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

Boyd16-Winner-Slider

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.

Advertisements

Boyd Venture Challenge Accepting Applications Through March 4

Boyd16-Slider

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.

TechSmarrt Wins Fall 2015 Vol Court Pitch Competition

 

VolCourt-winner-SliderTechSmarrt, a team of Bredesen Center students developing software that simplifies the process of interpreting the structure of materials for use in industry and pharmaceutical applications, surpassed 12 other competitors to win the fall 2015 Vol Court Pitch Competition on Tuesday, Oct. 20.

Eva Mutunga, Christine Ajinjeru, Adeola Adediran, and Akinola Oyedele, all PhD candidates with the Bredesen Center, with Prof. David Keffer of the Department of Materials, Science and Engineering and Dr. Orlando Rios of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, have developed software that streamlines the existing process of interpreting structures of materials. While the current process requires hours on a supercomputer, TechSmarrt’s software enables the same information to be produced in seconds. Better still, the software runs on a standard laptop, further expediting the process of materials discovery.

The TechSmarrt team won $1,500, provided by Cirruspath. In addition, 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 courtesy of Morehous Legal Group.

The team plans to use the prize money and services awarded to create a simplified user interface for their software and legally establish their company.

Second place went to Shahram Zarshenas and Financial Cents, a cloud-based software that allows accountants and small business owners to quickly manage and understand financial statements. Zarshenas, a senior majoring in supply chain management, 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. Zarshenas plans to use the money on development ahead of a private beta launch.

For the first time, Vol Court awarded a third place prize of $500 provided by Launch Tennessee, and in another first, the judges elected to split that award between two competing students in hopes of encouraging them to collaborate on similar ideas. Zak Coleman, a senior majoring in supply chain management, and Drew Farlett, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, both pitched mobile phone applications. Farlett is developing a rideshare app that will let students post carpool opportunities to the app, allow other students to join, and provide the driver with a means to electronically collect an already calculated share of gas money from each rider. Coleman is developing an app that allows users to easily post event details to a group of invitees. The judges felt that while both apps would have merit on their own, combining features of the two ideas could greatly expand the target market.

“This has been a really incredible semester for Vol Court,” said Tom Graves, director of operations for the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “We averaged nearly 80 people in attendance at the Vol Court sessions and heard pitches for 13 excellent business ideas last night. It’s great to see the enthusiasm building around entrepreneurship, and we hope to carry it into next semester when we’ll bring in an entirely new set of Vol Court speakers.”

The Vol Court Pitch Competition was the final event of the fall 2015 Vol Court Speaker Series. Prior to the competition, teams attended five entrepreneurial lectures covering topics like the Business Model Canvas, legal aspects of starting a business and finding non-traditional funding for startups.

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.

 

GuruSkins Finishes Second in National Davidson College Competition

 

davidson-slide

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/.

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.

Grow Bioplastics Wins Vol Court Pitch Competition

Jeff Beegle, Tony Bova and Robert Brese accept the $1,000 first place prize for Grow Bioplastics.

Grow Bioplastics and their lignin-based plastic and rubber materials took first place at the Fall 2014 Vol Court Pitch Competition on Tues, Oct. 28, beating out four other potential startups for the top prize.

Jeff Beegle and Tony Bova, both UT Energy Science & Engineering Ph.D. candidates and graduate research fellows of the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, pitched their startup idea centered on developing innovative, high-performance plastic and rubber materials based on lignin to a panel of local judges. Other members of the Grow Bioplastics team are Missy Showers and Robert Brese, also UT Energy Science & Engineering Ph.D. candidates and Bredesen Center Fellows. The team won $1,000 provided by UT Federal Credit Union, 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.

Michael Bowie receives the second place prize of $500.

Second place went to Knoxville-area entrepreneur Michael Bowie and Barboards, a company providing low cost advertising on coasters at bars and restaurants.  He 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 were very impressed by the quality of the pitches this year,” said Tom Graves, Director of Operations for the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “All of the business ideas presented were excellent. The teams really took what they learned from the Vol Court speakers and applied it to their business models, which is exactly what we want to see happening.”

The Vol Court Pitch Competition was the final event of the Fall 2014 Vol Court Speaker Series. Prior to pitching, teams attended five entrepreneurial lectures covering aspects of the Business Model Canvas.

Vol Court is a free event hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation 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 Federal Credit Union, UT Research Foundation, Launch Tennessee, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, and Morehous Legal Group.