Boyd Venture Challenge Awards Funding to Four Student Startups

Four businesses owned by students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, were recently awarded a total of $35,000 in the spring 2017 Boyd Venture Challenge. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business hosted the seed fund grant competition.

The Sorority Guide, Orion Investment Group, In With the Old and Campus Car were selected from a group of eight finalists. A panel of five judges determined funding awards.

“Funding at this level provides our student entrepreneurs with the opportunity to take their early-stage venture to the next step,” said Tom Graves, operations director of the Anderson Center. “The Boyd Venture Challenge not only grants this important funding, but students also receive feedback from the judges, which can help as they move their business forward.”

Kelsey Duncan of The Sorority Guide

The Sorority Guide, founded by Kelsey Duncan, a sophomore in marketing from Nashville, was awarded $15,000. The values-based analytical tool uses a cell phone 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. In addition to using the funds for travel to pitch The Sorority Guide to the universities across the U.S., Duncan plans to expand her company’s personnel.

“The Boyd Venture Challenge has been an incredible honor and experience to participate in,” said Duncan. “I am very excited about the future and what is to come for the Sorority Guide.”

Judd Conatser of Orion Investment Group

Orion Investment Group, a local real estate investment business, was awarded $10,000. MBA candidate and U.S. Navy veteran Judd Conatser, from Maryville, Tennessee, founded the company. Orion Investment Group plans to provide quality single-family rental properties in Maryville. The company caters to young, mobile families who often relocate for their jobs and find it impractical to buy and sell a home during a short turnaround time.

“This award will allow me to obtain the needed legal assistance and financial advice to move the company to the next level,” said Conatser.

Baker Donahue of In With the Old

In With the Old, a social media-based clothing retail service, was awarded $5,000. 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. Donahue plans to use the funds to hire a web developer and designer to improve the efficiency of the company’s e-commerce website. Originally a UT-based company, the brand now includes four other college campuses.

“The Boyd Venture Challenge has prepared me for real-life scenarios with real-life rewards,” says Donahue. “With the redesigned website we’ll be able to scale to every prominent university in the country.”

Ryan Cunningham of Campus Car

Campus Car, founded by Ryan Cunningham, a supply chain management major from Collierville, Tennessee, was awarded $5,000. The flat-rate ride-sharing company for the UT campus area plans to launch in August. The company will hire local students as independent contractors to provide low-cost transportation to and from campus in downtown Knoxville, Fort Sanders and the campus area. Cunningham plans to use the funds for cell phone application development and insurance premiums.

“The funds will allow me to be completely financially stable during the first couple of months of operation,” says Cunningham.

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, 37 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $312,000 in seed capital to advance their businesses.



Southern Culture & Technology Merge June 12 – 13

Southland, a conference that brings together entrepreneurs, investors, thought leaders and inovators, has the goal of connecting the Southeast’s best early-stage companies with investors from across the country.  Positioned between CMA Fest and Bonnaroo, attendees will be able to meet a wide range of people from across the region and country who are building businesses using technology that impacts our day to day lives. Startups and early-stage companies have the opportunity to network with investors as well as hear a series of keynote speeches, panel discussions, and pitch competitions that can help shape their businesses.  Learn more here.

Four UT Participants are Finalists in “What’s the Big Idea?!”

Entrepreneurship at UT continues to flourish and produce entrepreneurs in the Knoxville region:  four out of 15 finalists in this year’s “What’s the Big Idea?” business plan competition are students or faculty at UT. The winning idea will receive a Big Idea Launch Package that includes up to $10,000. 

The Knoxville Chamber, The Development Corporation of Knox County, Tech 20/20 and Rodefer Moss & Company host this annual event to spur the launch and growth of new businesses. The Big Ideas were chosen based on growth potential, innovation and/or technical feasibility, newness of the concept or plan, and viability of a sustainable, competitive advantage.

The UT finalists are:

  • CampusLife, Chad Tate:  College-centered social media site focused on facilitating real world connections
  • Neural Energy Games, Charles Chin (a former Vol Court winner!):  Educational video games company targeting college freshmen level courses
  • PTlink, Trevor Grieco and Collin Howser:  Interactive mobile application that improves recovery by connecting clinicians and patients
  • Survature Inc., Jian Huang:  Online survey tool evaluating respondent’s answers and behavior

Contestants will now attend several seminars to prepare and deliver a five-minute pitch on May 7 during Team Selection Night. Inspired by the hit television show The Voice, Team Selection Night engages successful, local entrepreneurs as coaches. After hearing all 15 pitches, coaches Parker Frost, founder of Gigmark Interactive; John Tolsma, owner of Knowledge Launch; and Jimmy Rodefer, CEO of Rodefer Moss & Company, PLLC, will each select three contestants to be part of their team. The three coaches, who all have been recipients of the Knoxville Chamber’s Pinnacle Young Entrepreneur Award, will have one month to mentor their team members before contestants face-off in the Knock Out Competitions.

On June 3, the nine semifinalists will pitch their idea to an independent panel of judges in three separate Knock Out Competitions. Judges will select a winner from each Knock Out Competition, each of who will advance to the “What’s the Big Idea?!” finale on June 20 at Relix Variety Theater.

Get Your Website Domain Before You Incorporate!

I had to learn this the hard way, so I’m happy to share the knowledge to help you avoid the same issue!

I am in the middle of starting up a new company.  We came up with a creative name, and I checked the domains before we decided to incorporate, and the domain was free and clear.  The price was less than $15.  All is great, right?

Well, we incorporated the company on March 29 (filed for a C corp in Delaware and Tennessee).  Because of personal reasons, I was delayed in getting the domain reserved.  But a week later, I go into GoDaddy to reserve my domain, and guess what?  They tell me (and I quote):  “Congratulations!  Your domain is available at GoDaddy Auctions for $750!”  Start-ups cannot afford that kind of pricing! 

Needless to say, I was livid. Stupid me for not reserving it when I checked it.  I can’t prove it, but my hypothesis is that GoDaddy monitors incorporation filings and then snaps up the domain. That is just plain sneaky and crosses the ethics line, as far as I am concerned.  I’m sure pure capitalists would say that is smart business.

The end result was that I tacked “tn” on the end of my domain name and got the domain for less than $15 (I didn’t want to reserve through them but my IT resource said they have the best customer service).  They had a survey at the end of the domain registration process.  Needless to say, I rated them the absolute lowest on  trustworthiness and a being a business partner.